WASHINGTON, June 23, 2017 - A Kansas jury has awarded $217.7 million in damages to more than 7,000 corn growers in the state after finding that Syngenta was negligent in marketing corn to U.S. farmers that was rejected by China in 2013.
“We’re very pleased,” plaintiffs’ attorney Patrick Stueve told Agri-Pulse today shortly after the verdict was announced. “The jury awarded full compensatory damages” – the amount sought by plaintiffs.
Syngenta maintained the claims are without merit and vowed to appeal.
But Stueve said the jury, which heard the case in federal court in Kansas City, Kan., “was sending a very strong message that they don’t want a repeat of this pattern of conduct in the future.”
The class of plaintiffs, represented by four Kansas growers, alleged they suffered economic loss from lower corn prices and lost sales when Syngenta sold two genetically modified strains of its corn seed – Agrisure Viptera and Agrisure Duracade – to the U.S. market before China had approved the traits for import.
Syngenta had argued that corn prices were already falling when China began rejecting the corn shipments, and that the country’s refusal to accept U.S. corn was unrelated to the discovery of traces of the MIR162 trait. But the jury rejected those arguments. China eventually approved the trait for import in December 2014, 13 months after it had stopped accepting U.S. corn.
“The verdict is great news for corn farmers in Kansas and corn growers throughout the country who were seriously hurt by Syngenta’s actions,” the four co-lead counsel said in a statement issued shortly after the verdict was announced. “This is only the beginning. We look forward to pursuing justice for thousands more corn farmers in the months ahead.” In the statement, they said that nationwide losses to U.S. corn growers "due to the loss of the Chinese market are estimated to exceed $5 billion."
The Kansas trial was the first of eight federally certified state class-action lawsuits in a series of so-called “bellwether” cases to go to a jury. The other certified state class action lawsuits involve Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio, and South Dakota corn producers. Bellwether cases are designed to help parties gauge the relative strength or weakness of their claims and determine whether they should settle.
Syngenta issued a statement saying it was “disappointed with today’s verdict because it will only serve to deny American farmers access to future technologies even when they are fully approved in the U.S.”
The case “is without merit,” the company said, vowing to appeal “and continue to defend the rights of American farmers to access safe and effective U.S.-approved technologies.”
“Syngenta commercialized Agrisure Viptera in full compliance with U.S. regulatory and legal requirements, including USDA, EPA, and FDA regulations. Viptera had also received approval in the key import markets recommended at the time by the National Corn Growers Association and other industry associations.”
The company, which has received shareholder approval to be acquired by China National Chemical Corp., or ChemChina, said it “believes that American farmers should have access to the latest U.S.-approved technology to help them increase their productivity and yield. American farmers shouldn’t have to rely on a foreign government to decide what products they can use on their farms.”
The plaintiffs were represented by Don Downing of Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C., Scott Powell of Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton, Patrick Stueve of Stueve Siegel Hanson LLP and William Chaney of Gray Reed & McGraw LLP.
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