Syngenta Lawsuits: Helping Corn Farmers Recover Lost Income

Syngenta's bungled product launch caused corn prices to drop

Corn Farmers’ Case Against Syngenta

In November 2013, China — a major importer of US corn — began rejecting shipments of US corn amid concerns that genetically-modified product containing the MIR 162 trait had been comingled with the rest of the corn crop. This caused a precipitous decline in US corn prices.

The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) pegged the economic impact of China’s ban on Syngenta GMO corn at $2.9 billion between November 2013 and April 2014. Some experts contend that the market has yet to recover, thus the total economic impact might be even greater.

Despite the fact that one of our largest agricultural trading partners had yet to approve Agrisure Viptera MIR 162, Syngenta began selling the product in 2011. By 2012, the company was allegedly misinforming farmers, grain elevators and exporters about the prospects of China approving the corn for import. The company was very explicit in its statements and even launched a “Plant with Confidence” marketing campaign. In an April 2012 earnings call, Syngenta CEO Michael Mack stated that he expected China to clear Agrisure Viptera MIR 162 “within a matter of a couple of days.” That approval did not come until December 2014.

The company encouraged farmers to buy the seed and plant it next to corn grown from other seeds. This potentially caused cross-pollination of the MIR 162 trait. Furthermore, MIR 162 corn was comingled with non-MIR 162 corn, making it impossible to isolate the offending product from grain shipments. While only 3 percent of American fields were planted with Viptera and Duracade (released in 2014), we believe that nearly every corn farmer in the nation was negatively impacted by this disastrous product launch.

When China began enforcing its zero-tolerance policy for the presence of Syngenta’s Agrisure Viptera MIR 162 in corn imports, a series of major market disruptions ensued. This caused US corn crops to be sold at a discount in domestic markets. The NGFA’s preliminary estimate is that China’s refusal of US corn reduced prices by 11 cents per bushel, driving corn prices down to a five-year low. Subsequent estimates show a loss of 20 to 30 cents per bushel.

The bottom line: We believe farmers should be compensated because Syngenta took money out of their pockets when its product caused corn prices to collapse.

The litigation is progressing. There are now four major clusters of cases—the multi-district litigation (MDL) proceeding in federal court in Kansas City, the federal court in East St. Louis, Illinois, and state courts in Minneapolis and Williamson County, Illinois. We are in what we lawyers call the “dog days” of litigation. We are past Syngenta’s principal motions to dismiss, where the MDL court ruled favorably for the corn producers and set the standard for the other courts. We are now in the discovery phase.

Because of the large number of cases on file, the federal MDL court, taking the lead, recently implemented a bellwether (or test case) procedure. This is a very effective technique for gauging the strength and potential settlement value of the cases. It was used successfully in the recent long grain rice GMO seed case against Monsanto and, in fact, ultimately led to a substantial settlement.

There are 48 test case plaintiffs. Some were selected by Plaintiffs’ counsel, and some were selected by Syngenta’s counsel. Thousands of documents have been produced by both sides. Depositions are being taken.

In February, the judges of the four courts presiding over the litigation determined that it would be beneficial to appoint a single Special Master “to vigorously and systematically explore settlement” of all pending cases. We expect a Special Master will be appointed by the end of March. Any settlement discussions would run on a parallel track to the ongoing trial preparation of the test cases. If and when a settlement is announced, it is possible that it may be too late to file a claim. Corn producers who are sitting on the sidelines should get in the game and file their claims.

RPWB will file your individual claim on a contingent fee basis, which means you owe us nothing unless we are successful in obtaining compensation for your lost corn income. In the event that farmers’ lost income is recovered, the legal fee will equal 38 percent of the recovery. This is less than the standard 40 percent that other lawyers are charging.

What is Syngenta Viptera and Duracade Seed?

Viptera is a genetically-modified corn seed designed to protect corn against common pests, including black cutworms, corn earworms, dingy cutworms and western bean cutworms. It was released in 2009, approved by the USDA in 2010, and first sold to American farmers in 2011. Duracade seeds were released in 2014 and also utilize the same genetic trait, MIR 162. Despite Syngenta’s claims that corn with the MIR 162 trait would be approved, China consistently banned all imports of such corn beginning in November 2013. Corn with the MIR 162 trait was eventually approved for import in December 2014.

Do I need to have planted Syngenta Viptera or Duracade Seed to file a lawsuit?

No, those who planted corn derived from other seeds may have been indirectly affected by China’s ban on Syngenta Viptera and Duracade seeds due to the fact that grains are comingled prior to sale, that cross-pollination may have occurred, and that China banned all shipments of US corn that tested positive for MIR 162. Also, the owners of ancillary agricultural businesses such as grain elevators, exporters and distributors were potentially impacted by Syngenta’s actions.

What is the status of the lawsuits against Syngenta?

Syngenta litigation has been filed in a number of state and federal courts throughout the United States. All of the federal lawsuits have been consolidated into a MDL in the District of Kansas. In 2015, Syngenta asked the federal judge to dismiss the case, but the judge denied that motion. We believe the time is right to file any remaining cases before the matter moves further along in the litigation process and/or statutes of limitation expire.

Do I have to file a lawsuit to recover damages?

The decision of whether or not to file a lawsuit is entirely up to you. However, filing a lawsuit is the only way to ensure that you have an opportunity to recover damages.

Will I have to travel or appear in court?

You most likely will not have to appear in court. In the event that you do, your travel expenses will be initially paid for by the law firm and then will be deducted from the final verdict or settlement.

Will I owe legal fees if the litigation is unsuccessful?

No, our attorneys operate on a contingent fee basis. This means that you will not owe any money for legal fees or expenses unless we are successful in obtaining compensation on your behalf. We assume all of the financial risk in pursuing this matter. In the event we secure a settlement or verdict, legal fees will equal 38% of the settlement amount followed by a reduction for any expenses incurred in preparing your case.

What are the qualifications of your firm?

RPWB is a national plaintiff law firm that represents clients in complex legal disputes throughout the United States. We are based in South Carolina and are experienced in representing farmers and other hard-working Americans. We are currently class counsel for thousands of tobacco farmers in the Southeast who are seeking to liquidate the assets of the Flue-Cured Tobacco Cooperative. We also have successfully represented rice farmers who were negatively impacted by genetically-modified rice seed sold by Bayer. An overview of our firm’s qualifications can be found here.

Who can answer my questions?

Please contact attorneys Chris Tuck or Jay Ward at 843-727-6500 or 888-293-6883 or by using the form on this page.

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