Syngenta

Background

Syngenta is an agrochemical company that manufactures pesticides and seeds and is headquartered in Basel, Switzerland. The company also invests $1.3 billion in research and development annually.  [1]

Syngenta recently launched a new tagline: “Helping farmers. Fighting climate change.” It says that agriculture can help address climate change and be part of the solution by sequestering carbon in the soil. [2]

During the coronavirus pandemic, Syngenta CEO Erik Fyrwald suggested that rebuilding societies and economies post-COVID must include a green economic recovery and a food supply “more resilient to the effects of climate change,” stressing that agriculture is “part of the solution.” [2]

Syngenta has 28,000 employees in 90 countries. Its crop protection sales were $10.6 billion and seed sales were $3.1 billion in 2019. [3]  

Stance on Climate Change

In 2019, Fyrwald, Syngenta’s CEO, told the Financial Times that “climate change is the most important issue we face,” adding, “agriculture is part of the problem, so it has to become part of the solution.” [4]

Syngenta started a partnership with The Nature Conservancy in April 2019. In a public policy position document on climate change by Syngenta, it says the collaboration has already allowed them to: “expand our global efforts on sustainable agriculture, giving us the opportunity to apply and test innovative new techniques to enhance soil health, protect natural habitats, and enhance carbon sequestration in agriculture.” [5], [6]

In March 2020, Syngenta commissioned a study of large-scale farmers in the United States, France, China, Brazil, India and across Africa by IPSOS Mori which found that “72% of larger farmers are worried about the impact climate change will have on crop yields, animal health and their ability to do business over the next 5 years.” [7]

Syngenta’s 2020 Good Growth Plan “puts the urgent fight against climate change and biodiversity loss at the heart of farming’s productive future and the global economic recovery.” Syngenta first launched its Good Growth Plan in 2013. [8] 

Syngenta promotes “climate smart agriculture”, which it describes as “a set of practices that help farmers work sustainably. It includes conservation agriculture practices. These practises aim to reduce soil disturbance, enhance permanent soil cover and implement crop rotation.” [9]

Climate change is already causing problems for farmers. Climate smart agriculture is important because it helps farmers adapt and build resilience to climate change. It can increase agricultural productivity and farmers’ incomes,” says Syngenta in a post outlining how the agriculture industry can use carbon sequestration to combat climate change. [9]

In 2018, Syngenta became a founding member of the Climate Smart Agriculture 100 project which brought together 100 leading food and agribusiness companies with the aim to make “a measurable science-based commitment against climate change”. [10]

Prior to this, a 2017 report by Corporate Accountability, titled “Polluting Paris: How Big Polluters are Undermining Global Climate Policy,” found that climate smart agriculture was being used by corporations including Syngenta to “greenwash environmentally devastating practices” and that those corporations were influencing the UNFCCC through “direct lobbying and trade association membership.” [11]

Regenerative agriculture

A Farmers Guardian article, sponsored by Syngenta, described how regenerative farming initiatives by the company were aiming to “give growers practical research proven sustainable solutions in a changing environment.” [12]

A video shared by Syngenta on Twitter in August 2020 says that agriculture can combat climate change as “agricultural fields can act as a valuable carbon sink and help remove greenhouse gases from our environment.” The video points to regenerative agriculture techniques such as no-till farming to keep carbon in the soil, instead of being released into the air — a key element of regenerative agriculture. [13]

Kendra Klein, a senior staff scientist at Friends of the Earth, told Civil Eats in 2019 that agrochemical companies were trying to “co-opt the regenerative farming concept”. Mentioning Syngenta, Klein said that promoting regenerative methods “is a cover for continuing a very resource-intensive, energy- and greenhouse gas-intensive form of agriculture” referring to the company’s push, with Bayer, for pesticide use. [14]


Read more: Regenerative Agriculture – Criticisms and Concerns


Digital and precision agriculture

President of Syngenta Crop Protection, Vern Hawkins argued in January 2019 that changes in farming practices and technologies, and particularly the growth of precision agriculture, would be one of five key trends to watch for in the agriculture industry over the next few years. He said, “precision farming will continue to increase proficiencies in seeding, fertilizing, and crop protection.” [15]

