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Another chance to sue Syngenta

By Staff | Jun 10, 2016

FORT DODGE – Corn-growing Iowa farmers who missed the opportunity to add their names to the mass tort lawsuit against Syngenta in the past year and want to do so will have another chance this week.

A pair of junior attorneys – Brittany Deane, of Minnesota, and Briana Deane, of Texas, – are visiting 12 regional communities this week.

The pair, like several other legal teams in the past 18 months, are looking for farmers who grew corn as a commodity crop in 2013, 2014 or 2015.

At issue is an attempt to hold Syngenta responsible for at least a portion of the price loss in corn for allowing its MIR 162 corn trait, marketed as Agrisure Viptera, to be mixed into export shipments that arrived in China in 2013.

China, which had not accepted MIR 162 at the time, shut down all U.S. corn imports for months. The lawsuit claims China’s ban on U.S. corn was at least partially responsible for the crash in corn prices from $7 in 2013 to $3.50 in 2015.

China eventually opened its ports to MIR 162 in December 2015.

The Deanes, who are twin sisters, were in Fort Dodge Monday morning and were scheduled to be in Humboldt and Algona later in the day.

They will continued this week to visit nine other NW Iowa communities including Estherville, Emmetsburg, Pocahontas, Lake City, Sac City, Storm Lake, Spencer, Spirit Lake and Sibley.

Seeking corn growers

The Deanes said they are seeking all farmers who grew any variety of corn as a commodity crop in 2013, 2014 and 2015 – all are eligible to sign onto the mass tort suit.

Farmers did not have to have grown the Agrisure Viptera hybrid. All corn growers were affected when China closed its doors to U.S. corn imports in 2013, the Deanes said, causing a drop in the corn price.

A scheduled meeting Monday morning at Perkins Restaurant, in Fort Dodge, resulted in no one showing up.

Brittany Deane said they have been working their way through Illinois and Wisconsin and found different levels of interest among each area’s farmers.

There is no cost for the corn farmers to join the mass tort suit, they said, and they will pay no legal fees to the legal teams.

“They will never owe money no matter what the settlement is,” Briana Deane said.

“There is nothing to lose but the gas money to get there,” Brittany Deane added.

Lawyers cannot make guarantees, Briana Deane said, “but so far, so good.” They said most farmers join the suit when told they will owe no legal fees, but will receive a portion of any settlement, if there is one.

Briana Deane said attorneys are confident there will be a settlement rather than having the issue go to jury trial.

In March, a federal district court judge assigned a mediator to be on stand-by status to the case, Briana Deane said, “Which signaled us and Syngenta that most likely this thing is headed for settlement” rather than a trial.

Deane said to-date there have been no test cases to see where juries tend to decide on the issue.

“No test cases yet and a mediator already appointed,” she said; “it gives us some confidence that its headed for a settlement.”

Percent liability

The mass tort suit seeks determination of a percentage of Syngenta’s liability, if any, in the sudden drop in price of corn after China’s ban of MIR 162 in 2013.

Other factors are to blame as well, Briana Deane said, “such as weather.” But they believe Syngenta’s release of MIR 62, knowing it could be comingled with corn exports that could find its way into China, leading that country to shut down imports, bears a portion of the price drop.

If the case does not settle, Briana Deane said, “then we’ll see what a jury has to say.”

Brittany Deane added that attorneys are being told that test cases being prepared to be heard in 2017, will give the court and litigants a good feel for how juries are deciding what damages should be set per bushel.

Briana Deane said anticipated settlement could be anywhere from 50 cents to $2 per bushel, but thinks her team “can make a strong argument” for $1 per bushel.

If there is a settlement, 60 percent goes to the farmers , while 40 percent goes to the legal teams. All costs for bringing the suit will be paid from the 40 percent, they said.

In getting payments to farmers, Brittany Deane said, “It’s a moving target. Once we have the settlement it’ll go relatively quickly. But right now its a little bit of a waiting game.”

Joe Sutter, staff writer for The Messenger, in Fort Dodge, contributed to this article.

What the suit’s about

In 2013, China turned back a consignment of U.S. corn because trace amounts of a genetically modified corn trait – MIR 162 – it had not approved for importing was found in the shipment. As a result, China banned all U.S. corn imports expecting that much of U.S. corn was tainted with MIR 162.

The hybrid, marketed as Agrisure Viptera, is designed to stop yield losses from a broad spectrum of lepidopteran pests – a class of insects typically having two pairs of wings covered with fragile scales and mouthparts specialized as a suctorial proboscis.

The suit alleges:

A). “Syngenta knew by 2010 China was projected to be a top-five importer of U.S. corn.”

B). It quotes Michael Mack, Syngenta’s chief executive officer, in the company’s 2011 Half Year Earnings Report that China “continues to have the greatest impact on world markets, with increasing imports not just of soybeans, but also now of corn.”

C). Syngenta compounded the export problems by introducing its second-generation MIR 162 hybrid – Agrisure Duracade – in 2014.

The suit quotes the National Grain and Feed Association as finding that China’s rejection of U.S. corn, based strictly on the presence of MIR 162, lowered corn prices by 11 cents per bushel leading to a projected loss of $1.14 billion during the last nine months of the 2013-2014 marketing year, which ended on Aug. 31, 2014.

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