The federal corn multidistrict litigation against Syngenta over its marketing practices of genetically modified corn seed is progressing. In May, Judge John Lungstrum ordered that two of the hundreds of cases filed against the Swiss agribusiness company be returned to state court.
The order is bad news for the company, according to Simmons Hanly Conroy Jayne Conroy, who serves as one of the lead attorneys for the national litigation.
“Now we have the ability to attack them in state court and federal court,” Conroy told Bloomberg BNA. “That’s always an advantage for plaintiffs.”
The case moves into the discovery phase, which could last for as long as a year, Conroy said. Currently, more than 1,800 farmers, exporters, grain-elevators and other business related to the corn-industry have filed litigation against Syngenta.
Background on Syngenta Corn Lawsuits
In 2010, Syngenta released a genetically modified corn seed called Agrisure Viptera. The litigation alleges the company made reckless and misleading statements about the Chinese approval status of its new seed, implying that approval was imminent.
For example, during Syngenta’s first quarter 2012 earnings conference call, Syngenta CEO Michael Mack stated, “[t]here isn’t outstanding approval for China, which we expect to have quite frankly within the matter of a couple days … we know of no issue with that whatsoever….”
Farmer were led to believe, falsely, that they could plant the seed and in the meantime China would approve it for market, despite the country’s previous zero-tolerance policy for imports of GMO corn.
In fact, it took over five years for the seed to receive Chinese approval. During that time, the seed became cross-pollinated with other U.S. corn shipments to China. When Chinese officials discovered the contamination, they banned all U.S. corn imports. The moratorium caused a collapse in the global price of corn and severely damaged multiple types of businesses related to the corn industry.
The lawsuits allege it was not China’s refusal to accept the corn but Syngenta’s misrepresentations to U.S. farmers and others when it claimed its MIR162 genetically modified corn was approved for import in China.
Judge Lungstrum, in our opinion, correctly determined that the real issue is what Syngenta knew or should have foreseen concerning the export realities for U.S. farmers and not whether China acted properly. Syngenta now faces significant litigation in both Judge Lungstrum’s Kansas MDL as well as the state actions filed by Cargill and ADM.
The litigation is In Re: Syngenta AG MIR162 Corn Litig., D. Kan., No. 2:14-md-02591.