WASHINGTON, Sept. 28, 2016 - Hundreds of thousands of corn growers may participate in a class-action lawsuit against Syngenta for selling genetically modified seed with a trait that had not been approved by China, a federal judge has ruled.

The plaintiffs, who did not use the GMO corn known as Agrisure Viptera and Duracade, claim that because of China’s November 2013 decision to block imports of U.S. corn, they suffered losses of between $5 billion and $7 billion.China allowed imports of corn containing the MIR162 trait in December 2014.

In his Sept. 26 ruling, U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum in Kansas City, Kansas, rejected Syngenta’s arguments against class certification. The company had argued that some of the proposed class definitions – about how to place a value on the corn, for example – were too vague.

“The proposed class definitions are properly based on objective criteria and are not impermissibly vague,” Lungstrum said in his 34-page order.

“Tens of thousands of putative class members have not brought individual actions, and the great efficiencies that may be achieved make class actions superior to individual actions, despite the fact that so many individual actions have been filed,” Lungstrum said in his ruling. “In addition, any class member who does desire to control the litigation of its own claims may opt out of the class action and pursue its own suit.”

“The court’s ruling will make it easier and less expensive for farmers to pursue their claims against Syngenta,” said Scott Powell, who was appointed by the court to represent the class, along with attorneys Don Downing, William Chaney and Patrick Stueve.

“Instead of having to retain and pay individual counsel, file their own lawsuit, produce voluminous farm records, sit for a deposition and appear at trial, the court found that all class members may attempt to prove their claims through a limited number of class representatives,” Powell said. “If those class representatives win, all class members win. No individual farmer has to file a lawsuit to seek a recovery.”

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In a statement, Syngenta called Lungstrum’s order “a procedural decision” and that it “respectfully disagrees with this ruling, particularly given the widely varying ways in which farmers grow and sell corn in different markets across the U.S. The court did not rule that plaintiffs’ claims actually have merit.”

“Syngenta is considering its appellate options,” the company said. “Syngenta firmly believes that the Viptera China lawsuits should be rejected and that Agrisure Viptera was commercialized in full compliance with regulatory and legal requirements. We will continue to defend the rights of American farmers to have access to safe, effective, U.S.-approved agricultural technologies like Agrisure Viptera.”

One of the attorneys representing the class participants, William Chaney, said that “now that a class is certified, the court will authorize mailing of a notice to corn producers within the class describing the benefits and consequences of remaining in the class. I urge any farmer considering whether to retain an individual lawyer to wait for the court’s notice before making a decision.”

The court has not set a deadline for farmers to decide whether they want to be excluded from the class.


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