Paraquat Criticism: Syngenta turns a deaf ear

Basel, 27.04.2004 - Malaysia is enforcing a ban on Paraquat; in Europe, Sweden, trade unions and NGOs are appealing a EU-decision to re-register Paraquat, and in Costa Rica new findings confirm the danger of the Syngenta herbicide. Yet despite all this activity Syngenta continues to market its controversial product. At Syngenta’s general assembly today, the leadership of the Swiss agri-corporation once again turned a deaf ear to a request by the Berne Declaration to withdraw the product. The company’s image is likely to suffer as a result of this intransigent attitude.

At Syngenta’s first general assembly two years ago, an appeal was read out in which a Malaysian palm oil worker urged the Basel-based corporation to phase-out Paraquat. Syngenta was not moved. The Malaysian government, on the other hand, responded by imposing a ban on Paraquat. Palm oil workers throughout Malaysia had cause for celebration last September when the product’s license finally expired. Despite intense lobbying efforts, Syngenta had failed to change the Malaysian Government’s mind.

Syngenta’s promotion of Paraquat has taken some strange turns lately. The launch of a new Syngenta-funded Pro-Paraquat study was orchestrated in Europe by Tech Central Station, a lobby group from the extreme right wing of the US-political scene. Among other things, Tech Central Station started a vigorous attack on the climate sciences after it enlisted Exxon, the world’s largest oil company, as one of its sponsors. Has Syngenta sunk this low?

The Swedish government as well as several trade unions and environmental organizations have filed an appeal with the European Court against the re-licensing of Paraquat in the EU last fall. In the past year, the International Union of Food and Agricultural, Workers (IUF: International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations) has increased its efforts for a Paraquat ban. “There is no room for Paraquat in a socially and environmentally sustainable agriculture”, declared IUF-secretary Ron Oswald. Among the workers represented by trade union federation IUF are the very farm workers who use most of the pesticides. To find its own clientele so intensely opposed to its product should give Syngenta pause.

A recent study of the Pan-American Health Organization based on data from Costa Rica confirms that agricultural workers do suffer from Paraquat. The study shows that Paraquat is the leading cause of pesticide poisonings with a share 19.5%.