Monday, March 09, 2015 by: Julie Wilson staff writer
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Agrisure Viptera, a seed genetically altered to contain a protein that kills corn-eating bugs such as earworms and cutworms, had not been approved by China in November 2013 when it was found in several U.S. corn shipments.
China routinely refuses to approve genetically modified seeds before their own testing is complete.
The discovery prompted China to begin rejecting U.S. corn shipments a few months later, resulting in more than 131 million bushels being turned away by one America's most important trade partners.
American farmers took the biggest hit, with the National Grain and Feed Association, a trade group, reporting revenue losses at between $1 billion and $3 billion, according to a report byThe Des Moines Register.
American farmers say major Switzerland-based seed company, Syngenta, "gambled" with their livelihood by exporting unapproved GMO seed to China
Manufactured by the Switzerland-based company Syngenta, Agrisure Viptera corn, or MIR 162, was approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2010. Syngenta sells seeds in more than 90 countries and is the world's largest crop chemicals company, generating a whopping $15 billion a year.
American farmers affected by the rejected shipments say even growers who did not plant theSyngenta seed lost money because China boycotted all U.S. corn and corn byproducts, according to reports.
The enormous financial losses provoked farmers and farm businesses in 20 states to file hundreds of lawsuits against the chemical-maker Syngenta claiming it "gambled" with the livelihood of American growers.
"Knowing that contamination of Viptera corn with the rest of the U.S. corn supply was inevitable, Syngenta nevertheless gambled U.S. farmers' livelihood on approval of Viptera by the major corn-importing countries," according to one lawsuit filed January 13 in the Iowa Southern District Court by Thomas Land and Livestock Corp., a business in the east-central part of the state.
The nature of the Thomas Land and Livestock Corp. lawsuit is property damage and product liability.
Other lawsuits making similar claims have been filed in the corn-growing states of Illinois, Nebraska and Missouri, with hundreds more reportedly being prepared, according to plaintiffs' attorneys.
Agribusiness conglomerates Cargill and ADM file lawsuits against Syngenta citing nearly $100 million in losses
In addition to lawsuits filed by individual farmers, agribusiness conglomerates such as Cargill and ADM, which also export grain, have sued; their businesses too suffered losses. Cargill's estimated losses due to China's boycott are valued at more than $90 million.
A supporter of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the development of related products, Cargill claims Syngenta's sale of MIR 162 before obtaining the proper import approval from major markets was "inconsistent with industry standards and the conduct of other biotechnology companies."
Syngenta said it plans to ask the court to dismiss the farmer lawsuits because "plaintiffs do not and cannot point to any authority barring the introduction of a U.S.-approved product in the U.S. simply because the product was not yet approved for sale in a foreign country like China."
While China eventually approved Syngenta's MIR 162 seed in December 2014, Kansas City lawyer Richard Paul said that doesn't change the assertion that farmers lost money.
"The approval is not the end because markets haven't fully recovered. Obviously that helps, but even though China is now accepting Viptera it has not restored its important levels to pre-ban," said Paul.
"We'll have to see where it goes from here, but it certainly does help put a cap on it, and hopefully at some point here the markets recover."