By The PRW Staff on May 11, 2012

For Immediate Release:

May 11, 2012

Contact: Paul Towers, Pesticide Action Network, 916-216-1082

Syngenta Hired Guns Attack New Documentary

PR firm and paid spokespeople mount aggressive response to new film "Last Call at the Oasis"

San Francisco, CA -- As a new film highlights water contamination throughout the U.S. Midwest from Syngenta's flagship herbicide atrazine, the world's largest pesticide company has mounted a PR counter-attack downplaying the human and environmental health risks of a chemical linked to birth defects, low birth weight and certain cancers. Atrazine was banned in the EU in 2003, leaving the U.S. market as one of Syngenta's most profitable and vigorously guarded markets.

Syngenta's lobbying and often-covert PR efforts have been continuously scrutinized in the press since it was revealed that the company held more than 50 closed-door meetings with EPA officials during atrazine's previous review in 2003. Looking at the same data, EPA subsequently approved atrazine for continued use while E.U. regulators banned it as a ubiquitous water contaminant and suspected endocrine disruptor. Syngenta has since paid economists to claim that atrazine creates jobs, conducted a covert PR campaign against a court hearing a case against the company, sued environmental health NGOs (including Pesticide Action Network) working on atrazine, and repeatedly attempted to suppress science and intimidate scientists whose work shows the harms of atrazine.

In response to last week's release of the film "Last Call at the Oasis," Syngenta's PR firm Jayne Thompson and Associates has launched a new website, "Saving the Oasis." The project uses paid spokespersons posing as independent experts and attempts to greenwash atrazine as environmentally beneficial, downplay human health risks and discredit one of the scientists from the film. According to the Chicago Tribune, Jayne Thompson, the former Illinois first lady, attempted to place stories critical of Illinois courts where the company is being sued by public water utilities and characterize litigation against the company as anti-farmer.

Spokespersons paid by Syngenta to advocate for atrazine:
Name Affiliations Links to Syngenta
Richard Fawcett Fawcett Consulting Firm Received an undisclosed sum from Syngenta between 1995-2011 to promote atrazine in studies and speaking engagements
Alex Avery Hudson Institute, Center for Global Food Issues CGFI has received at least $68,550 from Syngenta and has coordinated research for the company
Jayne Thompson Jayne Thompson & Associates, former First Lady of Illinois Helped coordinate Syngenta's "first strike" mentality and managing "third party" spokespeople, especially around court cases
Elizabeth Whelan American Council on Science and Health Sought $100,000 from Syngenta to produce materials about atrazine and publicly attacked New York Times coverage of the chemical
Don Coursey University of Chicago Received $35,000 for one report he authored for Syngenta and has spoken at several Syngenta-sponsored briefings in DC
Steven Milloy JunkScience.com, Fox News commentator An unknown number of checks for $25,000 each from Syngenta for talking points and has publicly attacked independent scientists researching health effects atrazine
Jon Entine Statistical Assessment Service (STATS), American Enterprise Institute, ESG MediaMetrics Released a book on "Chemophobia" shortly after New York Times piece on atrazine, received $100,000 from Syngenta-funded ACSH for the book
Sources: PR Watch/Center for Media and Democracy, Clare Howard/100 Reporters and Tom Philpott/Mother Jones

As EPA continues its current re-evaluation of atrazine's safety, results released last week from water sampling across four Midwestern states -- Illinois, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota -- indicate that the endocrine disrupting pesticide atrazine is still being found in drinking water. The results, on average, demonstrate that levels frequently found in drinking water are five times the levels associated with adverse health effects, including low birth-weight in babies.

"These water monitoring results should raise concerns for policymakers, they confirm that atrazine continues to contaminate Midwest drinking water at meaningful levels," said Emily Marquez, PhD, endocrinologist and staff scientist for Pesticide Action Network. "Endocrine disrupting chemicals like atrazine are hormonally active at vanishingly small amounts."

Resources:

  • A summary on the science and health of atrazine is available here.
  • A summary of results from water sampling is available here.
  • A summary of pesticide residues commonly found in water is available here.
  • Find a copy of the report "The Syngenta Corporation & Atrazine: The Cost to the Land, People & Democracy" by Land Stewardship Project and Pesticide Action Network here.

Available for Interviews:

Sandra Zellmer, JD, Alumni Professor of Environmental Law, University of Nebraska - Lincoln and legal expert on atrazine: szellmer2@unl.edu.

Dr. Paul Winchester, MD, Director of Neonatology at St. Francis Hospital & Health Centers in Indianapolis, and researcher on birth defects linked to atrazine exposure: 317-865-5000.

Bobbi King, Project Policy Program Organizer at the Land Stewardship Project: bking@landstewardshipproject.org or 612-722-6377. Can also connect reporters with Midwest farmers opposed to Syngenta's atrazine.

The PRW Staff

The author, PRW Staff, is for short reports/compilations that are attributable to more than one staffer or for staff posts of guest reporters.