Syngenta taken to task over violation of
International Code of Conduct on marketing of toxic herbicide
in complaint to UN FAO
By Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific
The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Asia and the Pacific has sent
a strongly worded letter to the Director General of the UN Food
and Agriculture Organisation, on Syngenta’s advertisement
drive for its new formulation of paraquat, which contravenes the
FAO International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use
of Pesticides (FAO Code). Ironically, the company supports
The advertisement is part of Syngenta’s 2004 marketing
activity in Thailand to promote the new formulation paraquat,
marketed under the trade name Gramoxone Gold Cap. Syngenta
has couched the promotion of Gramoxone Gold Cap in the form of
a lucky drive competition, where not only Gramoxone jackets and
t-shirts, but motorcycles and a truck can be won. Additionally,
the advert states that every purchase of Gramoxone will contribute
to ‘Syngenta’s Fund for New Generation Farmers’
to support safe food, which constitutes the fourth prize in the
“We are appalled at Syngenta’s advertisement drive
for Gramoxone in Thailand, and are deeply concerned that it violates
the FAO Code, in particular Article 11 which oversees various
aspects on advertising”, states PAN AP Executive Director,
Sarojeni V. Rengam, referring to PAN AP’s letter to FAO
Director General, Jacques Diouf. “We are very concerned
that this advertisement is part of a ‘hard-sell’ by
the company, and could be a form of dumping of the product into
Thailand, in reaction to the ban and phase out of paraquat imposed
by the government in neighbouring Malaysia”, she notes,
referring to the ground breaking decision by Malaysian authorities
in August 2002, to end paraquat use and distribution in Malaysia.
Groups in Europe, including PAN UK, PAN Germany, and the Swiss
NGO Berne Declaration, have supported the letter from PAN AP.
“The revised Code of Conduct was a recognition by governments,
industry and public interest groups of the need for greater efforts
to combat pesticide hazards in developing countries, and it is
disappointing that the important commitment on advertising is
being disregarded,” said Barbara Dinham, Director of PAN
PAN AP and the European groups have noted several violations of
the FAO Code within Article 11.
Article 11.2.18 states that "advertisements and promotional
activities should not include inappropriate incentives or gifts
to encourage the purchase of pesticides”. A competition
of this nature, which offers prizes like motorcycles and a truck
as incentives or gifts to encourage the purchase of pesticides,
is inappropriate, particularly in a country like Thailand where
poor farmers earn an average of 2,500 Baht (US $60) a month.
The PAN AP letter argues that, “A motorcycle and a truck
would be considered expensive luxury items that poorer farmers
could not afford to readily purchase on this average yearly income—and
would therefore be very attractive prizes to try to win”.
The advertisement could contravene other elements of Article
11 of the FAO Code of Conduct on advertising, by implying the
product is safe. It does not draw attention to warning phrases
and symbols, or encourage users to read the label.
For François Meienberg of the Berne Declaration, the
Syngenta Campaign for paraquat in Thailand shows three different
aspects: “First: It does not seem possible to sell paraquat
without inappropriate incentives, therefore the product is perhaps
not as good as Syngenta always claims. Second: Syngenta has not
taken its responsibilities seriously. It is not enough to adopt
a code. It has to be implemented. Third: Corporate Social Responsibility
is not something to be put in a booklet for the Annual General
Meeting, but to make business accordingly—for the whole
year, and worldwide!" Michael Pragnell, President of CropLife
International and CEO of Syngenta, has been quoted saying that:
“The adoption of this new Code by the member companies of
CropLife International demonstrates the industry’s commitment
to take its responsibilities seriously, reflecting its crucial
role in the sustainable development of agriculture.”
In its "Guide for Industry on the Implementation of the FAO
Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides",
CropLife International has, “indicated to FAO the willingness
of its members to abide by the provisions of the new revised version.
Just as with the original Code, it is important that the spirit
as well as the letter of the revised Code be observed. Management
has a clear responsibility to initiate appropriate actions to
ensure that the Code is being followed within its own company."
Syngenta is due to report its half-year results on July 29, 2004.
Rengam has called on the company to live up to its claim of supporting
the FAO Code, which it contradicts in its marketing activities
in Thailand. “We strongly believe that this advertisement
and promotion drive by Syngenta go against the letter and spirit
of the Code, and misrepresent the hazards of the herbicide paraquat
to both farmers and consumers in Thailand” asserts Rengam
in her letter to FAO.
The groups have collectively urged Syngenta to stop the paraquat
advertising campaign in Thailand immediately.
Paraquat is one of the most dangerous and controversial herbicides
in the world. Internationally, and especially in the South, workers
and farmers who are regularly exposed to paraquat experience serious
problems with their health. Paraquat is highly acutely toxic.
It is a known poison without an antidote.
