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Jury Awards $217.7 Million to Kansas Corn Growers in Syngenta GMO Class Action Lawsuit

A Kansas jury sided with Kansas corn producers in the first of eight certified state class action lawsuits. After a half-day of deliberation, the jury awarded Kansas corn growers $217.7 million in compensatory damages to the class of more than 7,000 Kansas corn growers, according to a news release sent by the law firm Gray Reed & McGraw LLP. Each claimant will receive $31,100 (not accounting for legal fees or details regarding dispersal among farmers).

These farmers were represented in the lawsuit by four Kansas corn producer plaintiffs (Five Star Farms et al v. Syngenta AG et al, No. 2:14-cv-02571.) The class action suit claimed that Syngenta’s genetically modified strains of corn led to the loss of an important market for U.S. corn and caused them economic harm. 

The news release said that the Kansas plaintiffs alleged they suffered significant economic damages when Syngenta sold genetically modified strains of its corn seed to the U.S. market prior to China approving them. China, a major importer of U.S. corn, began refusing all shipments of U.S. corn in 2013 after a genetic trait found in Viptera - MIR162 - was detected in shipments from the U.S. The genetic trait at the time was not approved in China. With the loss of the Chinese market, corn growers in Kansas and across the U.S. saw the price of corn plummet and suffered long-lasting economic damage, according to the law firm’s news release.

The plaintiffs were represented by Don Downing of Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C.; Scott Powell of Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton; Patrick Stueve of Stueve Siegel Hanson LLP; and William Chaney of Gray Reed & McGraw LLP.

The Kansas class action lawsuit, which began June 5, was heard in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas. It is the first of eight state class action lawsuits certified in this Multi-District Litigation so far. The other certified state class action lawsuits involve Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio, and South Dakota corn producers. Numerous other state class action lawsuits in this matter are awaiting certification. 

Syngenta officials have countered that at the time the trait was launched, the industry did not consider China to be a key market for U.S. corn. Thus, they decided to launch Viptera when Chinese approval for corn containing the Viptera trait had not occurred. 

Syngenta officials also say corn prices were already dropping before China rejected the load. Thus, U.S. corn responded to a change in the supply and demand situation, and not the Chinese situation. 

In response to the jury verdict, Syngenta released this statement this afternoon: 

"We are disappointed with today’s verdict because it will only serve to deny American farmers access to future technologies even when they are fully approved in the U.S.  The case is without merit and we will move forward with an appeal and continue to defend the rights of American farmers to access safe and effective U.S.- approved technologies. 

Syngenta commercialized Agrisure Viptera in full compliance with U.S. regulatory and legal requirements, including USDA, EPA, and FDA regulations.  Viptera had also received approval in the key import markets recommended at the time by the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and other industry associations. 

Syngenta believes that American farmers should have access to the latest U.S.-approved technology to help them increase their productivity and yield.  American farmers shouldn’t have to rely on a foreign government to decide what products they can use on their farms."

 

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