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Syngenta settles with plaintiffs for $1.5 billion over GMO corn

Syngenta settles with plaintiffs for $1.5 billion over GMO corn

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Swiss agribusiness giant Syngenta AG has settled hundreds of U.S. lawsuits brought by more than 350,000 corn growers who claimed as much as $13 billion in losses over the company’s troubled rollout of a genetically modified (GMO) corn seed variety before China approved it for imports.

The $1.5 billion proposed settlement Sept. 26 came amid a jury trial in state court in Minneapolis brought by 22,000 farmers, which became the second test case to go to trial over the GMO corn strain known as Agrisure Viptera (MIR-162).

Syngenta began selling Viptera to U.S. farmers with USDA approval for the 2011 growing season, but China didn’t accept it for imports until three years later in 2014.

“It’s a global settlement,” said Lee Remele, the lead attorney representing Minnesota farmers. “It’s intended to resolve the litigation in several states for all farmers and non-producers, which are elevators and ethanol plants.”

The settlement sets up a fund that will also cover farmers in Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois and other states.

Syngenta spokesman Paul Minehart said, “The proposed settlement would allow both sides to avoid the uncertainty of ongoing litigation. Syngenta firmly maintains that its actions were appropriate and continues to believe that American farmers should have access to the latest U.S.-approved technologies to help them increase their productivity and crop yield.”

The company further added the settlement does not constitute an admission by either side over the merits of the cases.

In a number of the class-action lawsuits, hundreds of thousands of farmers nationwide claimed Syngenta was responsible for at least part of the price plunge that devastated the corn market in 2013. The move caused farmers and exporters to lose nearly $3 billion in market disruptions after the seed launch, the National Grain and Feed Assoc. claimed.

Syngenta had pushed its insect-resistant Viptera seeds to farmers before China approved it for imports. It was during this period that China rejected more than 1 million tons of the specialty corn strain that caused the price crisis.

Syngenta rejected that claim and said larger market forces, not China’s rejection of Viptera, drove the prices down. Besides, it said, China wasn’t a big corn importer when the GMO seeds were launched.

More than 90 percent of corn grown by U.S. farmers – the world’s largest supplier – is GMO, according to the USDA.

A federal jury in June ordered Syngenta to pay $217.7 million to more than 7,300 Kansas farmers who also suffered losses caused by China’s refusal to accept their corn shipments in 2013.

The latest settlement does not apply to pending lawsuits filed by U.S. grain giants Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, as well as cases brought by Canadian farmers. Cargill’s trial is scheduled to begin in September 2018.

The settlement comes on the heels of the just completed $43 billion merger of Syngenta with the state-owned China National Chemical Corp., known as ChemChina. The Minnesota case was held in the state district court of Hennepin County, in Minneapolis, Case No. 27-cv-15-3785.