151008_harvest_jas (copy)

Lawsuits continue to proceed against agrochemical giant Syngenta, related to a GMO trait in the global corn crop that allegedly influenced global markets.

Several lawsuits on genetically modified corn that include area farmers are advancing in the federal court system.

Attorneys representing Northwest Missouri and other farmers are claiming their clients deserve compensation from the losses they incurred due to the market activities of Swiss-based Syngenta, a global agrochemical company.

Several law firms have banded together on the suit, which claims that a certain variety of genetically modified corn was introduced onto the market, knowing that the action would result in lower prices through a cross-contamination of the world crop. GMOs are engineered to help create large crops or foster better protection against insects.

The allegations stem from the introduction by Syngenta of the genetically modified organism trait Agrisure Viptera (MIR 162) in 2009.

Call & Gentry Law Group of Jefferson City, Missouri, dispatched two lawyers to the region a year ago to secure more plaintiffs. That firm has joined with lead counsel Watts Guerra of San Antonio.

Watts Guerra is notifying the plaintiff farmers that a jury trial in the case has been set for a Minneapolis court on Monday, April 24. Lawyers said the trial is the first in the matter and will serve as a bellwether. Legally, a bellwether is a case that the court and the parties have selected to test their arguments — with the goal of moving the overall litigation towards resolution.

A Minnesota judge has ruled that the plaintiffs will be able to pursue punitive damages based on Syngenta’s conduct. The trial is expected to last three or four weeks, with a verdict possible by mid-May.

A second trial in the case is set to begin Monday, June 5, in a Kansas City, Kansas, federal court. That case is expected to take a month, and will represent more class-action claims. A third trial is scheduled to start Monday, Aug. 14, in Minneapolis and only involves claims made by Minnesota farmers.

Efforts also are underway to reach out-of-court settlements in the cases, although lawyers said negotiations have been complicated by the pending sale of Syngenta to another agrochemical company, ChemChina. Lawyers further allege that Syngenta realized that it may be difficult to obtain approval of the GMO from China.

At last count, there were almost 50,000 individuals from Missouri and other Corn Belt states involved in the suits. Farmers are being guaranteed 60 percent of the recovery, according to Call & Gentry. Estimates show profits that reached into billions of dollars were erased over 1½ years because of the controversy.

Ray Scherer can be reached at ray.scherer@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPScherer.