Sixteen growers and businesses have filed suit seeking monetary and punitive damages from Syngenta
EXCERPT: "Syngenta has caused damages to U.S. farmers, grain handlers, and exporters," the latest lawsuits allege. "Syngenta's conduct in marketing, distributing and selling unapproved corn seed violates the legal standards of the marketplace because the primary market risk falls on U.S. farmers, grain handlers, and exporters, not on Syngenta."
Iowa lawsuits accuse Syngenta over GMO seeds
Des Moines Register, 30 Dec 2014
Iowa farmers and companies are suing Syngenta AG, claiming they suffered financial losses when China rejected corn shipments containing a genetically modified seed developed by the agribusiness giant but not approved for use by China.
Sixteen growers and businesses filed suit Monday seeking monetary and punitive damages from Syngenta, which is based in Switzerland and has operations in Iowa. Including previous legal action, the company now faces challenges from more than 100 farmers and commodity traders, including Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland.
"Syngenta has caused damages to U.S. farmers, grain handlers and exporters," the latest lawsuits allege. "Syngenta's conduct in marketing, distributing and selling unapproved corn seed violates the legal standards of the marketplace because the primary market risk falls on U.S. farmers, grain handlers and exporters, not on Syngenta."
The lawsuits claim the company was negligent by "prematurely" selling the GMO seed before it was approved by countries that are major markets for U.S. corn exports.
Syngenta spokesman Paul Minehart said the lawsuits "are without merit." The company, he said, "strongly upholds the right of growers to have access to approved new technologies that can increase both their productivity and their profitability."
China, a major buyer of U.S. corn, began rejecting imports in November 2013 after it said officials found evidence of a genetically modified corn seed developed by Syngenta that the nation had not approved until earlier this month. The Syngenta corn, known as Agrisure Viptera, has been engineered to protect the crop against damage from insects such as corn borer and corn rootworm.
The seed, which Syngenta submitted to the Chinese government for approval in March 2010, has been approved by Brazil and Argentina and — four years ago — by the United States.
The dispute has highlighted irregularities in the approval process for genetically modified crops, with some countries approving new varieties faster than others — a growing challenge in an increasingly interwoven global market.
"China's is one of the worst," David Miller, director of research at the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, said of its approval process. "You create this dilemma of how long does a company sit on technology that has been approved in (the United States) and may be approved with many trading partners and China hasn't even taken up the process yet."
Trade groups estimate the rejected shipments have cost U.S. farmers more than $1 billion through lower corn prices. The communist nation has long been a key market for the United States, the world's largest exporter of corn, particularly in light of a record U.S. crop for the grain in 2014 that has further helped drive down prices of the commodity used in everything from food and ethanol to livestock feed.
The Agriculture Department has said that Chinese corn imports are expected to increase from 3 million tons in 2012 to about 24.3 million tons by 2023, accounting for about 35 percent of the growth in world corn imports during that period. If that holds true, Iowa, the largest corn-producing state, would stand to be a major beneficiary.
The lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa on behalf of farmers in several Iowa counties, including Cass, Pottawattamie, Montgomery, and Guthrie.
Chad Hart, an Iowa State University associate professor of economics, said that while it's possible some growers in the state are suing hoping for a quick financial payout, others are looking for clarity on the seed approval process. Companies, he said, are not required to tell farmers that the seed has not yet been approved worldwide, something the grower may assume when they grow the crop.
"That to me is the crux of the lawsuit here," Hart said. "Some people may be looking for money. Others I think are looking for some clarity when they purchase seed. Either tell me the limitations on it upfront or make sure I don't have limitations on it when I go forward. This is a problem we could face over and over again so let's get some legal precedent and guidelines here to help us."