Seeds of discontent

Seeds of discontent

CHAMPAIGN — Three years after China began rejecting U.S. corn imports, a class-action lawsuit against Syngenta is moving forward and corn farmers have begun receiving notice that they may be part of the lawsuit.

A local lawyer is encouraging farmers to opt out of the class-action lawsuit and file individual lawsuits against Syngenta, a Swiss agriculture company.

"It comes down to essentially the assertion that basically every farmer farms the same, and that's just not true," said attorney Ryan Bradley, a partner at Koester & Bradley LLP in Champaign.

The class-action lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in June, and any farmer who priced corn after Nov. 18, 2013, is automatically a part of the class unless they opt out.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that Syngenta caused billions of dollars in losses for corn farmers because it began selling a new genetically modified corn seed before China had approved it, leading to China's ban on all U.S. corn imports and a drop in corn prices.

Syngenta denies the claims and says it acted lawfully and shouldn't need China's approval to sell U.S.-approved corn to U.S. farmers.

Corn farmers have until April 1 to opt out, which they can do by sending a personally signed letter requesting exclusion.

As a lawyer seeking individual clients, Bradley admits he has a vested interest on this issue, but he believes individual lawsuits against Syngenta will result in greater returns for farmers.

"Everyone farms differently," he said. "As part of the class action, farmers will be unable to prosecute their own individual claims and pursue damages unique to them. Rather, the class action will treat all farmers the same and will not provide full and just compensation."

Additionally, individual lawsuits would be tried in front of a local jury, and Bradley says a class-action lawsuit "doesn't hold (Syngenta's) toes to the fire as much as a series of lawsuits will."

William Chaney, one of the attorneys representing farmers in the class-action lawsuit, defended the class action.

"My personal belief is that their rights will be protected best through the class action, and I believe that it is the best way to present the damages that are very similar, although different in amount for each farmer," he said.

The class action's website argues against individual litigation, saying that "individual action exposes your farmer to the very real potential of intensive discovery, deposition and production of personal and financial records."

While Bradley and Chaney disagree about how to move forward, both agree they have a strong case against Syngenta.

"While Syngenta is not to blame for all of the decrease in corn prices, it did contribute substantially and our experts estimate that the farmers lost between $5 billion and $7 billion," Bradley said.

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annabellissimo wrote on January 02, 2017 at 1:01 am

Isn't China an owner or THE owner of Syngenta now? I recall news articles from earlier in 2016 or perhaps late 2015 about China's purchase of Syngenta or becoming a major owner of Syngenta. What is the status of that relationship?