(NaturalNews) A federal appeals court has ruled that a biotech giant cannot force a grain elevator firm to store a strain of genetically modified corn.
As reported by agriculture website Capital Press, Syngenta attempted to employ a 100-plus-year-old warehouse law to force the elevator company, Bunge, to accept the GM corn. The ruling may preempt other makers of GM seeds and crops from using the same litigation tactic against grain elevators that have refused to harbor crops with altered transgenic traits, according to experts.
Controversy began in 2011, Capital Press reported, after Bunge operators refused to accept the Syngenta Seeds-produced Agrisure Viptera variety of corn. The elevator operators told farmers growing the GMO strain that they could not take it because it had yet to clear legal and regulatory requirements in all major export destinations. At the time, the strain had yet to be accepted by the Chinese government.
‘You don’t have a private cause of action’
Capital Press noted:
In response, Syngenta filed a lawsuit accusing Bunge of violating the U.S. Warehouse Act of 1916, which requires elevators to treat depositors fairly.
Farmers who grew Viptera corn had to ship their crops to other elevators and find other sources of corn to fulfill their contracts with Bunge, which hurt Syngenta’s reputation and market share, the biotech company claimed.
However, judges on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out Syngenta’s suit, saying that the agri-giant lacked any “cause of action” to bring the case against Bunge.
Now, farmers who were affected by the appeals court decision still have the right to sue Bunge, but the court’s ruling nonetheless prevents, for now, similar suits by Monsanto, Dow, DuPont or other GMO seed manufacturers, Drew Kershen, a University of Oklahoma agricultural biotechnology law professor, told the website.
“This seems to say to them, you don’t have a private cause of action,” he said. “They would be in the same position as Syngenta.”
Kershen further told the website that, even if a farmer affected by the ruling does file suit against Bunge over its Viptera corn rejection, the chances that the suit will be successful are far from clear, noting that it’s unknown whether an elevator’s obligation to be “fair and reasonable” means it could not reject certain strains and breeds of corn.
“There’s no case law, there’s no USDA interpretation, there’s no clarity on what those terms mean,” said Kershen. “There has been nothing to discuss this in all the decades of this law.”
Biotech critics have viewed the dispute between Syngenta and Bunge as a warning regarding concerns over the impact of GM corn and other crops on export markets.
‘They can’t be forced to take them’
“It’s another example of the economic harm to farmers that can come from transgenic contamination,” George Kimbrell, an attorney with the Center for Food Safety, a non-profit that has litigated over biotech crops, told Capital Press.
He added that the federal appeals court ruling coincides with the principle that businesses that choose not to purchase genetically engineered crops “can’t be forced to take them.”
However, GMO backers have said that the case highlights the need for so-called equalization of standards for such crops among countries that import them.
In a perfect world, one harmonized method of approval would permit the shipment of GM crops to all countries that import crops instead of having to be approved by each nation individually, Mary Boote, executive director of the Truth about Trade and Technology, a non-profit organization that supports GM crops, told Capital Press.
“That’s a big goal but an important one,” she said.
Such an agreement would likely have to take the form of an international accord or a treaty.
Capital Press reported that, since the dispute began in 2011, China has ratcheted up its rejection of the Viptera corn strain by also rejecting dried distillers grains, an ethanol byproduct, which contain the trait.