In October 2019, Syngenta committed $2 billion over five years towards innovation to tackle climate change by helping farmers to “prepare for and tackle the increasing threats posed by climate change.” The company also pledged to “reduce carbon intensity of its operations by 50%, supporting the ambition of the Paris Agreement on climate change.” [16]

Syngenta says the investment is part of a sustainability goal of delivering “at least two technological breakthroughs to market each year” that are aimed at reducing “agriculture’s contribution to climate change, harness its mitigation capacity, and help the food system stay within planetary boundaries.” [16]

In a paid post for the New York Times, Dan Burdett, Syngenta’s Head of Digital Agriculture, said: “Digital technologies are rapidly transforming agriculture: data, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence and overall farm management help save farmers time and money, and enable unprecedented precision and efficiency.” [17]

There is currently limited understanding about the link between agriculture and climate change. Syngenta sees therefore an opportunity to increase awareness among farmers, policy-makers and other stakeholders about how agricultural technologies could contribute to reducing CO2 emissions throughout the value chain – from agricultural input to consumer product,” the company wrote in its 2019 disclosures to charity CDP. “Increased awareness and associated new agreements and regulations could lead to a broader acceptance of agricultural technology, better freedom to operate and sales increase for Syngenta,” it wrote. [18]


Read more: Digital and Precision Agriculture – Criticisms and Concerns


Role in Pesticides Controversy

Pesticides containing neonicotinoids were banned in Europe for two years in 2013 over fears they were contributing to a decline in bee health. In 2018 the EU voted for a total ban on using the pesticide in fields; this came into action at the end of that year. [19]

Syngenta took legal action against the EU’s decision to ban the pesticide, and said the ban was “on the basis of a flawed process, an inaccurate and incomplete assessment by the European Food Safety Authority and without the full support of EU Member States”, according to the Guardian. According to the New York Times, Bayer CropScience and Syngenta  the two pesticide companies that make the pesticide in Europe  said they “were willing to finance additional research, but that the current data do not justify a ban.” [20], [21]

In a 2006 press release, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it had fined Syngenta $1.5 million for “selling and distributing seed corn that contained an unregistered genetically engineered pesticide called Bt 10.” [22]

In 2013, the Greens/European Free Alliance published a 22-page report titled, “Syngenta, Lies & Pesticides” which aimed to “dismantle the most important of their [Syngenta’s] so called ‘scientific claims’ that are in fact based on lies, to protect corporate profits” regarding the company’s use and promotion of neonicotinoids. Syngenta, along with Bayer, were in 2016 reportedly criticised after unpublished field trials “show[ed] their products cause serious harm to honeybees at high levels”, according to the Guardian. [23], [24]

Syngenta has also been in a long-standing battle with Dr. Tyrone Hayes, who has spent years researching the company’s own herbicide Atrazine and its effect on frogs. A 2017 case study by the Union of Concerned Scientists details how Hayes’s discovery made him the target of years of harassment from Syngenta, which worked “to discredit his science and tarnish his reputation as a researcher.” [25]

In late 2017, Syngenta criticised the rising concern surrounding the environmental impact of chemicals like neonicotinoid pesticides, and denounced the idea that the usage of these chemicals significantly impacted bee health. Syngenta CEO Fyrwald said, “agriculture can be a solution to the greenhouse gas problem if we make sensible use of the available synthetic technology.” In June 2020, however, Fyrwald said that the company would continue to drive down the use of pesticides because, “consumers want that. Governments want that. We want it.” [26]

Lobbying

The company publicly states: “Syngenta may engage in political advocacy and debate on subjects that advance the company’s goals, support our customers, partners and industry, and improve the communities where we work and live.” The statement goes on to stress that the company maintains “strict internal control of lobbying activities.” [27]

Syngenta Crop Protection AG is registered in the EU Transparency Register for lobbying. It spent between €1,500,000 – €1,749,000 on lobbying in 2018 according to LobbyFacts. [28], [29]

