Syngenta Resorts to Disinformation to Save Paraquat

Zurich, 06.02.2008 - Syngenta is set to present its yearly results tomorrow. Most likely the Basel-based agrochemicals giant will once again try to charm investors and media with tales of future promise. Over the past year, the company’s PR for its controversial blockbuster paraquat gave ample evidence of how careless or downright false Syngenta’s public statements often are.

The pesticide paraquat is still one of the company’s most successful products. When the EU-Court voided paraquat’s European authorisation last July, Syngenta quickly tried to reassure the markets and the media. Most of the company’s public statements on the subject, however, were misleading or downright false. Some examples:

  • John Atkin, COO Syngenta Crop Protection, told the Handelszeitung on July 31, 2007, there was no reason to assume that any more countries would ban paraquat. That was obviously a misjudgment, because on November 11, Sri Lanka declared a ban (phase-out in 3 years), followed by France just last week. Last October Dole, the world’s largest food producer and marketer of fruit, vegetables, and cut flowers, also decided to stop using paraquat.
  • In October 2007, Syngenta announced that it will prepare to re-apply for a new registration in Europe because they see a demand for the product, especially in Germany and France (Syngenta speaker Médard Schoenmaeckers in Le Temps, October 19, 2007). Again, clearly a misjudgment: Germany was a small market even before the ban and France, with its decision on February 1, 2008, to take the 30 most worrying substances off the market, has made it clear that paraquat will not stand a chance in France even if the EU were to grant it a new authorization.
  • In the Syngenta press release announcing the new submission for EU-registration, John Atkin claims that the European court never said Paraquat was unsafe or dangerous to use. This statement is misleading, because the court did say that human health risks could not be excluded from the use of paraquat. The authorisation of paraquat would clearly violate the requirement that human health be protected.
  • Equally misleading is a statement on the company’s website claiming that paraquat, correctly used, poses no danger to human health. What Syngenta doesn’t say is that proper usage is an illusion in most developing countries. A recently published Syngenta study shows, for instance, that in Bangladesh or the Philippines even minimum safety requirements (long-sleeved shirt, long pants, shoes or boots) are followed by far less than 10% of users – but that doesn’t stop Syngenta from selling its product to countries like these.
  • „With their misleading paraquat-PR Syngenta tries to convince analysts and media that one of their most important products does have a future, even though governments and users are increasingly turning their backs on paraquat”, says François Meienberg of the Berne Declaration.

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