U.S. farmers from five major corn-growing states have filed multiple class-action lawsuits against Syngenta, claiming that the company’s genetically modified MIR162 corn has caused more than $1 billion in damages. The farmers allege that U.S. corn prices have plummeted because China is rejecting shipments that contain traces of MIR162, which is not approved for sale in China.
MIR162, also known as Agrisure Viptera, is engineered to make a Bacillus thuringiensis protein that is toxic to several insect pests. None of the farmers involved in the lawsuits planted MIR162 seed in their fields in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska. But their harvested crop was contaminated with traces of the transgenic trait, rendering it unsalable to the Chinese market.
How their corn got tainted with MIR162 is unknown, although one possibility is commingling of corn from multiple sources.
The lawsuits claim that Syngenta misled farmers into thinking Chinese approval of corn with the trait was imminent. They also say the company downplayed the importance of China as a major export market for U.S. corn.
“By promoting and marketing a genetically modified corn seed before the seed had received import approval from China, Syngenta placed its own profit margins over corn farmers’ livelihoods,” says James J. Pizzirusso, a partner with Washington D.C.-based law firm Hausfeld, which is representing the farmers.
The class-action lawsuits come just one month after agribusiness firm Cargill sued Syngenta, claiming it suffered $90 million in damages when China rejected Cargill’s corn shipments containing traces of MIR162.
Syngenta says the cases are without merit, adding that growers should have the right to use “approved new technologies that can increase both their productivity and their profitability.” The MIR162 seeds were approved for planting in the U.S. in 2010. Syngenta says the company followed all regulatory and legal requirements and “obtained import approval from major corn importing countries.”
The National Grain & Feed Association estimates that U.S. growers of corn, distillers’ grains, and soy—which may be stored in facilities that previously contained corn—have sustained losses of up to $2.9 billion since China began enforcing its zero-tolerance policy on MIR162 in November 2013.