The company spent $940,000 on lobbying in 2016 (the most recent available year) in the US according to OpenSecrets.org. The data shows that from 2000 to 2016 Syngenta lobbied a large number of US agencies and governmental bodies, including: [30], [31]

In 2017, more than 50 Belgian companies held an action at the EU denouncing the 10th Forum for the Future of Agriculture, a lobbying event jointly organised by Syngenta and the European Landowners’ Organisation. Corporate Europe Observatory campaigner Martin Pigeon said at the time: “we are standing in solidarity with farming and citizens who are mobilising against the disastrous consequences of the grip that Big Agribusiness has on EU policy-making.” [32]

In 2018, Transparency International UK, an independent anti-corruption organisation, published its Corporate Political Engagement Index, which scored 104 multinational companies on their respective political engagement. Overall, Syngenta was given an E, while scoring an F — the Index’s lowest score — in the Political Contributions category. The company scored an E in the Responsible Lobbying category. [33]

An investigation by Open Democracy in 2018 revealed that Syngenta had made deals with the London Evening Standard newspaper that saw the paper avoid covering the fact that the company was facing billion dollar lawsuits in content sponsored by Syngenta. [34]

A 2012 investigation by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) revealed that Syngenta had a number of ongoing payments to individuals and organisations to promote its work. This included commentator, climate science denier, and publisher of JunkScience.com Steve Milloy who has received grants of up to $25,000, according to emails between Milloy and Syngenta, obtained by CMD. [35]

According to an Associated Press report in 2018, Syngenta lobbyist Jeffrey Sands was granted permission by White House Counsel Don McGahn to become Senior Advisor for Agriculture to former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt under the Trump administration. Before joining the EPA, Pruitt had previously launched multiple lawsuits against the agency to roll-back Obama-era environmental regulations as Oklahoma’s Attorney General and received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from oil and gas companies to his political campaigns. McGahn said the decision to approve Sands was “in the public interest.” [36], [37], [38]

In June 2020, Syngenta’s logo featured on a bill introduced by a number of US senators to establish a U.S. Department of Agriculture certification programme to help farmers and landowners participate in carbon credit markets. The bill also included the logos of a number of agribusinesses including Bayer and Corteva. [39]

Affiliations

Syngenta is a member of CropLife International alongside FMC, BASF, Bayer, Corteva Agriscience, and Sumitomo Chemical. It is also a member of the UK Crop Protection Association. [40]

According to the EU Transparency Register Syngenta is part of: [28]

Syngenta works with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, The Nature Conservancy, the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA), and the World Economic Forum. [18]

In June 2019, AGRASyngenta and the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture signed an agreement to work together towards developing Africa’s agricultural system, specifically by helping to increase access to yield-enhancing technologies and pest control products. [41]

In June 2020, American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) logo was featured on a one-pager for a U.S. Department of Agriculture certification programme carbon credit bill alongside the logos of a number of agribusinesses including Bayer, Syngenta, and Corteva. [39]

