A corporate merger between two large agri-chemical companies
will create the world’s largest pesticide manufacturer. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports… some environmentalists are
concerned the new company’s approach will mean more pesticide use:
A corporate merger between two large agri-chemical companies will create the world’s largest
pesticide manufacturer. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports some
environmentalists are concerned the new company’s approach will mean pore pesticide use:
The chemical and agriculture companies Novartis and Astra-Zeneca are in the process of merging
their agriculture divisions. The new company, Syngenta, will go its own way sometime in 2000.
Syngenta will be the world’s largest pesticide producer, and the third largest producer of
genetically modified seeds. Some environmentalists are concerned about the merger. Lori Mott is
with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“Well, it’s a potentially dangerous mix because one of the areas where genetically modified
organisms are being developed is to make them pesticide resistant. So, you could have the largest
seller of pesticides also making the seeds that are resistant to the very pesticides that they
sell and the end result would be excessive use of pesticides – as if we don’t already have that –
out in the environment with severe environmental consequences.”
Mott says the new company will likely focus on creating herbicides and design genes to make crops
resistant to them. She says that will encourage farmers to use pesticides even more because they
know it won’t harm their crops. Astra-Zeneca already has a pesticide and pesticide-resistant crop
seed package. Novartis is working on one. Both of those product packages will now be part of the
Syngenta line. Other companies such as Monsanto and DuPont also have genetically modified crops
resistant to their respective pesticides.
A financial analyst says it’s possible the merger might mean less use of certain pesticides. One
of the companies involved in the merger, Novartis, manufactures atrazine. It’s the herbicide most
used on crops in the Midwest. Atrazine has developed negative reputation because drinking water in
some lakes and wells has been contaminated by the herbicide.
Alexander Hittle is an analyst with A.G. Edwards and Sons. Hittle says if Syngenta pushes an
herbicide and genetically-altered crop package, it might mean atrazine is used less.
“Atrazine sales are actually really being in part driven by resistance to genetically modified
crops. Either way, the farmers are going to be using pesticides, herbicides. Is the herbicide
being used in one of these seed combinations more or less benign than an herbicide that would be
used under so-called conventional farming. And, I think that’s the way, in terms of the
environment, the question needs to be posed.”
Because some of the new generation herbicides break down faster, they don’t have the same
reputation for contamination problems atrazine does.
Pesticides aren’t the only thing about the merger worrying environmentalists and others. Until
recently, genetically modified crops were more or less ignored by the American public. But,
because of food safety and environmental concerns, some people are becoming wary of the
bio-engineered plants. Public opinion might shift again in the near future. Hittle says so far,
the traits of the genetically engineered crops have only benefited farmers and the ag-chemical
companies. If consumers see a direct benefit, he thinks they’ll be more accepting.
“Down the road what’s coming are crops that have improved nutritional profiles, so that you’ll
begin to see benefits to consumers and that’s probably where the tide will turn. And, Novartis,
Astra-Zeneca both have pretty strong research capabilities and that should play into those sorts
Farmers will be watching for the new products and the whims of the market as public opinion about
genetically modified food evolves. Don Parrish is with the American Farm Bureau. He agrees that
people eventually will accept the new technology.
“But, I guess as consumers see the benefits of what it could mean more lean, tender products, more
nutritious products, you know, I just have a hard time believing that people won’t believe in
good, sound science and won’t ultimately allow that to dictate what is safe for the marketplace.”
The Farm Bureau adds… genetically altered crops will be necessary to feed the world’s growing
Environmentalists say advances in food production should not come at the expense of environmental
damage. The NRDC’s Lori Mott says the Astra-Zeneca and Novartis ag divisions’ merger rushes
headlong into a genetically-altered future that might have serious consequences.
“I think the whole issue of genetically modified organisms is a dicey one. We are changing the
scale of evolution…”
One interesting twist of the Syngenta merger: Novartis will be keeping its baby food line, Gerber
Foods. This past year, Gerber declared it would not allow genetically modified crops into its baby
food – something of a contradiction inside a corporation that has touted the safety of genetically
modified foods. Novartis will keep Gerber, and spin off its genetically modified foods section to
the new company, Syngenta.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.