Asian Farmers to Syngenta: Get Out of Asia!
Hands Off Our Rice! Stop Paraquat!
Statement by Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific
Civil society organisations in Europe have strongly challenged
claims by governments and agrochemical corporations that there
is a need for genetically engineered crops in order to feed the
world. The Berne Declaration, Greenpeace Switzerland and SWISSAID
have intervened at the Annual General Meeting of the Syngenta
Corporation today by jointly presenting protest letters from Asian
farmers and peasants groups. At the same time, food rights and
anti GM campaigners, scientists and farmers organisations delivered
similar protest letters to the Secretary of State for International
Development in the UK, Hilary Benn. "Syngenta has already
caused massive damage with its chemical Paraquat. Now it is genetically
engineering and taking control of staple crops such as rice",
explained Rowan Tilly of Genetic Engineering Network.
"Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific strongly
welcomes these solidarity actions in the UK and Switzerland in
asserting Asian peasant farmers demands for Syngenta to stop all
development of genetic engineering (GE) technologies, especially
genetically modified rice, and to stop production of its deadly
herbicide Paraquat worldwide!", states Sarojeni V. Rengam,
PAN AP Executive Director. "We facilitated the collation
of these statements from partner farmers and peasants groups to
reveal the real needs of grassroots communities in Asia and their
rejection of Syngenta’s technologies, as averse to the claims
by the company that our farmers and peasants need, want or benefit
from its products", she explains.1
While Syngenta is having huge marketing and image problems with
its genetically engineered products in Europe, they are now claiming
that GE crops are needed in order to "feed the hungry in
the South". This claim is strongly rejected by Asian peasant
and grassroots movements, as well as by supporting NGOs.
In letters gathered from the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia
and Sri Lanka the groups made their feelings about Syngenta’s
products and policies very clear.2 They asserted that "Syngenta’s
claim is more a public relation strategy rather than really addressing
the needs of the poor people in the South." The real cause
for hunger and malnutrition in Asia is the lack of access to productive
resources. "It is not the lack of technology of resource
poor farmers, but it is the monopoly of resources that causes
big problems to the farmers," they add.
Groups have noted Syngenta’s strategy in trying to control
the plant genetic resources on rice. Since the company announced
the successful sequencing of the rice genome in early 2002, it
has become obvious that parts of the genome have now been patented
by Syngenta. 3 Furthermore, the company attempted to take control
of the whole gene bank of Indira Gandhi Agricultural University,
which held 24,000 rice samples in trust.4 "Syngenta’s
position on Genetic Engineering and Intellectual Property Rights
is violating the food sovereignty of peasants in Asia and worldwide
by seeking to control the plant genetic resources of the peasantry,"
assert the groups.
The Asian groups are blaming Syngenta for destroying the livelihoods
of the peasants. "While profiting from the Green Revolution,
Syngenta and its predecessors were destroying sustainable agricultural
systems in Asia. This is leading to food insecurity and causes
hunger in Asia." Asian peasants are upset that the same company
that makes huge profits via the destruction of farmers’
livelihoods is now claiming that their GE crops are needed in
order to "feed the hungry in the South". Their response
is that, "The claims made by Syngenta are patronising to
the Asian peasantry."
Asian peasants have developed appropriate technologies such
as organic farming, System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and other
ecological methods, that have proven highly productive, without
using high response varieties, hybrids or GE seeds, chemical fertilisers
and pesticides. "We are not an object of the international
agricultural market and we do not need corporations such as Syngenta
to feed us!" they adamantly state.
Not surprisingly, Asian peasants are demanding that Syngenta
withdraws from Asia. "If Syngenta is really sincerely concerned
about hunger and poverty in the South, instead of providing unwanted
and hazardous technologies, such as genetic engineering, we would
highly appreciate it if Syngenta would make an assessment of the
damages that they inflicted to Asian countries and compensate
the peasants for these damages."
The protests of the farmers and grassroots communities have
also centred on Syngenta’s extremely controversial product
Paraquat. Paraquat is the most highly toxic herbicide to be marketed
over the last 60 years. Gramoxone(TM), manufactured by Syngenta,
is the most common trade name for paraquat, for which the company
is the main supplier. The call for a global ban of paraquat has
been the subject of campaigns by agricultural workers' unions
and environmental groups for many years.
The groups have stated, "We, the peasants… are telling
Syngenta that neither their genetically engineered crops nor their
other products, such as paraquat, are welcome and needed".
Peasants, farmer representatives and supporting civil society
organisations, have also strongly asserted that, "Syngenta
is poisoning the environment and the Asian people with its highly
hazardous pesticides, such as paraquat".
