David and Goliath: Illinois Farmer Takes on the World's Largest Agrochemical Company Over GMO Corn
U.S. corn exports are still down 85 percent after Sygenta's rush to the market with genetically modified product led to a ban in China, an Illinois farmer claims in court.
The complaint Jon Dereadt filed last week in Kane County Circuit Court stems from hybrid corn seeds that Syngenta began selling under the trade name Agrisure Viptera in 2011.
"Despite knowing the rest of the world was not as eager as the United States to adopt bioengineered food or feed, Syngenta began selling Viptera in the United States before other countries decided whether to approve it," the complaint states. Though some countries did approve Viptera for feed and food use, China has a "zero tolerance" policy when it comes to unapproved genetic traits, Dereadt says.
When China discovered Viptera corn in a November 2013 shipment of "what was supposed to be non-Viptera corn from the United States," the country rejected more than 665,000 metric tons of U.S. corn over the next two months. China banned all imports of U.S. corn the next year, but Syngenta "began marketing yet another genetically modified com seed known as Duracade," the complaint states.
Dereadt says China, all 28 member states of the European Union and 13 other countries have refused to approve Duracade for human or animal consumption. Syngenta's home country of Switzerland is among this group as well.
"Although Syngenta did eventually gain approvalfor the import of Viptera to China in December of 2014, this approval came far too late to prevent the loss of the Chinese market to U.S. corn," the complaint states. "The loss of the Chinese market to U.S. com has caused diminished prices for com in the United States, and plaintiffs' resulting damages.
Further, there is no end in sight to the loss of the Chinese market to U.S. com. As set forth above, Syngenta has now knowingly, intentionally, and recklessly commercialized its Duracade corn in the U.S., despite the fact that this com remains unapproved in China. Because of China's rejection of Syngenta's Viptera and Duracade corn, exports of U.S. corn continue to be down some 85% since 2013."
Dereadt says the U.S. is "the world's largest producer and exporter of corn," exporting 20 percent of the crown grown here each year. Illinois grows 17 percent of the country's crop, according to the complaint. The U.S Department of Agriculture reported that the price per bushel of corn was $6.89 in 2012 and dropped to $4.46 in 2013 and $3.70 in 2014.
China "has been a significant source of uncertainty in world corn trade" because of fluctuations in its own production, the USDA notes. China imported a total of 2.7 million metric tons of corn in 2012, 3.2 million in 2013 and 5.7 million in 2014.
Paul Minehart of Syngenta says these "USDA statistics make clear that the commodity price of corn declined before China's rejection of U.S. corn in November 2013." Viptera is already the subject of multidistrict litigation in Kansas. This past September, a federal judge there dismissed trespass to chattels and private nuisance against Syngenta but advanced other claims.
Minehart applauded that development. "Syngenta believes the lawsuits are without merit and strongly upholds the right of growers to have access to approved new technologies that can increase both their productivity and yield," the spokesman said in a statement. "The Agrisure Viptera® trait (MIR162) 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."
Dereadt says Syngenta made contamination of the U.S. corn supply a certainty. "Despite knowing that cross-pollination or mixing was certain to occur, Syngenta encouraged farmers to grow Viptera side-by-side with other commercial corn varieties to demonstrate its efficacy," the complaint states. "Rather than channeling Viptera into accepting markets, Syngenta encouraged Viptera growers to deliver Viptera grain to any and all grain elevators that would accept it."
In addition to Syngenta, Dereadt's lawsuit takes aim at agricultural and food distributor Cargill, along with other exporters Archer Daniels Midland Company, Bunge North America, Louis Dreyfus Commodities LLC and Gavilon Grain LLC.
Cargill spokesman Mark Klein said in an interview that the company has not seen the Kane County complaint. The company maintains its position, however, that "Syngenta's commercialization practices and conduct are responsible for the industry's damages," Klein said.
Back in September 2014, Cargill president Mark Stonacek blasted Syngenta for "not [having] accepted its share of the risks" involved in prematurely introducing Viptera.
Gavilon Grain spokesman Patrick Burke said Gavilon "is committed to doing business with utmost respect for our customers, suppliers and the communities in which we operate."
"We take seriously all proceedings raised against the company and will review all complaints to determine the proper course of action," Burke added.
Louis Dreyfus Commodities declined to comment on the pending Kane County litigation. Archer Daniels Midland and Bunge did not respond to a request for comment.
Dereadt accuses the companies of failing "to take reasonable steps to ensure that the corn they were shipping to China was not contaminated." He is represented by Peter Flowers of Meyers & Flowers, who was not available to comment on the lawsuit.
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