Syngenta accused of violating FAO code of conduct

Zurich, 01.05.2007 - NGOs from Asia, Latin America, and Europe are filing a complaint with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) against the Swiss agrochemical corporation Syngenta. The company is accused of violating the FAO’s pesticide code of conduct which it has pledged to uphold. At issue, once again, are the marketing and sales practices of paraquat, the company’s notorious pesticide. The NGO’s are urging Syngenta to take the product off the market.

Non-governmental organisations* conducted a survey in China, Indonesia and Pakistan to see whether the marketing of paraquat (under the brand name Gramoxone) complies with the FAO code of conduct. Article 3.5 stipulates that, Pesticides whose handling and application require the use of personal protective equipment that is uncomfortable, expensive or not readily available should be avoided, especially in the case of small-scale users in tropical climates. Paraquat is prohibited, severely restricted or subject to special rules in many European countries . Syngenta sells more than ten herbicides in Germany and none have more stringent user-protection requirements (personal protective equipment or PPE) than paraquat (rubber apron, mask with particle filter, protective goggles, etc.).

The Asian survey**, while limited, showed that many pesticide dealers do not sell the essential protective gear and cannot tell customers where to they might find such items (over 30% in Indonesia, 70% in China, and 100% in Pakistan ). Sources of protective equipment are few and far between, requiring farmers to make long treks only to be confronted with prices that many cannot afford. The sale of paraquat in regions where PPE is not readily available and affordable clearly violates the code of conduct and must be stopped. In these circumstances users face an unacceptably high risk of poisoning. To stop these practices the participating NGOs are filing a complaint with the FAO.

But Syngenta seems unconcerned and is running aggressive campaigns to sell the product. Last fall the company tried to lure Gramoxone buyers in Costa Rica with a contest to win a thousand US-Dollars worth of ’inputs’. Such campaigns are not unusual for Syngenta. In Germany the company raffles tractors worth 100'000 Euro and in Thailand it has offered prizes including trucks and motorbikes to entice potential customers. This is a clear violation of Article 11.2.18 of the code that prohibits the use of inappropriate incentives or gifts in pesticide marketing. The organization RAP-AL from Costa Rica will file a complaint with FAO against these practices.

Considering the grave risks posed by the widespread use of paraquat, particularly in developing countries where safety requirements are routinely ignored, this pesticide must be taken off the market immediately. In countries where the government lacks the authority to take the necessary steps it is up to the business community to act responsibly and to follow the code of conduct.

*Pesticide Eco-Alternatives Center, China; Gita Pertiwi, Indonesia, Lok Sanjh, Pakistan; Pesticide Action Network Asia-Pacific; Malaysia, Berne Declaration, Switzerland