There is no known antidote to paraquat poisoning. Thousands
of deaths have occurred from ingestion (often suicide) or dermal
exposure (mainly occupational) to paraquat. Once absorbed through
the skin or lungs or orally ingested, its effects are irreversible.
Paraquat damages the lungs, heart, kidneys, adrenal glands, central
nervous system, liver, muscles and spleen, causing multi-organ
failure. A potentially fatal link has been documented between
paraquat exposure and Parkinson's disease. There can be long-term
effects on lungs, liver, kidney and eyes. Agricultural workers
are regularly exposed to this toxic substance during handling
and mixing, spraying and working in freshly-sprayed fields. Paraquat
is also persistent and accumulates in the soil with repeated applications.
This long-term contamination and unacceptable risks to wildlife
populations are well documented in the scientific literature.
At Syngenta’s first AGM in 2002, the demand from a Malaysian
palm oil plantation worker was read out, where he had insisted
that Syngenta "gets rid of Paraquat". Syngenta did not
act on this. But the Malaysian government did and banned Paraquat
on August 27, 2002. Having said this, the ban is under threat
from corporate pressure. Syngenta recently made use of the European
Union’s decision to include paraquat in the list of authorised
pesticides, to mount a public relations and lobbying campaign
in Malaysia to reverse that country's phased ban on paraquat.6
"We support the Malaysian government’s decision to
ban paraquat, and its consideration to protect workers health,"
elaborates Rengam on the Malaysian ban. "We call upon all
manufacturers, especially Syngenta, the largest producer of paraquat,
to respect the government’s decision by ceasing production
of paraquat, and to recall all stocks of paraquat immediately!"
In September 2003 the registration for the Syngenta product
came to an end. Syngenta should also take stock of the fact that
since last year the "International Union of Farm Workers"
has supported the demand for a ban of Paraquat. As well, findings
from Costa Rica emphasise the unacceptable risk of this product.7
The solidarity action by the European groups comes as Asian groups
are gearing up for the Peoples Caravan for Food Sovereignty recently
launched in Nepal on April 17, International day of Peasants Struggle.
The Caravan asserts people’s rights to land and productive
resources, and challenges then agro-chemical transnational corporations
and corporate agriculture; the ravages of pesticides and threats
of genetic engineering, and calls for WTO Out of Agriculture.
For 30 days in September this year, the People's Caravan for Food
Sovereignty will hold simultaneous events and solidarity actions
in 10 Asian countries.8
Sarojeni V. Rengam, Executive Director, PAN AP, Tel: (+604) 657
0271, Hand Phone: (+60) 16 478 9545, Email: email@example.com,
Jennifer Mourin, Media Coordinator, PAN AP. Tel: (+604) 657 0271,
Karsten Wolff, "Save Our Rice" Campaign, PAN AP, Tel:
(+604) 657 0271, Email: KarstenWolff@web.de, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher, Econexus, Brighton, England. Tel.
(+44) 77 8609 4164, Email: email@example.com.
Francois Meienberg, Berne Declaration, Zurich, Switzerland.
Tel. (+411) 277 7004, Hand Phone (+41) 76 404 2173, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marianne Kuenzle, Greenpeace, Zurich, Switzerland. Tel. (+411)
447 4111, Hand Phone: (+41) 79 410 7648, Email: email@example.com.
Caroline Morel, Swissaid, Berne, Switzerland. Tel. (+41) 31
350 5350, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific based in Penang,
Malaysia, is the regional base for Pesticide Action Network (PAN),
an international coalition of citizen’s groups and individuals
opposing the misuse of pesticides and support reliance on safe,
sustainable pest control methods. PANAP is linked to more than
150 groups, working consistently with some 50 groups in 18 countries
in the Asia Pacific region.
2. Protest letters were sent from various countries:
• Protest Letter March 13, 2004: From representatives of
grassroots movements, peasant organisations, NGOs and indigenous
people from South- and Southeast-Asia, working on sustainable
agriculture and rural livelihoods who gathered in Polonnaruwa,
Sri Lanka to discuss Food Sovereignty issues and the impact of
globalisation on the Asian peasants.
• Protest Letter March 19, 2004: From representatives from
peasant groups, grassroots movements, fisherfolk, indigenous people
and civil society organisations all over Asia, who met in Penang,
• Protest Letter March 23, 2004: From peasant groups, social
movements and civil society organisations all over Asia who gathered
in Solo (Indonesia) to develop common strategies in organic rice
• Protest Letter March 31, 2004: From Peasants, farmer representatives
and supporting civil society organisations, who gathered under
the umbrella of the "East Asian Rice Working Group"
in Tagaytay, Philippines, to discuss urgent issues related to
rice cultivation in Asia.
