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Syngenta Settles Class-Action Suit Over Corn Shipments To China For $1.5 Billion

Syngenta is one of the top global seed companies.
Amy Mayer
Harvest Public Media file photo
Syngenta is one of the top global seed companies.

Updated March 13 with details of settlement — U.S. corn growers, grain-handling operations and ethanol plants will see a slice of a $1.5 billion settlement Monday in a class-action lawsuit over a genetically engineered variety made by Swiss-based Syngenta AG. 


Thousands of farmers had sued after Syngenta, which was waiting for Chinese regulatory approval, sold the seed in the U.S. starting in the 2011 growing season. China, which didn't approve the change until 2014, discovered the modified seed in a 2013 shipment and rejected all American-grown corn, leading to a drop in prices. 


The Associated Press reports that all U.S. corn growers who sold the crop for prices set after September 2013 are covered by the settlement, which must be approved by the U.S. District Court in Kansas.


Syngenta said in a statement that the settlement "does not constitute an admission by either side concerning the merits of the parties' allegations and defenses."


Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst, a corn farmer, said the settlement isn't going to fill farmers' coffers due to attorney fees and the number of people that were part of the suit


"Yeah, I came in and went to work today," he told Harvest Public Media on Tuesday, adding, "Not going to be a huge windfall to any in particular farmer."


Original story from Sept. 27, 2017— Lawsuits brought by farmers against one of the world’s leading seed companies will end in settlements.


Thousands of farmerssued Syngenta AGover its marketing of a genetically engineered variety of corn. The company had approval to sell it in the United States, but Chinese regulators had not yet given the new trait in the seeds the green light. So when they discovered it in a 2013 shipment, they rejected all U.S. corn. Prices plummeted.


Lewis Remele, an attorney with Bassford Remele in Minneapolis, who represents a group of farmers in a Minnesota State Court suit against Syngenta, says the terms of the settlement are supposed to remain confidential for 30 days while Syngenta takes care of securities filings. Reuters is reportingthe settlement could be $1.5 billion.


“The reason everybody brought these lawsuits was to get compensation for farmers who we thought were damaged as a result of what happened with these shipments to China,”Remelesays. “So we’re pleased that farmers are going to get compensation for what happened here.”


The settlement will apply to lawsuits brought by farmers in Minnesota, Kansas and Illinois,Remelesays. It also covers suits brought by grain elevators and ethanol plants, he says, but it does not apply to separate litigation that grain exporters, including Cargill and ADM, have pending againstSyngenta.


Syngenta maintains general market forces pushed down the price of corn in 2013, but in June aKansas jury sided with farmersawarding them nearly $218 million. At that time, Syngenta issued a statement saying the verdict was disappointing “because it will only serve to deny American farmers access to future technologies even when they are fully approved in the U.S.”


Kansas City attorney PatrickStueveofStueveSiegel Hanson, who represented the farmers in that Kansas suit, issued a statement about the pending settlement:


"As class counsel for the nationwide class of corn farmers, we can confirm the existence of a preliminary settlement framework subject to further negotiations, including negotiations regarding the terms of the settlement. We look forward to continued negotiations with Syngenta as the parties work toward a final settlement agreement covering corn farmers and certain non-producers that we can recommend to the Court for final approval."


For its part,Syngentaissued a statement that concluded, “The proposed settlement would allow both sides to avoid the uncertainty of ongoing litigation. The settlement does not constitute an admission by either side concerning the merits of the parties’ allegations and defenses.”

Remele says lawyers are still working out the details of administering and distributing the settlement and those plans are part of what will be submitted to the court for approval. 

Copyright 2018 Harvest Public Media

Madelyn Beck
Madelyn Beck is a regional Illinois reporter, based in Galesburg. On top of her work for Harvest Public Media, she also contributes to WVIK, Tri-States Public Radio and the Illinois Newsroom collaborative. Beck is from a small cow ranch in Manhattan, Montana. Her previous work was mostly based in the western U.S., but she has covered agriculture, environment and health issues from Alaska to Washington, D.C. Before joining Harvest and the Illinois Newsroom, she was as an energy reporter based in Wyoming for the public radio collaborative Inside Energy. Other publications include the Idaho Mountain Express, E&E News/EnergyWire, KRBD Rainbird Radio, the Montana Broadcasters Association, Montana Public Radio and the Tioga Tribune.
Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames. She covers agriculture and is part of the Harvest Public Media collaboration. Amy worked as an independent producer for many years and also previously had stints as weekend news host and reporter at WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts and as a reporter and host/producer of a weekly call-in health show at KUAC in Fairbanks, Alaska. Amy’s work has earned awards from SPJ, the Alaska Press Club and the Massachusetts/Rhode Island AP. Her stories have aired on NPR news programs such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition and on Only A Game, Marketplace and Living on Earth. She produced the 2011 documentary Peace Corps Voices, which aired in over 160 communities across the country and has written for The New York Times, Boston Globe, Real Simple and other print outlets. Amy served on the board of directors of the Association of Independents in Radio from 2008-2015.