Syngenta Fighting GMO Corn Lawsuits At Federal, State Levels After Court Order

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By David Schultz

May 21 — A federal judge's order to send back to state court two of the of hundreds of lawsuits against Syngenta over its marketing of genetically modified corn is bad news for the Swiss agribusiness company because it widens the already large legal battlefield upon which Syngenta must fight, according to one attorney involved in the litigation.

Judge John Lungstrum of the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas ruled May 5 that the companies Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland should not try their lawsuits against Syngenta in federal court. But, as of now, the other GMO corn lawsuits against Syngenta will stay in Lungstrum's court (In Re: Syngenta AG MIR162 Corn Litig., D. Kan., No. 2:14-md-02591, order to remand, 5/5/15).

“Now we have ability to attack them in state court and federal court,” Jayne Conroy, one of the lead plaintiffs attorneys in the litigation, told Bloomberg BNA. “That’s always an advantage for plaintiffs.”

Conroy said the case will now move into an intensive discovery phase, which could last for a year or longer. In this phase, the plaintiffs will get an opportunity to depose Syngenta executives, she said.

Chinese Moratorium 

The more than 1,800 plaintiffs suing Syngenta—corn farmers, grain elevators, exporters and others—say the company made reckless and misleading statements about the Chinese approval status of one of their products, a line of insect-resistant GMO corn called Agrisure Viptera.

The plaintiffs say Syngenta told its customers in 2010 that Chinese authorities were very close to granting it approval to sell Viptera in China. They say this led the farmers who bought Viptera to believe, falsely as it turned out, that they did not need to worry about what was then China's zero-tolerance policy for imports of GMO corn.

In reality, Chinese approval of Viptera didn't come until almost five years later. Before that happened, Chinese authorities discovered trace amounts of Viptera within shipments of corn from the U.S., which led them in 2013 to impose a temporary moratorium on all U.S. corn imports. The plaintiffs say the moratorium caused a collapse in the global price of corn, severely damaging their businesses.

‘Tractor-Chasing Lawyers.'

Syngenta denies these claims and has started a website called Viptera China Facts to rebut them. On the website, the company says the price of corn was falling for months prior to the enactment of the Chinese moratorium and that China imposed it not because of the discovery of Viptera in shipments but, instead, because of the country's own oversupply issues.

In addition to a rebuttal, the company's website includes links to several news stories, one of which describes the attorneys representing the plaintiffs as “tractor-chasing lawyers.”

“Syngenta believes the lawsuits are without merit,” company spokesman Paul Minehart told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Schultz in Washington at dschultz@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

Lungstrum's remand order is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/In_Re_Syngenta_AG_MIR162_Corn_Litigation_Docket_No_214md02591_D_K.