A federal jury in Kansas City has ordered Syngenta to pay $217.7 million in economic damages dating to 2013, when China rejected imports of American corn tainted with unapproved GMO corn seed. The seed in question tested positive for Syngenta’s genetically modified Viptera MIR162.
“The verdict is great news for corn farmers in Kansas and corn growers throughout the country who were seriously hurt by Syngenta’s actions,” lawyers for the farmers told Law360. “This is only the beginning. We look forward to pursuing justice for thousands more corn farmers in the months ahead.”
Syngenta’s blame for the contamination stems from the fact that the company rushed its GMO corn seeds to market before getting approval from China to export grain there. Given China’s status as the third-largest buyer of U.S. corn at the time, this has been perceived as negligent behavior.
“Syngenta rushed this product to market to serve its own commercial interests,’’ Scott Powell, the farmers’ lawyer, told jurors Thursday. “No consideration was given to the farmers.’’
The payout was awarded to more than 7,000 corn growers and exporters in Kansas, who were met with severe financial strain when the price of U.S. corn dropped to record lows following China’s refusal of the imports. The average price of corn has fallen 20 percent since the Chinese ban.
Lawyers for U.S. corn farmers say Syngenta cost the industry a total of up to $13 billion nationwide. They have filed class actions on behalf of about 350,000 corn growers in many other states.
“This drastically changes the complexion of the upcoming litigation,” Anthony Sabino, law professor at St. John’s University in New York, told Bloomberg of the decision. “A jury found the plaintiffs’ claims of depressed prices so convincing that, not only did the jury give them a win on the liability, they awarded the entire amount of damages asked for. That is not an everyday occurrence.”
Syngenta says it will appeal the verdict.
Nearly 90 percent of American corn produced today is genetically modified. Roughly 13 percent of the crop is exported.
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