Lawsuits claim that agribusiness Syngenta is to blame for depressed corn prices because the seed company released a genetically engineered variant of the crop before it was approved by China, a significant export market that reportedly began rejecting U.S. corn shipments in November 2013.
Syngenta Viptera corn not approved for import in China
At issue is Syngenta’s 2009 release and distribution of its MIR 162 genetically modified corn, known as Agrisure Viptera. Though approved for use in the United States, Courthouse News Service reports that Chinese regulators had not yet approved Viptera when Syngenta released the new seed into the market. Syngenta is responsible for “destroy[ing] the export of U.S. corn to China,” which led to “depressed prices for all domestic corn,” according to the complaint filed by Volnek Farms, the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed in Omaha, Nebraska. Volnek Farms and others are claiming $1 billion in damages. The lawsuit filed in Nebraska has now been consolidated with other lawsuits filed in federal court into a multidistrict litigation, or MDL, before Judge John W. Lungstrum in Kansas. Along with monetary claims, some of the lawsuits seek to prevent Syngenta from continuing to cultivate and market MIR 162, or Viptera.
In addition to alleging damage to the U.S. corn export market in China, plaintiffs Cronin Inc. and Jim Ruba, Jr., claim that Syngenta offered “materially misleading statements relating to the approval status of MIR 162 in China and the impact the lack of approval would have on the market.”
U.S. farmers fear contamination of corn supply by Syngenta GMO seeds
According to the complaint, Cronin Inc. and Mr. Ruba report that they do not plant genetically modified corn but are nonetheless affected by “Syngenta’s widespread contamination of the U.S. corn and corn seed supply with MIR 162, which will continue to foreclose the U.S. export market for future years and will continue to lead to lower corn prices per bushel in the U.S. market, as a result.”
China’s importation of U.S. corn had been expected to rise, alleges Nebraska plaintiff Volnek Farms, citing the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But China ceased importing U.S. corn after detecting MIR 162 in shipments, the complaint further alleges.
Though Viptera has been planted on only about three percent of U.S. farm acreage, it is difficult to say for sure “that any shipments of U.S. corn will not be contaminated with trace amounts of MIR 162,” the Nebraska plaintiffs say.
The commingling of corn from various sources at corn distribution centers is “essentially impossible,” according to the Iowa complaint, which cites other major grain companies Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, which do not accept Viptera.
National Grain and Feed Association estimates 11 cent per bushel drop in U.S. corn export prices
Syngenta has been encouraged by the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) to stop selling Viptera, according to the Iowa lawsuit. The NGFA has estimated that actions taken in China against U.S. corn exports have caused prices to drop by 11 cents per bushel.
The Iowa lawsuit alleges that the release of Syngenta’s Viptera has caused the U.S.-to-China corn export market to fall by 85 percent.
Syngenta’s “Plant with Confidence” Agrisure Viptera fact sheet claims that “the vast majority of corn produced in the U.S. is used domestically,” though the USDA says 20 percent of corn produced in the U.S. is exported. These conflicting accounts led to accusations by Iowa plaintiffs that Syngenta has engaged in willful misrepresentation, while the Nebraska plaintiffs allege “reckless disregard” for the commodity market.
Lawsuit alleges introduction of Viptera MIR 162 'crippled' U.S. corn export market to China
According to the Illinois complaint, “Syngenta’s decision to bring Viptera to the market crippled the 2013-14 corn export market to China.”
In 2011, Syngenta requested in federal court that Bunge North America, Inc., owner and operator of grain and milling facilities and grain elevators, be required to reverse its policy and accept Viptera corn. The request was denied.
In April 2014, the NGFA reported that China had barred nearly 1.45 million tons of corn shipments since 2013, resulting in about $427 million in lost sales. China first halted shipments of American corn in November 2013, as reported by Reuters.
Genetically engineered food a cause of concern for Chinese officials
Concern over the safety of genetically engineered food may have played a role in a recent decision by Chinese officials to move away from genetically engineered production in the nation’s own crops. In August, China’s Ministry of Agriculture announced it would not continue with a program that developed genetically modified rice and corn.
Have you grown, harvested, and sold non-Viptera corn commercially?
Are you a corn farmer who has lost profits due to the introduction of MIR 162 into the U.S. corn market? If so, our consumer protection attorneys are interested in speaking with you. Call toll-free (866) 981-4800 for a free and confidential attorney consultation, or fill out the form to the right.