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Exported Syngenta pesticide found in drinking water in Brazil, NGO alleges; incl. company response

Official documents obtained by Swiss NGO Public Eye show that 37 tonnes of profenofos were exported from Switzerland to Brazil in 2018. Profenofos is an insecticide which is banned in Switzerland due to its effects on health and the environment. According to Public Eye, Syngenta is the only company authorised to sell profenofos-based formulations in Brazil, where the NGO says profenofos residues were found in drinking water.

As criticised by Public Eye, the Swiss Federal Council at present refuses to prohibit the export of pesticides banned in Switzerland. 

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Syngenta to comment on Public Eye's findings. Their response is available below.

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+ English - Verbergen
20 January 2020

Response by Syngenta

Autor/in: Syngenta

At Syngenta protecting health and the environment is of paramount importance to us... We respect all international, national and local laws, and take our obligations as a large global business seriously...

The Brazilian regulatory system is among the most rigorous in the world. Several environmental agencies have to give the green light before a product is authorized and allowed to be used. Our products cannot be marketed in a country without approval by the authorities there...

The registered use of products varies by country depending on: the types of crops grown; the types of pests and diseases present; as well as the soil and weather conditions in each country. Therefore, you will find some crop protection products in use in Brazil that you would not need in other countries.

Syngenta is headquartered in Switzerland... Therefore, small amounts mentioned by Public Eye will be imported and re-exported for R&D reasons. We chose to manufacture products in locations where we find the best conditions for manufacturing...

The fact that Syngenta holds a specific market share for crop protection products overall does not mean that Syngenta holds a specific market share for a specific active ingredient like Profenofos. If Syngenta holds a specific market share for a product globally, this does not mean that this market share is correct for a specific country. Therefore, these kinds of calculations are speculative and not credible. And to derive a liability for stipulated water pollution from a calculated market share means to construct a causal relationship from a correlation that bears no resemblance to reality.

[full response attached]

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+ English - Verbergen

Autor/in: Public Eye

Switzerland exported 37 tonnes of profenofos to Brazil in 2018, according to official data from the Federal Office for the Environment (OFEV). Profenofos is an organophosphate insecticide which features on the list of substances banned in Switzerland due to their effects on health or the environment. It is extremely toxic to aquatic organisms, birds and bees. Profenofos can also affect brain development in humans and in particular in children...

Although the name of the exporter has been redacted, it is indeed Syngenta... It is the only company authorised to sell profenofos-based formulations in Brazil... Our analysis of the Brazilian government’s water monitoring programme data for 2018 – 2019 showed that residues of profenofos are found in the water drunk by millions of people. In one out of every ten samples, the levels of profenofos detected are such that the water would be considered unfit for consumption in Switzerland...

To date, the Swiss Federal Council refuses to prohibit the export of pesticides banned in Switzerland... In November, UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights Baskut Tuncak, called on the Swiss government to impose a ban on exports. He noted that states have a duty to prevent workers from being exposed to toxic substances, including pesticides, and that this duty extends ‘beyond borders’. The new parliament must act to put an end to these toxic exports.

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