Acute poisoning and chemical burns to agricultural workers and
small-scale farmers are a frequent occurrence. The greatest risk
to workers of fatal and serious accidents is during mixing and
loading of paraquat. A number of deaths have been recorded from
contact with the spray solution. Conditions of use in many developing
countries mean it is difficult to follow label instructions and
recommendations for use. Recent evidence is indicating new concerns
with chronic effects, such as a possible link to Parkinson’s
Concerns over pesticide use in Thailand have been noted in recent
times. According to the IPM DANIDA project report of December
2003, the use of pesticides in Thailand has increased enormously
in the past twenty years. According to the Ministry of Agriculture
and Cooperatives, pesticides are “a highly lucrative business”
worth 9,116 million Baht (US $225 million) per year. Foreign companies
such as Bayer, Monsanto, Syngenta and Dow hold the largest share
of the market. According to the report, some of the pesticides
that these companies are selling in Thailand are banned in other
countries because of the dangers to human health. The report includes
case studies of the negative health impacts of pesticides, including
the death of a farmer who had extensively sprayed a mixture of
paraquat and glyphosate while hired to spray herbicides in the
“Due to these concerns regarding exposure to paraquat
and its adverse health impacts on humans, we wish to register
our protest against the advertisement by Syngenta promoting its
product paraquat, Gramoxone, in a manner that may widely mislead
the citizens of Thailand” concludes Rengam in her letter
to the FAO.
1. The FAO International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and
Use of Pesticides was initiated in 1985, followed by the London
Guidelines for the Exchange and Use of Pesticides in 1987—both
of which PAN international contributed to and participated in
actively. PAN was actively involved in the revisions to the Code,
which was adopted in November 2002. See Revised FAO Code of Conduct
2. See: http://www.syngenta.co.th/pop_mar.asp or see PDF version
of Syngenta Advert and Translation of Advert
3. See PAN AP Website for more on the ban, and the campaign by
PAN AP and local partners to uphold it at:
4. Agriculture: Breaking the Trap of Poverty, Bangkok Post: Mid
Year Economic Review 2004; accessed on July 26, 2004. See: http://www.bangkokpost.net/midyear2004/agriculture01.html
5. Details to other possible contravention’s of the FAO
Article 11.2.8 states that “claims as to safety, including
statements such as “safe”, “non-poisonous”,
“harmless”, “non-toxic” or “compatible
with IPM”, are not made without a qualifying phrase such
as “when used as directed”. Although the advertisement
does not overtly state or claim that Gramoxone is safe, it does
imply that it is trusted by farmers, and contributes to safe food.
Specifically, the company has stated that for the 4th prize, "Every
bottle of Gramoxone contributes to the Syngenta Fund for New Generation
Farmers to support safe food."
Article 11.2.13 states that the Pesticides industry should ensure
that "advertising or promotional material draws attention
to the appropriate warning phrases and symbols as laid down in
FAO labelling guidelines (3)". Although part of the label
indicates the Thai registration status "registered as dangerous
material No 2045/2544", we are concerned that the whole tone
of the advertisement implies there is no need for concern with
warning phrases or symbols.
Article 11.2.17 states that the pesticides industry should ensure
that "advertisements encourage purchasers and users to read
the label carefully, or have the label read to them if they cannot
read." The advertisement does not encourage users to read
6. CropLife International is the global federation representing
the agrochemical and life-science industry, and supports a network
of regional and national associations in 87 countries. It is led
by companies such as BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences,
DuPont, FMC, Monsanto, Sumitomo and Syngenta.
7. CropLife Press Release, Brussels, 3 March 2004, “Plant
Science Industry supports new FAO Code of Conduct to Further Improve
Responsible Use of Crop Protection Products - CropLife International
presents revised Guide for Industry on Implementation of the Code”.
8. Paraquat is on PAN’s Dirty Dozen list, launched in 1982.
It had been the subject of campaign to ban it in countries like
Malaysia for more then 20 years! See PAN AP website for the PAN
International Position paper on paraquat, PAN Joint Press Release,
and a list of PAN international generated information and resources
on paraquat, http://www.panap.net/docs/campaign/ListofPANPqrtResourcesNov28.doc.
And PAN AP’s Monograph on paraquat http://www.panap.net/docs/monos/paraquatSep03.pdf".
9. The report, "Did you take your poison today?", was
written, edited, designed and produced by the IPM DANIDA project.
The project "Strengthening Farmers' IPM in Pesticide Intensive
Areas" (or IPM DANIDA) is a cooperation between the governments
of Thailand and Denmark. The overall objective of the project
is to promote good agricultural practices in order to improve
the environment and the safety of farmers and to protect consumers
from the hazardous uses of pesticides. More information on the
report can be found at http://www.ipmthailand.org. The whole report
could be downloaded at: http://www.ipmthailand.org/documents/Your_poison_today_(English).pdf