Civil society organisations express their opposition to ChemChina's bid to acquire Syngenta. (Photo: China Business News)The undersigned representatives of civil society organisations convey our concerns and express our opposition to what would be the biggest acquisition by a Chinese company to date—ChemChina's bid to acquire Syngenta for USD 43 billion (around RMB 300 billion) in February 2016.

We are concerned about this acquisition because Syngenta Corporation is the inventor and primary manufacturer of the world’s highly hazardous agrochemicals, including atrazine and paraquat.

Many scientists, including a number of Chinese researchers, are increasingly concerned about the herbicide atrazine (known as xiu qu jin in China) due to its impacts on human health and ecosystems. It is a known “endocrine disruptor” that can damage reproductive systems and increase the risk of certain cancers. In 2005 atrazine was banned in the European Union.[1]

There are currently over 600 herbicide products containing atrazine registered in China. Paraquat (known as bai cao ku in China) is another highly hazardous herbicide that Syngenta sells globally under the name Gramoxone. It is one of the most widely used herbicides in the world even though it has been banned in 36 countries due to its negative accumulative health impacts such as eye injury, skin burn and irritation even death.[2]   

Although the Chinese regulatory departments announced that China would stop sales of paraquat beginning 1 July, 2016[3] we have learned that China Paraquat output is expected to grow nearly 6% in the next four years[4] and Syngenta Nantong is proceeding to expand its 4,000 tonne/year output of paraquat to 10,000 tonnes/year.[5]

Over the past decade, we have witnessed with much concern how six multinationals, including Syngenta, have taken control of more than 75% of the world’s high-tech seed and pesticide markets. The increased control of these multinationals has led to the rapid erosion of farmers’ seed systems and public breeding programs.

As a country of origin for soybeans, China was self-sufficient in the crop until 1995. Since then, however, soybean imports have skyrocketed—from 1.1 million tonnes in 1996 to 81.69 million tonnes in 2015—with most of the imports consisting of GM soybeans, which China started importing in 1997.

We want to draw Chinese leaders’ attention to the fact that the US, Brazil and Argentina now produce 80% of the world’s soybeans[6] with about 60% imported to only one country, China.[7] More land is used to grow soybeans in these countries than any other crop. This situation is neither sustainable nor favourable for global food security and must be changed. China must return and adhere to a policy of self-reliance.

Syngenta is the third largest GM seed producer in the world, and known for introducing the first generation of GM crops. The company is also actively developing a next generation of GM crops that could present even greater risks, such as SYHT0H2 soybeans, RR 2 Yield-SCN, GM maize Agrisure VipteraG (MIR162) and Golden Rice.[8] These GM crops could cause the widespread and uncontrollable contamination of China's main staple food crop, putting the health and food security of Chinese consumers and the livelihoods of Chinese farmers at risk.

At the same time, people around the world are increasingly concerned about the close relationships large Chinese corporations are developing with multinational seed and agrochemical companies. 

ChemChina’s subsidiary Adama is the world’s seventh largest agrochemical company, and the world’s biggest seller of off-patent agrochemicals, with sales of more than USD3 billion in 2014.[9] We are concerned that ChemChina’s merger with pesticide and seed company Syngenta will lead the Chinese company to further integrate agrochemical sales with its plant breeding activities.

We realise that there is an urgent need to boost agriculture production. China accounts for 19% of the worlds’ population but its available arable land for agriculture is shrinking fast. In addition, it faces other major challenges, including damaged soils, water contamination and climate change. China's leaders are faced with the long-term dilemma of how to feed so many people and improve nutrition with so little arable land.

We appreciate that President Xi Jin-ping has put a lot of political capital into emphasizing food security for the population, and that China has actually done a great job of improving agricultural productivity.  Despite the fundamental need to ensure sufficient food for the population, food safety and improved nutrition must be placed at the heart of this important decision.

This requires promoting ecological agriculture and abandoning chemical farming and transgenic agriculture.[10] Ecological farming has gained international recognition as the best way to feed the world and address climate change.[11]

People around the world, hand in hand with China's civil society, are eager to see China take a leading role in safeguarding food safety and human health, in promoting ecological agriculture, and in regulating existing agrochemicals, GM crops, chemical food additives and other food safety issues.

Decades of experiences have shown that the answer to ensuring safe and nutritious food for the population lies in the hands of farmers and not the biotech industry. Accordingly, we request that President Xi Jin-ping, Premier Li Ke-qiang and the People of China take the necessary steps to assure that ChemChina's acquisition of Syngenta is vetoed and invalidated.

