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Shareholders Wary of GE Crops and the Impacts of Pesticides
(Beyond Pesticides, June 16, 2004)
At least two of the largest agrochemical corporations, Syngenta and Dow Chemical, faced tough criticism during their recent Annual General Meetings (AGM) this year from shareholders and public interest groups over the companies’ potential liabilities of the impacts of pesticides and genetically engineered (GE) crops, according to a June 7 Pesticide Action Network article.

Syngenta, a Swiss based company, faced opposition to the commercialization of GE crops from farmers’ organizations, peasant groups, activists, and scientists. One group fighting against the use of GE crops in Asia, People’s Caravan, argues that Syngenta’s defense of “trying to feed the Third World” with its GE products is more of a “’public relations strategy rather than really addressing the needs of poor people.’”

People’s Caravan, a pan-Asian organization, is also driving a ban of the production of Syngenta’s herbicide paraquat. Paraquat, sold as the product Gramoxone, is a highly toxic herbicide that takes thousands of lives every year, especially in developing countries. Activists and scientists argue that the herbicide should immediately be removed from the world market due to the dangers it poses to human health. Finland, Sweden, and Germany have either banned or refused to renew registrations of the herbicide. In the U.S., paraquat is sprayed on ten to twelve million agricultural acres each year.

Dow Chemical shareholders took issue with the company’s expenses related to asbestos liability, Agent Orange, and a host of other environmental contamination issues such as the Bhopal disaster and a class action lawsuit filed against the company by a number of community groups in Michigan for the release of dioxin into the community and floodplain of the Tittabawassee River. The National Toxicology Program of the National Institutes of Health lists dioxin as a known human carcinogen. Dioxins are known to bioaccumulate in the fatty tissues and milk of animals, which can lead to cancer when consumed. Dioxin is also listed among the most toxic chemicals ever created, and classified as a persistent organic pollutant by the United Nations Environment Program.

Innovest Strategic Value Advisors said in April that Dow is underreporting its liabilities to the Securities Exchange Commission and labeled Dow's stock a risky investment, (see Daily News story). On May 13, shareholders introduced a resolution for Dow to report any new initiatives to fulfill the company’s obligations toward those affected by the 1984 pesticide plant disaster in Bhopal, India as well as the cost of such initiatives. The resolution failed but is expected to be resubmitted next year.

TAKE ACTION: Learn more about Dow and the Bhopal disaster from Beyond Pesticides’ Daily News story Activists Mount Global Challenge to Dow and from The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal. In addition to producing GE seeds and making numerous toxic pesticide products, Syngenta is also the largest manufacturer of atrazine, an herbicide highly toxic to human health and the environment and responsible for substantial groundwater contamination. Stand up to both Syngenta and Dow by refusing to use or purchase their products. Look for their name on the label of consumer products, including such items as pesticides, bathroom cleaners, kitchen cleaners and furniture polish.