Syngenta is the world's largest agricultural corporation, and it plays a decisive part in shaping the global development of agriculture: however, disputed pesticides as well as patents on seeds and genetically modified organisms harbour risks for people and for the environment.
Syngenta came into being in 2000 when the agribusiness arms of Novartis and Astra-Zeneca were merged, creating the world's largest agricultural corporation: for pesticides, Syngenta has a market share of about 23%, which places it in top position; as regards seeds, it is number three in the world with a market share of about 9% (2011 figures). Because of this market position, Syngenta wields enormous influence over global agriculture.
Syngenta is a key driver of highly industrialised conventional agriculture – with negative effects such as damage to health and the environment due to pesticides, the uncontrolled spread of genetically modified organisms, the negative impact of intellectual property rights on farmers' rights, advances in breeding and the loss of agricultural biodiversity.
For years, Public Eye has been demanding a halt to production and a ban on the herbicide paraquat which, according to FAO criteria, is highly toxic. These calls are also supported by non-governmental organisations, trade unions and scientists across the globe. Workers and farmers who regularly come into contact with the herbicide paraquat have to combat severe health problems. The high toxicity of paraquat (for which no antidote is available) causes repeated cases of damage to health and numerous deaths.
As well as focusing on pesticides and paraquat, Public Eye is also concerned with Syngenta's social responsibility (Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR) in general. Based on an analysis of the company's only CSR report to date, published in 2007, Public Eye concluded that Syngenta falls far short of meeting the criteria set by the Global Reporting Initiative such as reliability, balance and clarity. Other issues included in Public Eye's work include terminator technology (as it is known), the company's disputed cooperation with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich and Syngenta's involvement in the development of genetically engineered insects to control pests.
Another key aspect of Public Eye's work centres on intellectual property rights for seeds; time after time, Syngenta's patents attract major criticism, specifically its patents on the rice genome, the patent on a conventionally bred melon or the patent on pepper.