Syngenta looks to appeal class action order in GM corn lawsuit

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Syngenta AG is asking for the chance to appeal certification of class action lawsuits in the ongoing case over the release of its Vipterra GM corn. 

Syngenta filed its petition against the last week in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, in Denver, challenging a federal court's ruling creating a major class of farmers that could have been damaged due to the release of the Viptera GM corn trait onto the US market.

Farmers in the nine certified class actions are seeking more than $5bn in damages from loss of market when China rejected several shipments of corn containing an unapproved strain of biotech corn produced by the Swiss company.

The class approval was granted by US District Court Judge John Lungstrum in September.

Syngenta is appealing the decision based on the “fundamental errors” that the court has not resolved, it said in the petition.

Legal representation for the Swiss company said that creating a nationwide class of farmers for the case was not fair as it would include farmers who were not actually harmed by the trade dispute.

“Plaintiffs’ predominance arguments hinged on their experts’ assertion that a change in the price of corn on the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) is uniformly reflected in all local prices thus providing common evidence of injury for all farmers.

“But when the same lawyers using the same experts asserting the same opinions argued that changes in CBOT prices uniformly affected local prices for another commodity grain (rice), a court that properly weighed expert opinions flatly rejected those theories and denied class certification,” said Syngenta in the court filing.

Background 

The Swiss company is dealing with multiple lawsuits claiming it should have inspected and prevented harvested Viptera (MIR 162) corn from being shipped to China in 2013 and 2014. 

The corn was approved for use in the US but not in China – which was a major export market for US corn producers, according to court documents. The presence of the unapproved corn reportedly caused several shipments of the feed grain to be rejected by China.

The litigation process began when Syngenta was sued by several large agribusiness, including Cargill and ADM, for what they claimed was billions in losses arising from the Chinese decision.

And the Swiss biotech giant is now facing suits by the farmers under this multi district litigation (MDL) class as well as suits by tens of thousands of plaintiffs in Minnesota state court and more than 3,000 plaintiffs in state and federal courts in Illinois.

Syngenta has argued that the lawsuits are without merit, as the claims for damages are based, on novel and dubious theories that Chinese rules on GM traits for corn seeds should have dictated its practices in the US.

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