Brazil bans paraquat – Switzerland supports Syngenta’s behind-the-scenes lobbying

Press release, MultiWatch and Public Eye, 17.11.2017

Brazil has joined the list of States that have banned the use of the pesticide called paraquat, on the grounds of its high level of toxicity. Syngenta is the main producer of paraquat. The company is actively lobbying to convince the Brazilian authorities to reverse their decision. Confidential information shows that the Basel-based giant participates in the organization of a visit for influential Brazilian parliamentarians to Switzerland, with the support of the Swiss authorities. The delegation should have been received today in Bern by the Secretary of State for Education, Research and Innovation. The meeting was cancelled at the last minute due to the presence of Public Eye and Multiwatch, who protested against the participation of Switzerland in Syngenta’s lobbying efforts to promote dangerous pesticides that are banned in our country.

The Brazilian National Sanitary Surveillance Agency (ANVISA) decided on 19th September to ban paraquat, due to the many cases of poisoning it has caused, as well as its links to Parkinson’s disease and its mutagenic potential. This was a serious blow to Syngenta, as over half its paraquat sales are made in Brazil. As a result of the pressure exerted by the powerful agribusiness lobby, the entry into force of the ban has now been postponed until 2020. It might even be overturned if studies proving the safety of paraquat were to be presented in the interim period.

Syngenta is being active behind the scenes to convince the Brazilian authorities to reconsider the ban and make the existing regulations more flexible. A group of Brazilian parliamentarians are currently visiting Switzerland to discover “the secrets of the success of Swiss innovation”. They have been invited by the Swiss-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce. Internal documents show that Syngenta is behind these manoeuvres. Most of the participants in the delegation are members of the “Agricultural Front” that defends the interests of agribusiness in the Brazilian Parliament. The group has played a crucial role in pushing ANVISA to scale down its ambitions regarding the ban on paraquat.. It is also behind a draft law aimed at taking away from ANVISA much of its responsibilities regarding pesticide approval, and reassigning them to the Ministry of Agriculture, which is headed by the highly controversial “Soybean King”, Blairo Maggi. Brazil is a key market for Syngenta: its pesticide sales reach 2 billion dollars a year, approximately 20% of its turnover in this field.

The Confederation has officially supported the organisation of this visit. The delegation should have been received today by the Secretary of State for Education, Research and Innovation, Mauro Dell’Ambrogio. The meeting was cancelled at the last minute due to the presence of Public Eye and Multiwatch, who protested against the participation of Switzerland in Syngenta’s lobbying efforts to promote dangerous pesticides that are banned in our country.

In a letter to the Federal Councillor Schneider-Ammann, the Brazilian campaign against agro-toxic chemicals denounced this “double standard” that constitutes a violation of human rights.

A busy programme

The Brazilian parliamentarians began their visit in Switzerland on Monday at the World Food System Center of EPFZ, where Syngenta funds a controversial chair on “sustainable production systems”. They then travelled to Neuchâtel to visit the Philip Morris plant. Yesterday they visited the Syngenta headquarters and research laboratories for new pesticides. After their meeting at the State Secretary, they will end their tour at the Federal Institute on Intellectual Property.

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