Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Asia and the Pacific
Embargoed until April 27, 2004
Asian Farmers to Syngenta: Get Out of Asia!
Hands Off Our Rice! Stop Paraquat!
European Groups Submit Asian Protest Letters at Syngenta AGM Rejecting Syngenta’s Genetic Engineering Technologies and Calls to Stop Paraquat Production Globally
April 27 (Penang/Malaysia)—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. 5
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!” she concludes.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jennifer Mourin, Media Coordinator, PAN AP. Tel: (+604) 657 0271, Email: email@example.com.
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.
Notes to Journalists and Editors:
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, Malaysia.
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 cultivation.
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: http://www.panap.net
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. Barcelona; http://www.grain.org
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/