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On December 22, 2014, China officially approved imports of a type of genetically modified corn – Syngenta’s Agrisure Viptera® MR162, ending China’s yearlong ban of imports of all corn containing any trace of the Viptera MR162 trait. The ban had essentially shut U.S. corn out of the Chinese market, caused corn prices to plummet, and prompted a series of lawsuits to be filed against Switzerland-based Syngenta.

Chinese Ban

Syngenta began selling the Viptera corn seed to American farmers in 2011, before it was approved for distribution in China, one of the largest markets for U.S. corn exports. In November 2013, China banned imports of all corn containing even a trace of the Viptera® MR162 trait, and by 2014, U.S. exports of corn to China had fallen 85 percent, disrupting virtually every phase of the corn production and distribution industry, due to delayed shipments, rejected cargo, inspection and testing delays, plummeting prices, and a product surplus.

After the Chinese ban, the genetically modified organism (GMO) was detected in a majority of U.S. corn shipments, even from farmers and businesses who didn’t use Viptera corn. According to the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA), it is nearly impossible to prevent genetically modified corn traits from spreading through corn fields, shipments, and products, even when GMO corn isn’t intentionally purchased or grown. This is because pollen drifts on the wind or is spread by insects and animals, cross-contaminating crops and field during the transportation and storage of grain.

Analysts have speculated that China was using the genetically modified corn as a way to get out of deals to buy U.S. grain, but Chinese officials insist that the rejections are based on the presence of the unapproved corn. The NGFA estimates that American corn farmers lost $1.1 billion in corn sales during 2013 and 2014 due to the Chinese ban, and the U.S. grain industry lost between $1 billion and $2.9 billion.

760+ Lawsuits Filed Against Syngenta

The Agrisure Viptera product is a corn trait that is genetically modified to make it resistant to pests that could destroy a corn field. Because Viptera corn contaminated the U.S. crop, the decline impacted corn farmers near and far – including those who didn’t even buy or plant Viptera corn.

As of February 2015, more than 762 lawsuits had been filed against Syngenta from farmers, producers and others in the corn industry who suffered financial losses, the Associated Press reported. The company “gambled U.S. farmers’ livelihood on approval of Viptera by the major corn-importing countries,” one lawsuit reads, the AP reported.

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