The lawsuit regarding Syngenta’s commercialization of MIR 162 Agrisure Viptera corn is becoming increasingly nasty.
Since I initially blogged about the case in January, the plaintiffs – a group of farmers and commodity traders – have filed new motions essentially saying that corporate greed was more important than sound business practices:
Syngenta had the opportunity to act responsibly in 2010. Its new genetically modified corn Agrisure Viptera, containing the MIR162 genetic trait, had just been deregulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”). But Syngenta was aware that a large and growing export market for U.S. corn farmers, China, had not approved MIR162… Syngenta had been previously warned by industry participants not to introduce another MIR genetic trait because of lack of approval in export markets, and the devastating consequences that could occur from such premature commercialization… Sadly, Syngenta opted for its monopoly profits over responsibility to its stakeholders….These events show corporate greed at its worst.
For its part, Syngenta believes approval of MIR 162 corn by U.S. regulators was good enough to go ahead with manufacturing and marketing of the seeds…. and in a counter lawsuit it suggested ADM and other distribution channels were actually at fault for Viptera corn finding its way to China, a nation that had not approved the trait:
Syngenta believes that once a GM trait has been approved for sale by federal authorities in the U.S., it is entirely lawful to sell seed with that GM trait, and any producer, grain elevator, or exporter who wishes not to handle corn exhibiting that GM trait is responsible for devising its own system for segregating its corn accordingly. Syngenta especially rejects the theory that Syngenta has a duty to control the way third parties—like the non-producers themselves—handle harvested grain grown from Viptera seed so as to keep it segregated from the rest of the corn supply.
That argument was soundly rejected by the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, which wrote in its opinion to move forward with the case that:
The parties were not strangers, but rather were part of an inter-connected industry and market, with expectations on all sides that manufacturers and growers and sellers would act at least in part for the mutual benefit of all in that inter-connected web. This case, however, as noted above, involves a risk of harm to other participants in an inter-connected market, participants whom Syngenta has appeared to embrace as stakeholders, and thus who are especially vulnerable to the wrongful acts alleged by plaintiffs. The inter-connected nature of the parties’ relationship is further demonstrated by Syngenta’s representations that it would indeed take certain steps to protect corn sellers from the very harm that occurred.
In its attempt to point blame ANYWHERE else, Syngenta has also dragged Express Grain Terminal LLC and Rail Transfer Inc. into the legal muck, arguing the two companies negligently distributed MIR 162 corn in export channels.
Syngenta reasons that even if it had an interconnected relationship, it’s not Syngenta’s problem if MIR 162 corn found its way to China:
The critical point here is that, if any such duty exists, the duty properly falls most squarely on the shoulders of the actors in the industry who actually accomplish the commingling that disperses a GM trait in the corn supply—namely, on the grain elevators, shippers, and exporters who commingle commodity corn together.
District Judge John W. Lungstrum and Magistrate Judge James P. O’Hara have called for a status conference of all parties in the lawsuit and counter lawsuits for March 15.
Much is at stake – most notably whether seed companies are liable for GMO strains approved in the United States but not by major foreign markets.
For that reason, it’s very likely that however the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas rules, the case will end in appellate court.
About Dave Dickey
Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For the past 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Big Ag Watch covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column reflects the writer’s own opinions and not those of Big Ag Watch.