Dispute is centered around Agrisure Viptera seed, which was rejected by Chinese importers.
Farmers and farm businesses in 20 states have now filed more than 360 lawsuits against agricultural chemicals-maker Syngenta, and hundreds more may be coming as a federal judge organizes the complex case so they can move forward.
The dispute centers around Syngenta's sale of a corn seed called Agrisure Viptera, which was genetically altered to contain a protein that kills corn-eating bugs such as earworms and cutworms. The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved it in 2010, and Syngenta first sold it to farmers in 2011.
China, a growing importer of U.S. corn that refuses to buy genetically modified crops it hasn't tested, had not approved Viptera when Syngenta began selling it. In November 2013, China discovered the Viptera corn trait in several U.S. shipments. It began rejecting U.S. exports in February 2014. Lawsuits say it rejected more than 131 million bushels.
Loss of revenue to the U.S. corn industry has been estimated by the National Grain and Feed Association, a trade group, at between $1 billion and $3 billion. Farmers who did not plant the Syngenta seed, grain handlers and exporters claim they lost money because of the Chinese boycott of U.S. corn and corn byproducts.
“Knowing that contamination of Viptera corn with the rest of the U.S. corn supply was inevitable, Syngenta nevertheless gambled U.S. farmers' livelihood on approval of Viptera by the major corn-importing countries,” according to a lawsuit filed Jan. 13 in federal court in Iowa by Thomas Land and Livestock Corp., a business in east-central Iowa.
Lawsuits making similar claims have been filed in corn-growing states including Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska with hundreds more being prepared, plaintiffs' attorneys say. Some suits are from farmers represented by individual attorneys, others are class-action lawsuits. Agribusiness conglomerates such as Cargill and ADM, which export grain, also have sued, claiming their businesses suffered losses. Cargill's estimate is more than $90 million.