The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) has agreed to consolidate in Kansas multiple class actions and lawsuits filed by corn farmers, grain exporters and others who accuse Syngenta Corp. of “tainting” the U.S. corn supply with genetically modified seed before China gave import approval. The JPML centralized approximately 177 suits over Syngenta’s decision to commercialize corn seeds with a genetically modified trait, known as “MIR162,” that gives the plants increased resistance to certain insects. The U.S. Department of Agriculture authorized the introduction of the trait in April 2010, by which time the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) had already approved the trait, though the Chinese government has not yet approved it.
The panel said it chose the “readily accessible” district of Kansas largely because it could then be assigned to U.S. District Judge John W. Lungstrum, whom it said was “well-versed in the nuances of complex, multidistrict litigation.” The panel said in its order:
As with past litigation involving allegedly improper dissemination of genetically modified crops, centralization will eliminate duplicative discovery; avoid inconsistent pretrial rulings, particularly on class certification; and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary.
Syngenta commercialized the trait for the 2011 growing season under the brand name “Viptera.” Syngenta misled farmers into believing that approval from China was imminent, but the trait remains unapproved. Syngenta’s premature release of Viptera corn cost the U.S. corn market somewhere between $1 billion and $3 billion due to the rejection and resulting seizures of U.S. containers and cargo ships transporting U.S. corn to China
Syngenta offered farmers a “side-by-side program,” which encouraged them to plant Viptera corn adjacent to other corn seed. But in so doing, the farmers risked co-mingling the GMO corn with the non-GMO corn, thereby making it likely that Chinese regulatory officials would reject U.S. shipments of corn. The U.S. Department of Agriculture determined that China purchased approximately 5 million tons of U.S. corn in 2012/13, making China the third-largest export market for U.S. corn. Since November 2013, however, Chinese imports for U.S. corn have decreased by an estimated 85 percent.
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