Public Health Watchdog Breaking News
Public Health Watchdog Breaking News

A Kansas jury found in favor of Kansas corn producers in a class action lawsuit involving claims over the introduction of genetically modified corn strains from Swiss agribusiness Syngenta.

The class action alleged that the genetically modified corn strain led to the loss of an important market for U.S. corn and resulted in serious economic harm to the producers.

After a half day of deliberations, the jury found Syngenta negligent and awarded $217,700,000 in compensatory damages to the class of more than 7,000 Kansas corn growers the first of eight certified state class actions.

The Kansas trial and a Minnesota trial next month will serve as bellwether trials, providing guidance for how “the complex web of litigation in state and federal courts could be resolved,” according to the Des Moines Register. Bellwether trails in large litigations allow attorneys for both sides to see how juries react and help them determine whether to settle other cases or take them to trial.

Parker Waichman notes that farmers face growing concerns about genetically modified crops and the pesticides and herbicides used in commercial agriculture.

The Kansas corn producers alleged that they suffered significant economic damages when Swiss agribusiness company Syngenta sold two genetically modified strains of corn seed – Agrisure Viptera and Agrisure Duracade – to the U.S. market before China approved them. Syngenta began selling Viptera in the U.S. for the 2011 growing season, but China did not grant approval until December 2014. The lawsuits allege that Syngenta aggressively marketed the seeds to U.S. growers even when it knew Chinese approval was going to be a problem.

Documents in the lawsuit show that Syngenta initially assured stakeholders that China would approve MIR162 in time for the 2011 crop, but the date kept changing, the Register reports. Some corn shipments containing the trait were accepted, but after two years, China began rejecting the Viptera corn.

China Refused All U.S. Corn in 2013

China, which is a major importer of U.S. corn, began refusing shipments of U.S. corn in 2013 after the genetic trait MIR162—not approved in China—was found in U.S. corn. With China’s refusal to accept U.S. corn shipments, the price of corn plummeted and U.S. growers have suffered years of depressed corn prices. Experts estimate that losses to U.S. corn producers exceed $5 billion. Syngenta has denied its actions caused any losses for farmers, according to the Register.

A statement from the lead attorneys in the Kansas class action called the verdict “great news for corn farmers in Kansas and corn growers throughout the country who were seriously hurt by Syngenta’s actions.” The Kansas class action lawsuit was heard in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas. There are certified state class action lawsuits involve corn producers in Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio, and South Dakota, and other state class actions await certification.

The jury award, if upheld on appeal, would be dispersed to the more than 7,000 Kansas farmers in the class, minus attorneys’ fees. Payouts will likely be proportionate to such variables as the number of bushels of corn each farmer sold sold during a relative time period, a plaintiffs’ attorney said.

Genetically Modified Crops

For centuries, farmers have bred crops for desirable traits, but this kind of breeding can be slow to produce the desired result, according to the Federation of American Scientists. Genetic engineering provides quicker results, sometimes in as little as one generation. Genetically modified (GM) crops can offer such benefits as improved yields, enhanced nutritional value, longer shelf life, and resistance to drought, frost, or insect pests.

A number of corn and soybean varieties, for example, have an inserted gene that makes them resistant to the weed killer Roundup (glyphosate). Farmers can spray an entire field without damage to the crop. “Nutritionally enhanced” GM crops may have higher vitamin or mineral content. These foods can help prevent common nutritional deficiencies that cause health problems in developing countries.

But critics of GM crops have raised concerns about potential food safety risks and adverse ecological effects.

Some critics of GM foods worry about the possibility that genes from known allergens may be inserted into foods not typically associated with allergies. Or, the insertion of novel genes into crops could produce new, unknown allergens.

Ecological concerns center on the issue of GM crops cross breeding with wild relatives. The genes introduced into the GM crop could “contaminate” the natural ecosystem, posing problems for organic farmers and possibly harming beneficial insects in the area.

Legal Help for Farmers

Parker Waichman may be able to help farmers who have suffered economic losses in situations involving unapproved genetically modified crops. To contact Parker Waichman for a free, no-obligation case evaluation, please fill out the contact form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).