“One sip can kill!” The US environmental agency warns against the pesticide paraquat. The toxic weed killer, which the agrochemical giant Syngenta sells under the name Gramoxone in around 100 countries, is banned in Switzerland and the EU. The deaths caused by the pesticide are said to be in the tens of thousands.
Former Syngenta chemist Jon Heylings (65) pointed out the risks of the pesticide internally decades ago. The toxicologist, who was responsible for the product safety of Paraquat between 1986 and 2007, described his struggle so far in vain in the “Rundschau” yesterday evening. The SRF magazine has internal documents evaluated by the non-governmental organization Public Eye. These show how Syngenta has put profit before product safety at Paraquat and has accepted thousands of deaths.
Internal criticism was ignored
The weed poison, which has been produced since 1962, is one of the bestsellers for the Basel-based company. Like 30 years ago, Heylings criticizes that the dose of emetics added to paraquat products for safety reasons is ineffective. Vomiting quickly is said to save from poisoning. In order to induce vomiting quickly enough after taking a lethal dose, the amount must be increased significantly.
As a young researcher, he informed his superiors that Syngenta was referring to an internal report that had been tampered with when it came to dosing. But even 30 years later, Syngenta has not changed anything in terms of concentration. In developing countries, but also in the USA, accidental ingestion regularly leads to deaths. Also, suicides through deliberate ingestion, mostly by desperate farmers, are common. South Korea illustrates the risk: after the Paraquat ban in 2011, suicides fell by up to 40 percent.
Syngenta rejects allegations
The agromulti from Basel replied: “The fact that Syngenta accepts deaths with paraquat is completely unfounded, and we firmly reject this claim.” Product safety always comes first. Syngenta has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the safety of paraquat since its inception.
In addition, current clinical findings do not warrant an increase in the amount of emetic added. Organizations like the World Health Organization do not support Heylings’ point of view.
Things have quieter around Syngenta in Switzerland since it was taken over by a Chinese chemical company in 2015. However, the group is currently spending millions to fight the drinking water and pesticide initiative with the Swiss Food lobby group.
The fact that Heylings is making his criticism public right now has to do with a trial by farmers against Syngenta in the USA next month. They blame paraquat for their Parkinson’s disease. The Briton, who has been a professor of toxicology at Keele University for years, will testify in this context. Public Eye and the UK investigative bureau of Greenpeace Unearthed have spent months viewing hundreds of documents that Syngenta was forced to disclose in the context of this litigation.
Published: March 24th, 2021, 9:59 p.m.
Last updated: 24.03.2021, 10:02 p.m.
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