Tens of thousands of farmers — including an estimated 22,000 in Minnesota who filed a class-action lawsuit — have reached a pending settlement with Syngenta Seeds LLC over a dispute about lost sales and lower corn prices.
The settlement also would affect an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 Minnesota farmers who filed individual lawsuits and farmers in half a dozen other states including Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and Illinois. A dollar amount for the settlement was not released.
“It’s a global settlement,” said Lewis Remele, Minneapolis attorney and co-lead counsel for the Minnesota farmers. “It’s intended to resolve the litigation in several states for all the farmers and the nonproducers, which are the elevators and ethanol plants.”
At issue is whether the company, a Minnetonka-based subsidiary of agri-giant Syngenta AG, was negligent in putting a genetically modified corn seed called Agrisure Viptera on the market too soon, before it had been approved by Chinese regulators. Syngenta launched the product in 2010 for planting in 2011 after its approval by U.S. agencies. The seed was genetically modified to kill corn earworm, cutworm and other insects.
China rejected U.S. shipments that had any traces of Viptera beginning in late 2013. Minnesota farmers in the lawsuit alleged that they lost $450 million in sales and saw lower corn prices. The settlement also applies to another Syngenta corn seed called Agrisure Duracade, approved by U.S. regulators in 2013 and first planted in 2014.
China approved Viptera for import in 2014 and Duracade in 2017 and has recently begun increasing its purchases of U.S. corn.
Under the pending settlement, subject to court approval, Syngenta would establish a fund for those who claim they lost money on selling corn or corn byproducts after Sept. 15, 2013. More details about the fund and the claims process will become available after both sides execute the settlement and submit it and other papers to the court later this year. Some of the lawsuits also include Syngenta’s parent company and other subsidiaries.
The settlement was announced Tuesday morning in court in Minneapolis, where a jury in its third week of hearing testimony in the Minnesota class-action case was dismissed. A federal jury in Kansas in June ordered Syngenta to pay nearly $218 million to more than 7,300 Kansas farmers in a similar lawsuit. Also in June, an Ohio judge dismissed a case against Syngenta filed by an ethanol company in state court.
The global settlement does not include Canada. It also does not include exporters including Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill that have also filed separate lawsuits that are pending.
‘Actions were appropriate’
“Syngenta will continue to vigorously defend those cases,” said company spokesman Paul Minehart in a statement. “Syngenta firmly maintains that its actions were appropriate and continues to believe that American farmers should have access to the latest U.S.-approved technologies to help them increase their productivity and crop yield.”
Syngenta’s parent company, Syngenta AG, is headquartered in Switzerland and has been acquired in a $43 billion deal by China National Chemical Corp., a state-owned company. The acquisition was announced last year and completed in May 2017. Regulatory approval is still pending in Argentina and Costa Rica, the company said.