by Jef Feeley and Margaret Cronin Fisk
Syngenta AG agreed to pay more than $1.4 billion to U.S. farmers who complained that the marketing of the company’s genetically modified corn seeds shut them out of the Chinese market, according to people familiar with the deal.
The settlement with more than 100,000 farmers was announced Tuesday in a Minnesota class-action trial. It resolves all farmers’ litigation in the U.S. but doesn’t include Canadian lawsuits, according to Paul Minehart, a Syngenta spokesman. Minehart wouldn’t confirm the amount of the settlement, saying the terms will be made public when the deal is presented to a judge.
The pact resulted from months of negotiations between a four-lawyer team representing farmers and Syngenta’s attorneys, according to the people familiar, who said they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the settlement.
Syngenta halted the trial involving about 22,000 Minnesota farmers to announce the settlement. Those farmers were seeking more than $400 million in damages over their corn losses.
The settlement comes three months after Syngenta lost a $218 million jury verdict to a class of Kansas farmers, in the first trial over the corn-contamination claims. Several other trials were pending as lawyers pursued suits on behalf of hundreds of thousands of corn growers claiming as much as $13 billion in losses. The farmers alleged Syngenta caused five years of depressed corn prices.
The Minnesota farmers claimed Syngenta, the Swiss agrochemical giant, rushed its GMO seed to market before getting import approval from China. In 2013, China stopped taking shipments from the U.S., calling the corn contaminated. The farmers said Syngenta misled them on when the Chinese would approve the seed.
Corn prices dived and didn’t recover because China found other sources, the farmers said.
Syngenta had denied causing harm or damages. Two droughts in years leading up to the launch of the company’s Viptera seed elevated prices, Syngenta lawyer Mike Brock told jurors at the Minnesota trial. When Viptera was released, heavy rains set off a bumper crop in the U.S.
“It rained, and when that happened, the bottom dropped out of the price of corn,” he said.
The Minnesota case is In re Syngenta Litigation, 27-cv-15-3785, District Court, Hennepin County, Minnesota (Minneapolis).
--With assistance from Todd Melby.
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