An Indiana law firm has filed a class-action lawsuit against one of the world’s largest seed and agrochemical companies in an effort to allow more time for individual farmers to sue the company after corn prices plummeted last year.
Wagner Reese filed the action Monday in Marion County alleging the actions of Syngenta, which is based in Switzerland, caused the value of a bushel of corn to fall drastically because it sold products to farmers that contained a genetically modified trait that had not yet been approved by China, a leading importer of U.S. corn.
Muncie farmers Kevin and Betty Orebaugh are the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed on behalf of all Indiana farmers who grew corn in 2013 and 2014 and who have not already filed individual lawsuits against Syngenta.
Their lawsuit stems from the use of the MIR 162 genetic trait in genetically modified corn Agrisure Viptera. The corn had been deregulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2010, but China had not yet approved the genetic trait. The lawsuit says Syngenta sold the corn to farmers in the years that followed despite knowing that China had not yet approved the trait. In November 2013, China began rejecting shipments of corn from the U.S. after discovering MIR 162, and U.S. corn exports to China have not yet begun to recover, according to the lawsuit. Another Syngenta product, Agrisure Duracade, also contains MIR 162 and a new trait (Event 5307) not yet approved by China and other export markets.
Wagner Reese attorney Jason Reese said the firm represents around 3,200 Indiana farmers who have filed suits against the company in Minnesota state court, where Syngenta has offices.
Plaintiffs allege Syngenta in 2012 convinced farmers to buy the seeds containing genetic traits not yet approved by China by claiming the country was going to approve Agirsure Viptera and another product, Agrisure Duracade “within the matter of a couple days.” Agrisure Viptera was not approved by China until December 2014.
All U.S. corn farmers, whether they purchased these products from Syngenta, who priced their corn after November 2013 have received a lower price for their corn than they would have received if China’s imports of U.S. corn had not effectively stopped, the suit says.
Industry experts have estimated losses to American farmers of up to $3 billion in both 2013 and 2014, the firm says. Reese said the estimate is Indiana farmers lost anywhere from 11 cents to $1.10 a bushel over a two-year period.
Reese does not expect the state court to certify the class, but said filing this lawsuit buys time for other farmers to file individual suits. He said his firm and other national counsel handling claims in federal court believe under American Pipe and Construction Co., et al. v. State of Utah, et al., 414 U.S. 538 (94 S.Ct. 756, 38 L.Ed.2d 713) (1974), that Indiana farmers who have not yet filed an individual lawsuit should have until the date the Marion County court rules on the motion to certify the class action in which to file individual claims. He estimates it may allow farmers up to three to five additional months to file suit.
Reese said many have been focusing on harvesting their crops over the last month or so and not aware that the statute of limitations was approaching.
He estimates that only 20 percent of farmers in Indiana have filed suit. Indiana is in the top 5 of corn-producing states.