Corn seed lawsuits filed in Sioux City
JANUARY 22, 2015 10:00 PM • NICK HYTREK NHYTREK@SIOUXCITYJOURNAL.COM
SIOUX CITY |
Northwest Iowa farmers now are among the hundreds nationwide suing a producer of genetically engineered corn, saying the company’s actions led to a drop in corn prices that cost farmers and shippers more than $1 billion.
More than 80 lawsuits have been filed against Syngenta, the maker of the Viptera corn seed, in the past two weeks in U.S. District Court in Iowa’s Northern District, which includes Sioux City. Nationwide, dozens have been filed in at least 11 states, including Nebraska and South Dakota, since last fall.
“We’re filing them by the day,” said Benjamin Ennen, an Algona, Iowa, lawyer who represents many of those who have sued, including farmers in Buena Vista and Dickinson counties whose suits were filed this month in Sioux City. Ennen, who farms near Buffalo Center, Iowa, also has sued.
“I’ve got sharecropper landlords that have sued. I’ve got farmers and I’ve got partnerships that are farming,” Ennen said of his client list.
Farmers claim that Syngenta misled farmers about the Viptera corn seed and the effects it would have on their ability to market their crops. Viptera, which is genetically modified to be resistant to corn earworms, black cutworms and other pests, was released in 2010 and approved in the United States and other countries. China, however, did not approve the biotech corn and in 2013 began refusing shipments of U.S. corn containing Viptera seed. The third-largest importer of U.S. corn, China ultimately banned all U.S. corn imports. China has since approved the Viptera seed and lifted its ban last month.
The ban, the lawsuits say, crippled the export market in 2013 and ’14 and caused corn prices to drop by 11 cents per bushel. That price drop led to a projected loss of $1.14 billion for American farmers, the lawsuits say.
The lawsuits said Syngenta continued to sell and market the seed, knowing that the uncertainty surrounding China’s approval of it would damage the U.S. corn market.
In news releases responding to lawsuit filings, Syngenta, which has headquarters in Switzerland and Minnesota, has said it believes the suits are without merit and the company “strongly upholds the right of growers to have access to approved new technologies that can increase both their productivity and their profitability.”