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In an undated handout photo of a type of corn created by Syngenta. (Jonathan Chapman/Syngenta via The New York Times/copyright 2017 The New York Times)

Syngenta settles Minnesota corn-contamination suit in trial

Syngenta reached an in-trial settlement with a group of about 22,000 Minnesota farmers who claimed the company carelessly marketed its genetically modified corn seed, causing contamination of U.S. crops and a rejection of imports by Chinese officials.

The farmers were seeking more than $400 million in damages. The settlement was announced in state court in Minneapolis Tuesday, Sept. 26. The amount wasn't disclosed.

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 are pending as lawyers pursue suits on behalf of some 350,000 corn growers claiming as much as $13 billion in losses. The farmers allege Syngenta caused five years of depressed corn prices.

Paul Minehart, a U.S.-based spokesman for Syngenta, said Tuesday he couldn't immediately comment on the Minnesota settlement.

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 also claimed Syngenta misled them on when the Chinese would approve the seed.

Corn prices dived and didn't recover, even though China approved the corn the following year, the farmers contend. The market didn't rebound because China found other sources for corn, the farmers said.

Syngenta denied any harm or any 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.