• Protest Letter April 5, 2004: From peasants from all over
the Philippines gathered on April 5, 2004 to protest the International
Rice Research Institute (IRRI), also strongly challenged Syngenta’s
involvement in agricultural research and production and development
of hazardous technologies.
For full versions of these letters please see PAN AP Website:
3. Syngenta, in collaboration with Myriad Genetics Inc of USA,
has sequenced more than 99.5 per cent of the rice genome. Syngenta
has already made it clear that it will restrict access to the
genomic map and expects proprietary control over any research
carried out with the information. Top executives of Syngenta have
told the New York Times that while the companies would not seek
to patent the entire genome, they would try to patent individual
valuable genes. They categorically stated that Syngenta and Myriad
were well on their way to finding many of those.
For further information see: Devinder Sharma, Rice is now Oryza
Syngenta, 2004, http://www.dsharma.org.
4. The rice varieties at Indira Gandhi Agricultural University
were collected in the 1970s via the efforts of the famed rice
scientist Dr. RH Richharia. The rice was originally collected
with farmers’ consent as part of Richharia’s "adaptive
rice research" endeavour, to improve the varieties as per
local requirements and redistribute them amongst farmers. In late
2002 Syngenta negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding with the
Indira Gandhi Agricultural University. If the deal had gone through
the resulting collaborative "research" agreement would
have entailed the transfer of all the rice germplasm collections
from the university to the company laboratories. Due to massive
protests in India and internationally against this act of biopiracy,
the university pulled out and Syngenta had to drop the deal. For
further information: GRAIN (2003): Seedling, April 2003, p. 29.
5. Due to its high toxicity paraquat is part of the Dirty Dozen
List. PAN International launched the Dirty Dozen campaign in 1985
to target a list of extremely hazardous pesticides for strict
controls, bans, and ultimately elimination, and to advocate their
replacement with safer and more sustainable pest control methods.
In order to accelerate the phase-out of paraquat, several non-governmental
organisations (NGOs) from Asia, North and South America, and Europe
(including PAN regional centres) launched the "Stop Paraquat"
campaign in 2002. This campaign, which urges Syngenta to stop
paraquat production, has already achieved some remarkable results,
Malaysia banned paraquat in August 2002 – the first Asian
country to do so – and Chiquita decided to ban paraquat
from all its plantations. For more information on Paraquat, and
the PAN International Position Paper on Paraquat see: http://www.panap.net,
and Paraquat Monograph: http://www.panap.net/docs/monos/paraquatSep03.pdf
6. In December 2003, the meeting of the European Commission Standing
Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCFA) decided to
include paraquat to the Annex 1 of the Pesticides Authorization
Directive 91/414, which granted EU wide approval for Paraquat.
Health Commissioner, David Byrne stressed that the inclusion of
the chemical in the list of authorised pesticides was "not
an encouragement to use Paraquat," and that the inclusion
would not relax existing restrictions in the Community. However,
the EU decision was used by Syngenta to persuade the Malaysian
government to overturn the ban. A coalition of groups including
the International Union Of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant,
Catering, Tobacco And Allied Workers's Associations (IUF), and
NGOs including Pesticide Action Network Europe and the Swedish
Society for Nature Conservation are now challenging the European
Commission's decision via a legal suit. Additionally, on January
5, 2004, the Swedish government announced that it would sue the
European Commission on the approval of herbicides containing the
paraquat inside the European Union. For information on the EU
decision and PAN AP‘s and partners response, see: http://www.panap.net;
see also: AFP report, Sweden sues European Commission over use
of toxic chemical http://www.eubusiness.com/afp/040205114930.rv5j1uob,
and Swedish Society for Nature Conservation Press Releases: http://www.snf.se
7. The international union of farmworkers asks for a general
ban of paraquat, so all farm workers in other countries can profit
from the end of registration for Syngenta product paraquat. "There
is no space for Paraquat in a socially and environmentally responsible
agriculture", declares IUF general secretary Ron Oswald in
a Joint Press Statement issued by Berne Declaration, Greenpeace
Switzerland and SWISSAID. This observation is supported by a study
of the pan-american health organisation from Costa Rica, which
proves that within all work related and other accidents with pesticides,
Paraquat is the main one. See Berne Declaration website: http://www.evb.ch
8. For more information on the Caravan’s Themes and Focus
Issues, the Routes it will take and the groups involved please
refer to http://www.panap.net/caravan/
PAN - Asia and the Pacific
P.O. Box 1170,10850 Penang, Malaysia