Resources

  1. Research and Development,” Syngenta. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/MmqN5
  2. Erik Fyrwald. “Helping farmers, fighting climate change,”  EurActiv, July 2, 2020, Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/7XAYi
  3. Company,” Syngenta. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/wip/50KKx
  4. Hermy Sender. “Eric Fyrwald: Changing the image of the agrochemicals industry,” The Financial Times, July 28, 2019. Archived November 9, 2020. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  5. Syngenta and The Nature Conservancy Team Up to Deliver Innovation for Nature,” The Nature Conservancy, April 29, 2019. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/H8fO7
  6. Our Public Policy Position: Syngenta and climate change,” Syngenta, October 2018. Archived November 9, 2020. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  7. Climate Change Research Global Farmers,” Syngenta Group, March 2020. Archived November 9, 2020. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  8. The Good Growth Plan,” Syngenta. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/jEiKZ
  9. How can agriculture play a role in addressing climate change?” Syngenta. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/NAK0K
  10. Our Public Policy Position: Syngenta and climate change,” Syngenta, October 2018. Archived November 9, 2020. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  11. Report: Paris deal threatened by corporate capture,” Corporate Accountability, November 1, 2017. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/8As2f
  12. Rebuilding soil structure,” Farmers Guardian. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/RqUv4
  13. By reducing greenhouse gas emissions with sustainable farming practices & technology, #agriculture can help address #ClimateChange and be part of the solution:  https://syngenta.com/who-we-are/our-stories/carbon-sequestration,” Tweet by @Syngenta, August 4, 2020. Retrieved from Twitter.com. Archived .png on file at DeSmog.
  14. Gosia Wozniacka, “With Regenerative Agriculture Booming, the Question of Pesticide Use Looms Large,” Civil Eats, September 5, 2019. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/RViMo
  15. Eric Sfiligoj. “Syngenta Keeping Close Tabs on Changes for the Future of Ag,” CropLife, January 16, 2019. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/SmvEn
  16. Syngenta commits $2 billion and sets new targets for innovation to tackle climate change,” Syngenta, October 22, 2019. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/jtHWp
  17. Is Digital Farming the Key to Sustainable Agriculture,” The New York Times. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/cNBnE
  18. Syngenta Ag- Climate Change 2019 (disclosure to CDP),” Syngenta. Archived November 9, 2020. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  19. Damian Carrington. “EU agrees total ban on bee-harming pesticides,” The Guardian, April 27, 2018. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/lutrO
  20. Alison Benjamin, Amanda Holpuch and Ruth Spencer. “Chemicals giants go to court, bees go to Washington, and giant carpenter bees,” The Guardian, September 4, 2020. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/rLWQX
  21. David Jolly. “Europe Bans Pesticides Thought Harmful to Bees,” The New York Times. April 29, 2013. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  22. EPA Fines Syngenta $1.5 million for distributing unregisrered genetically engineered pesticide,” Environmental Protection Agency, December 21, 2006. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/Xuwiy
  23. Syngenta, Lies & Pesticides,” The Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament. Archived November 9, 2020. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  24. Damian Carrington. “Pesticide manufacturers’ own tests reveal serious harm to honeybees,” The Guardian, September 22, 2016. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/bTWKu
  25. Syngenta Harassed the Scientist who Exposed Risks of Herbicide Atrazine,” Union of Concerned Scientists, October 12, 2017. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/KWOG8
  26. Andrew Marshall. “Syngenta warns of populist anti-ag technology agenda,” Farm Online, December 19, 2017. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/6QHVH
  27. Governance & stakeholder relations,” Syngenta. November 9, 2020. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/bTLIr
  28. Syngenta Crop Protection AG,” EU Transparency Register. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/TgljA
  29. Syngenta Crop Protection AG,” LobbyFacts. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/fsXCv
  30. Client Profile: Syngenta AG,” OpenSecrets. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/4R6eQ
  31. Client Profile: Syngenta AG – Agencies,” OpenSecrets. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/6urU9
  32. The future of agriculture deserves better than Syngenta,” Corporate Europe Observatory, March 28, 2017. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/JnEpa
  33. Corporate Political Engagement Index 2018,” Transparency International UK. Archived November 9, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/eFuJY
  34. James Cusick and Crina Boros. “How a GM giant ‘bought control’ of what millions of Londoners read,” OpenDemocracy, February 8, 2018. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/BB2Ze
  35. Sara Jerving. “Syngenta’s Paid Third Party Pundits Spin the ‘News’ on Atrazine,” PR Watch, February 7, 2012. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/VXePL
  36. Mark Hand. “EPA happy to waive ethics rules for industry lobbyists joining the agency,” Think Progress, March 9, 2018. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/7DPgn
  37. Scott Pruitt’s web of fundraising and lawsuits,” EDF Action. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/SgbDm
  38. Scott Pruitt – Oil and Gas Industries,” FollowTheMoney.Org. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/O3F7j
  39. Charlie Mitchell. “Farms Can’t Save the Planet,” The New Republic, August 7, 2020. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/younW
  40. Members,” CropLife International. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/PSOBu
  41. Agra & Syngenta partner for Africa,” Syngenta Foundation, June 18, 2019. Archived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/0qP8F

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