09 June 2004
Bayer, Dow, Syngenta: Shareholders criticise agrochemical corporations
The spring Annual General Meeting (AGM) season saw agrochemical corporations facing tough criticism from shareholders and public interest organizations over potential liability for environmental and other impacts of pesticides and genetically engineered (GE) crops. Shareholders focused on rejecting industry claims that GE crops are wanted by consumers in industrialized nations and needed to "feed a hungry developing South." The AGMs served as platforms to raise questions about the environmental and human health impacts of agricultural biotechnology, and to address evidence indicating that GE crop commercialization is cutting into corporate profits.
During the Syngenta AGM, shareholders and activist groups such as Greenpeace Switzerland and Swissaid presented letters from farmer organizations, peasant groups, activists and scientists strongly opposing commercialization of GE crops. They also held a vigil outside the office of the Secretary of State for International Development in the United Kingdom (UK). The actions were in solidarity with the People's Caravan for Food Sovereignty, a coalition of Asian farmers and peasant movements devoted to asserting their right to food, land and productive resources. Asian farmers point to the Switzerland-based company's efforts to use patented GE seeds to control Asian staple crops, such as rice. Groups throughout the global South reject Syngenta's claim that GE crops are needed to feed the hungry, seeing the claim "more as a public relations strategy rather than really addressing the needs of poor people," according to People's Caravan. The coalition points out that hunger and malnutrition in Asia are not caused by a lack of agricultural technology, but by a widespread lack of access to land and productive resources, and can only be solved by addressing the underlying political and economic causes of poverty, not by naively relying on a "technological silver bullet." The People's Caravan also strongly opposes the continued production of Syngenta's popular herbicide paraquat, sold as Gramoxone. A People's Caravan press release charges, "Syngenta is poisoning the environment and the Asian people with its highly hazardous pesticides, such as paraquat." Paraquat is among the world's most highly toxic herbicides, and causes severe health problems for agricultural workers in many developing countries.
The German-based agrochemical company Bayer AG also experienced opposition at its AGM in Cologne. Seven anti-GE activists from the UK and Holland managed to get past security and created several non-violent disturbances, which included chanting anti-GE slogans, before being apprehended by authorities. Representatives from Friends of the Earth Europe and the Coalition Against Bayer Dangers appealed to Bayer's executive board and an estimated 7,000 shareholders, on economic grounds, noting Bayer's failure to commercialize GE maize in the UK, which led to a 1.9% drop in the company's share value. The organizations pointed out that a similar rejection of Bayer's GE oilseed rape by Belgian authorities limited the market for Bayer products.
At Dow Chemical's annual shareholders meeting, (see PANUPS on May 21, 2004) concerned investors introduced a resolution asking Dow to report new initiatives to help those affected in the 1984 pesticide plant disaster in Bhopal, India, and to spell out any risks the disaster may pose to Dow's finances or reputation. The Dow annual meeting followed the April release of a report by Innovest Strategic Value Advisors saying that Dow is underreporting to the SEC and to its shareholders the full impact of expenses related to asbestos liability, Agent Orange and a variety of environmental contamination issues. Innovest labeled Dow's stock a risky investment.
Also in May, Monsanto announced it would abandon efforts to commercially release GE wheat, due to opposition from GE-activists and concerns from North American farmers over losing export markets. News of Monsanto's abandonment led to a US$1.01 decline in the price of Monsanto stock, further exacerbating Monsanto's troubled economic situation. Monsanto posted losses of U.S. $97 million in 2003.
Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, www.panna.org
For more information at Bayer´s AGM: http://www.cbgnetwork.org/home/Newsletter_KCB/KCB__139/kcb__13 9.html