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Corn Wars: A Legal Battle Over GMO Traits

Cargill has filed a lawsuit against Syngenta Seeds, Inc. accusing it of commercializing a GMO trait (MIR 162) corn seed not yet approved for importation into China. Cargill claims it is losing millions of dollars as a result of China refusing to take U.S. corn with the Syngenta trait.

Let’s look at the complaints filed in court, rather than the dueling press release stories.

Cargill accuses Syngenta of not practicing “responsible stewardship” in commercializing a GMO event before receiving approval from China to export the corn.

China, since November, 2013, has been rejecting imports of U.S. corn due to the presence of Syngenta’s trait. According to Cargill, U.S. exporters and farmers have lost or may lose $2.9 billion.

Cargill claims it is all for new technology “including new GMO seed products,” but says there must be responsible stewardship of agricultural innovation.

Syngenta says, in the battle of press releases, that Cargill’s lawsuit is “without merit and [Syngenta] upholds the right of growers to have access to approved new technologies…”  Syngenta’s MIR 162 trait was approved for cultivation in the U.S. in 2010.

A second lawsuit
A new player, Trans Coastal, located in Decatur, Ill., has filed suit against Syngenta. Trans Coastal is an international exporter of corn and dried distillers grain with solubles. It claims its livelihood is at risk because Syngenta released its trait before countries such as China approved the Syngenta GMO trait.

In its complaint against Syngenta, it says sales to China have stalled, its contracts are being defaulted on and the company is incurring losses.

Trans Coastal claims MIR 162, which was sold and distributed in 2014, is in 70 varieties of corn because the Syngenta trait provides insect resistance which farmers desire.

The complaint says Syngenta’s trait has been licensed, marketed and sold in the U.S. since 2009 but products containing MIR 162 have not been approved for importation into China.

Trans Coastal claims “Syngenta has misinformed farmers, grain elevators, grain exporters, its investors and the general public into believing that approval from China was imminent.” Serious charges!

Further, it says Syngenta cannot claim ignorance for the potential of damage by citing reports from exporting organizations.

The complaint claims, “According to the National Grain and Feed Association, Syngenta’s premature release of VIPTERA corn cost the U.S. corn market at least $1 billion – if not nearly $3 billion – due to the rejection and/or seizure of U.S. containers and cargo ships carrying corn to China.” (This claim will create class action lawsuits by plaintiffs’ attorneys and the first one has been sent to me.)

Trans Coastal, in a startling paragraph, claims “If not stopped, Syngenta is going to continue to destroy U.S. exports of corn and DDGS to China.”

The Trans Coastal complaint provides some interesting statistics. At one time, DDGS were fetching over $250 per ton. Starting in November, 2013, with the Chinese rejection of corn with MIR 162, DDGS prices fell to $85 per ton this past July.

Allegedly China, up until 2013, was taking approximately 46% of total DDGS exports.

Trans Coastal admits Syngenta’s genetically altered corn has proteins that help control Black Cut Worm, Corn Earworm, European Corn Borer, Fall Armyworm, Western Bean Cutworm, and Stalk Borer. Also, Syngenta’s GMO product was subject to U.S. and foreign regulatory approval and identifies the U.S., Japan and the European Union as having approved its trait. However, China has not approved it.

Serious claims for relief
One count of the complaint alleges a violation of a federal statute, the Lanham Act. This Act allows a civil action for money damages if any person is damaged by another, if there is a false designation or false misleading representations in commercial advertising or promotion regarding one’s goods or services.

Another interesting claim is that Syngenta has created a public nuisance by causing widespread contamination of the U.S. corn and DDGS supply.

In a really curious count, Trans Coastal alleges a “trespass to chattels” (a claim only a lawyer could love). This interesting claim involves Syngenta’s contamination of the corn supply and such contamination has caused a rejection and seizure of its product, thus causing a trespass in seizing the product.

Another count claims that Syngenta’s testing, growing and selling of its corn seed is an ultra-hazardous or abnormally dangerous activity.

Another serious claim against Syngenta is that it engaged in fraudulent misrepresentation. Trans Coastal says, “Syngenta knew or had reason to know that its statements were likely to be regarded as important in determining future actions…” related to its MIR 162 corn.

Syngenta developed a good product for American farmers. The government of China, for whatever reason, finds a problem with the GMO technology. No matter what happens, we are all losers regarding these corn lawsuits.

Courtesy Gary Baise