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What is Syngenta Viptera Corn?

Syngenta is a Swiss agricultural company that produces genetically modified (GMO) seeds and is one of the world’s largest GMO seed producers. Though it produces a variety of GMO seeds, Syngenta is well known for their production of GMO corn, most specifically the Agrisure Viptera brand of GMO corn.

Syngenta’s Viptera was originally marketed as being able to protect the crop from insects such as the corn earworm, the cutworm, the armyworm, and the corn borer by modifying the corn with the genetic trait MIR 162. Viptera was also marketed as being able to increase farmers’ crop yields and overall productivity.

While the benefits of Viptera corn are relatively undisputed, when Syngenta began marketing the product in the U.S., it was not yet approved by China for import. The fact that Viptera was not approved by China for import from the U.S. actually ended up being the basis of almost all of the current litigation involving Viptera. Almost every lawsuit filed against Syngenta alleges that Syngenta, in marketing Viptera, stated or implied that China’s approval was imminent.

Because China had not yet approved Viptera for import, when shipments received by China were and found to contain even traces of the MIR 162 genetic trait (as used in Viptera), the shipments were immediately rejected. China’s rejection of the U.S. corn created a huge disruption in the U.S and international corn market; even farms that had never used Viptera in their corn had shipments rejected by China. Through cross-pollination and commingling, traces of Viptera could be found in a large amount of the corn exported from the U.S., even if Viptera was not actually used by that specific corn farm.

Losses from the rejection of U.S. corn by China affected many different people and entities, all the way from individual farmers to some of the biggest exporting companies in the U.S. Corn sold to China accounts for about 13% of U.S. corn exports; because of this, the resulting loss was devastating. According to the plaintiffs’ petitions in their lawsuits against Syngenta, the total loss is estimated to be anywhere from $1-3 billion.

Current State of Litigation

Grain shippers and exporters such as Trans Coastal, Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland all filed lawsuits against Syngenta in 2014. The lawsuits alleged that Syngenta misled the companies through their marketing for Viptera by stating that China would be approving Viptera corn for import soon. Viptera was first marketed in the United States as early as 2009, and China did not approve Viptera for import until late 2014, a few months after the lawsuits were filed.

Trans Coastal, Cargill, and Archer Daniels all had similar arguments in their lawsuits against Syngenta—all of them alleged that Syngenta failed to undertake reasonable stewardship practices or misled the companies with regards to how soon Viptera would be approved for import by China. Trans Coastal’s lawsuit against Syngenta is also requesting an injunction on the marketing and sale of Duracade—another GMO corn produced by Syngenta which, similarly to the situation with Viptera, is not approved by China for import yet.

In addition to the lawsuits by the corporations, Syngenta is currently facing numerous other individual lawsuits, which allege economic losses from the failure on Syngenta’s part to avoid commingling or cross-pollination of Viptera with corn not exposed to the MIR 162 genetic trait. In total, there are about 180 separate lawsuits against Syngenta arising out of China’s rejection of U.S. corn containing the MIR 162 trait.

Many of the current cases were moved to multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas for convenience and efficiency. On August 31, 2015, Syngenta moved to dismiss the causes of action, but the motion has been denied. The first Syngenta Viptera Corn trial is set for April 24, 2017.