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Monsanto is Not the Only Corporate Thug: Syngenta's Campaign to Protect Atrazine, Discredit Critics

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineered page and our Millions Against Monsanto page.

To protect profits threatened by a lawsuit over its controversial herbicide atrazine, Syngenta Crop Protection launched an aggressive multi-million dollar campaign that included hiring a detective agency to investigate scientists on a federal advisory panel, looking into the personal life of a judge and commissioning a psychological profile of a leading scientist critical of atrazine.

The Switzerland-based pesticide manufacturer also routinely paid "third-party allies" to appear to be independent supporters, and kept a list of 130 people and groups it could recruit as experts without disclosing ties to the company.

Recently unsealed court documents reveal a corporate strategy to discredit critics and to strip plaintiffs from the class-action case. The company specifically targeted one of atrazine's fiercest and most outspoken critics, Tyrone Hayes of the University of California, Berkeley, whose research suggests that atrazine feminizes male frogs.

The campaign is spelled out in hundreds of pages of memos, invoices and other documents from Illinois' Madison County Circuit Court, that were initially sealed as part of a 2004 lawsuit filed by Holiday Shores Sanitary District. The new documents, along with an earlier tranche released in late 2011, open a window on the company's strategy to defeat a lawsuit that, it maintained, could have effectively ended sales of atrazine in the United States.

The suit originally sought to force Syngenta to pay for the removal of atrazine from drinking water in Edwardsville, Ill., northeast of St. Louis, but ultimately expanded to include more than 1,000 water systems covering six states.

For Syngenta, which had $14.2 billion in total revenues last year, the stakes of the litigation were high. Atrazine has been popular with farmers since the 1950s because it is effective and economical in killing a broad spectrum of weeds. About 80 million pounds are used in the United States each year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, most of it applied to corn in the Midwest. Three-quarters of all U.S. corn is treated with atrazine, but atrazine is also used on golf courses, Christmas tree lots and public lands.

The herbicide has long stirred controversy at the EPA, which approved its use as recently as 2003 but plans to launch another registration review this summer.

Research has shown that atrazine is prone to run off fields and contaminate water supplies. It also drifts hundreds of miles by air from sites where it has been sprayed.
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