USA: Ag Facing Class-Action Lawsuit from North Carolina Farmers

A group of North Carolina farmers has joined hundreds of others around the country who are suing crop science giant Syngenta (NYSE: SYT) AG, alleging that the company’s use of genetically modified corn varieties caused them substantial financial losses.

Attorneys with law firm Brooks Pierce representing a group of five individual farmers or farmer groups filed the lawsuit against the Switzerland-based Syngenta AG in U.S. District Court in eastern North Carolina on Jan. 21. Syngenta Crop Protection has a regional headquarters in Greensboro and a research operation in RTP.

The class-action lawsuit joins a group of more than 360 lawsuits nationwide that have been filed on behalf of corn farmers, with law firms Gray Reed & McGraw in Dallas, Gray Ritter & Graham in St. Louis and Hare Wynn Newell & Newton in Birmingham coordinating the legal effort.

The eastern North Carolina farmers are accusing Syngenta of “overly aggressive commercialization” by selling a genetically modified corn variety, a strain called MIR 162 in its Viptera variety, after it had been approved for use in the U.S. but had yet to receive approval in the important export market of China.

“China’s importance as a purchaser of U.S. corn was continuing to grow, and it still had not approved MIR162,” the lawsuit claims. “Syngenta’s response was to expand sales for the 2012 and 2013 growing seasons and capture more monopoly profits.”

The National Grain and Feed Association estimates that China’s decision in November 2013 to ban imports of U.S. corn because of the presence of MIR 162, an embargo the lawsuit claims continues today, as between $1 billion and $2.9 billion.

Not mentioned in the lawsuit is the fact Syngenta announced in December that Viptera and the MIR 162 variety had received approval from the Chinese authorities, allowing its import going forward.

The lawsuit accuses Syngenta of actively misleading farmers about the importance of the Chinese market, the timing and substance of its application for approval in China and when the country was likely to approve the strain.

“The financial harm that Syngenta has caused North Carolina farmers and their families is significant and very damaging to our state’s economy,” said Brooks Pierce attorney Bob King, one of the attorneys representing the farmers. “We believe that Syngenta sold North Carolina farmers corn seed that it knew would be rejected by China, and we look forward to representing our state’s hardworking corn growers.”

The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages.

A spokesman for Syngenta AG’s North American operations was not immediately available to comment on the lawsuit.

Owen Covington, Triangle Business JournalFebruary 9 2015

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