Syngenta Spends Millions to Deflect Evidence Against Atrazine Herbicide

Yet again, a multi-national corporation seeks to hide the truth about its toxic product.

| February 21, 2012

  • atrazine label
    Atrazine, an agricultural herbicide, is on the list of potential chemicals that can cause weight gain in humans. 
  • atrazine herbicide
    Herbicides that contain atrazine have been linked to endocrine disruptive effects.

  • atrazine label
  • atrazine herbicide

The herbicide atrazine is in the news for multiple reasons these days.  In addition to concerns that this widely used pesticide may cause cancer, evidence has recently surfaced showing that, for more than a decade, Syngenta has spent millions of dollars to pay scientists and journalists to deny and deflect the growing documentation of the human health dangers posed by atrazine. Plus, cancer is not the only concern with this chemical; a new report from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences names atrazine among a group of endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are “obesogens” — meaning they are suspected of contributing to the obesity epidemic now underway in this country. Here are links to these important stories: It's Time to Ban Atrazine, Obesogens: An Environmental Link to Obesity— MOTHER

On February 7, 2012,  the Center for Media and Democracy posted more than 200 emails, invoices and other documents unsealed as part of a major lawsuit against Syngenta Crop Protection, Inc., the primary manufacturer of the weed-killer "atrazine."

"These documents reveal a multi-million dollar effort by Syngenta and its PR flaks to influence the public's perception of atrazine in an effort to stave off regulatory and legal action against the weed-killer, which has been found in drinking water across the nation. As part of this greenwashing effort, Syngenta's PR team investigated the press and paid scientists, economists and other 'experts' to spin the media and the public on the 'benefits' of atrazine," said Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy.

The Holiday Shores Sanitary District vs. Syngenta and Growmark Inc. lawsuit was filed in 2006 and is still in the pre-trial stage. Holiday Shores is a small, lakeside community located in Madison County, Illinois, surrounded by farm fields. When the community's water was found to be contaminated with atrazine, officials were worried about new scientific evidence linking atrazine to endocrine disruptive effects. They sought to upgrade their drinking water filtration system to extract the weed-killer only to find the upgrade prohibitively expensive. In this groundbreaking lawsuit, the community seeks financial help from the multi-billion dollar Swiss manufacturer to upgrade their filtration system to protect the public's health.

Atrazine is primarily used by corn, sorghum, and sugarcane farmers, but it is also used on some tree farms and golf courses. The weed-killer can easily run off into rivers, streams, and lakes, and it has been found in 94 percent of U.S. drinking water. Recent investigations show that the levels of the weed-killer can spike during the year, but that the company and the EPA did not alert the public. An increasing number of studies link the chemical to hormonal disruption and gender changes in laboratory animals.

The documents reveal a coordinated strategy to "rattle cages" at the EPA and influence the media, potential jurors, farmers and politicians. Tactics used by the PR team include investigating critics, such as Danielle Ivory of the Huffington Post, creating a "Benefits Panel" made up of supposedly independent experts to counter-spin negative press, and paying a Fox media pundit, scientists, economists, and other third party actors to carry their message on atrazine without disclosing that financial relationship to the public in their broadcast interviews. Invoices show that one 'expert,' Richard Fawcett, the president of Fawcett Consulting and member of Syngenta's Benefits Panel, received at least $30 million over 15 years.

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