The undersigned,

Organisations:

Institute of Science in Society (ISIS), UK

Institute for Responsible Technology, USA

GRAIN

Moms Across America (MAA)

Moms Across The World

Consumers Union of Japan

No! GMO Campaign Japan

The Friends of the Landless, Finland

European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility, Netherlands

Multiwatch, Switzerland

Bread for All, Switzerland

Swissaid, Switzerland

Berne Declaration, Switzerland

SAG, Switzerland

Solifonds, Switzerland

Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation, Switzerland

Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund, Swizerland

Pro Natura Basel, Switzerland

biorespect, Switzerland

Alternative Linke Bern, Switzerland

Junges Gruenes Buendnis Nordwest, Switzerland

Junge Gruene, Switzerland

Arbeitsgruppe Schweiz Kolumbien, Switzerland

Blauen-Institut, Switzerland

Integrale Politik, Switzerland

Basler Frauenvereinigung, Switzerland

Public Eye on Science, Switzerland

Individuals:

Michelle Perro MD, Pediatrician

Dr. Irina Ermakova, researcher, Russia

Dr. Stephanie Seneff, Senior Research Scientist, MIT

Anthony Samsel, researcher, USA

Jeffrey Smith, Author of Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies about the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating and Genetic Roulette: The Gamble of Our Lives.

Prof. J. Martinez-Alier, EJOLT project, Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain

Anup Grewal, University of Toronto, Canada

Meng Yue, University of Toronto, Canada

Cao Ming-hua, visiting scholar, author, in USA

Chen I-wan, advisor, disaster prevention and mitigation, China

Jiang Gao-ming, researcher, China Academy of Science

Gu Xiu-lin, professor, China

Yang Xiao-lu, independant scholar, China

Zhao Hua, Shanghai film & TV writer, GM war researcher, China

Du Han-qing, engineer, China

Zhao Zhi-tao, technician, China

Zhou Qing-dong, retired scholar, China

Wang Lian-jie, worker, China

Teng Fu-sheng, retired officer, China

He Cheng-gao, independent scholar, China

Wang Wen-guang, senior engineer, China

Xie Hua-min, senior engineer, China

Mu Sheng-xue, engineer, China

S. Ryan Isakson, University of Toronto


References/Notes:

1. PAN Germany. 2012. Highly hazardous pesticides from BASF, Bayer and Syngenta: Results of an international investigation. http://www.pan-germany.org/download/Big3_EN.pdf

2. PAN AP. 2013. Stop Paraquat Now! http://www.panap.net/campaigns/hhps/paraquat

3 Official Notice No.1745 of Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, State Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine [Chinese]. http://www.moa.gov.cn/govpublic/ZZYGLS/201204/t20120427_2613538.htm

4. CCM. 2015. China’s Paraquat Output to Grow at 5.8% CAGR during 2015-2019. 
www.cnchemicals.com/Product/Report/2628-production-and-market-of-paraquat-in-china-edition-7.html

5. Syngenta Nantong Crop Protection Company Ltd., Technical Renovation Project Environment Effect Report, July 2015 [Chinese]. http://www.netda.gov.cn/files/103972/1512/42345_11e41e6b5.pdf

6. Earth Policy Institute. Soybean Production in the United States, Brazil, and Argentina, and Share of World Production, 1986-2010. http://www.earth-policy.org/datacenter/xls/update93_5.xls

7. Earth Policy Institute. Share of World Soybean Exports Going to China, 1964-2010. http://www.earth-policy.org/datacenter/xls/update93_4.xls

8. GRAIN. 2001. Grain of delusion: Golden Rice seen from the ground. https://www.grain.org/e/10 and MASIPAG press release. 2015. Golden Rice research publication retracted on ethical grounds. https://www.grain.org/e/5245

9. ETC. 2016. Sino-Genta? And soon there will be three. Joy of six heads towards a “ménage à trois”. http://www.etcgroup.org/content/sino-genta

10. IAASTD report in 2009, written by more than 400 scientists and endorsed by 59 nations, confirmed that GMOs currently do not effectively contribute to feeding the world, eradicating poverty, or creating sustainable agriculture. See the report “Agriculture at a Crossroads” 
http://www.unep.org/dewa/agassessment/reports/IAASTD/EN/Agriculture%20at%20a%20Crossroads_Global%20   Report%20%28English%29.pdf

11. GRAIN, La Via Campesina, ETC Group. 2013. Yet another UN report calls for support to peasant farming and agroecology: It’s time for action. https://www.grain.org/article/entries/4789-media-release-yet-another-un-report-calls-for-support-to-peasant-farming-and-agroecology-it-s-time-for-action

Correction: A previous version of this letter claimed that ChemChina is the exclusive distributor of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide in China. Sinochem International (a wholly owned subsidiary of Sinochem Group, another giant state-owned corporation) is now the exclusive distributor of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide in China and many Southeast Asian countries, Australia and New Zealand—not ChemChina.

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