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China approves Syngenta GMO trait

By Staff | Jan 1, 2015

kersh@farm-news.com

CHICAGO – Following a Dec. 17 bilateral meeting between the U.S. and China in Chicago, China has approved the Syngenta MIR 162 trait for corn for import.

The Dec. 22 announcement was good news for the U.S. corn industry.

It also does not affect the class action suit filed in October against Syngenta for releasing the trait before China approved it, said Adam Levitt, lead counsel for the suit seeking export revenue losses from Syngenta.

MIR 162 was marketed as Agrisure Viptera and Duracade. It’s a trait designed to control as many as 14 yield-robbing insects.

Levitt leads the Consumer Practice group of law firm Grant & Eisenhofer P.A. in Chicago, and was the lead counsel in the 2001 StarLink Corn Products liability litigation, another class action suit involving GMO corn.

At issue is China’s 2012 ban of U.S. corn exports after it found trace elements of MIR 162, which it had not approved. Plaintiffs in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas Missouri and Nebraska blamed Syngenta for lost revenue by releasing the trait before China’s approval. The trait ended up in the 2012 shipment that resulted in China’s ban.

Levitt said China’s approval of MIR 162 will not affect the viability of the lawsuit.

If anything, he said, “it will give a clear picture of where Syngenta went wrong” by releasing MIR 162 ahead of China’s approval.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack noted on Dec. 17 that China would begin approving imports of genetically modified corn developed by Syngenta Corp.

The Syngenta cases were transferred recently to Judge John Lungstrum in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas. The initial hearing is set for Jan. 21.

The plaintiffs contend that Syngenta’s release of the GMO corn in the United States caused domestic corn to be effectively excluded from China.

Suits without merit

“Syngenta believes that the lawsuits are without merit,” Paul Minehart, director of communications for Syngenta-North America, told Farm News in October 2014, “and strongly upholds the right of growers to have access to approved new technologies that can increase both their productivity and their profitability.

“The Agrisure Viptera trait was approved for cultivation in the U.S. in 2010. Syngenta commercialized the trait in full compliance with regulatory and legal requirements.

“Syngenta also obtained import approval from major corn importing countries. Syngenta has been fully transparent in commercializing the trait over the last four years.”

Protectionism

“It is understood that China has had a good amount of success with its corn production the last few years,” said Ken Columbini, director of communications for NCGA. “From the reports we have heard, they have an ample surplus of domestically produced corn that, due to their agricultural policies, is not competitive with world grain prices.

“It stands to reason that the government would try to protect their domestic producers and utilize their corn before looking to import.

“The ban on MIR 162 is what they are using to protect their markets this time. In the past, they have protected their markets with other mechanisms not related to biotechnology.”

In addition, Columbini said the plaintiffs are individual farmers acting on their own behalf and are in no way representative of the position of the NCGA or state affiliates.

Seeking damages

“China’s rejection of Agrisure Viptera corn for the past year caused tremendous damage to farmers,” Levitt said, “not just as a result of the lost imports and creation of a surplus at home, but also because the reputation of U.S. commodities has been adversely affected in the Chinese market as a result of the cessation of imports.

“In other words, lost markets don’t come back at the flip of a switch. Syngenta’s alleged conduct will continue to hurt U.S. corn producers and others in the U.S. corn production chain for a long time to come.”

Levitt served as co-lead counsel in some of the largest agriculture and biotech class actions in recent years, securing more than $1 billion in damages for plaintiffs.

In the StarLink suit, Levitt recovered $110 million on behalf of farmers whose corn crop suffered losses due to contamination from genetically-modified StarLink corn.

In the a genetically modified rice litigation, Levitt recovered more than $750 million for U.S. rice farmers who sustained economic and other losses resulting from contamination from Bayer’s unapproved, genetically modified LLRICE seed trait.

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