The Paraquat Papers: How Syngenta’s bad science helped keep the world’s deadliest weedkiller on the market

Greenpeace & Public Eye’s new investigation, “Paraquat Papers”, reveals how Syngenta (and its predecessor companies) manipulated scientific data to circumvent a ban and keep the deadly weedkiller paraquat on the market for 40 years.
The investigation, based on internal documents and testimony from a former Syngenta scientist, further reveals that the company could have actually made paraquat less deadly (by increasing the concentration of an additive or emetic called PP796), but it would mean a hefty cut in profits.
Instead, it claimed that a much lower emetic concentration supposedly made paraquat “safer”, though there was no real scientific evidence to back this up.
Based on then Zeneca’s claims, the FAO adopted a PP796 concentration as a global specification (in the agency’s guidance on the standards all paraquat-based weedkillers) – subsequently, in 2003, the EU re-approved paraquat and made it mandatory for all liquid paraquat products to contain an “effective emetic” that took “account of the FAO specification”. This specification is still used as the global standard this day.
The Syngenta whistleblower, toxicologist Jon Heylings, contacted the FAO in 2019 regarding this. The FAO told Unearthed and Public Eye it had held a “special session” to review its paraquat specifications in response to Heylings’ concerns, and its report was “currently being finalized”.
This investigation clearly shows why the FAO needs to remain impartial and independent – it clearly plays a crucial role in regulation, and an alliance with CropLife can compromise this.
Ground reality of paraquat use: Since there is no antidote to paraquat, hundreds continue to die of paraquat poisoning, especially in rural communities in the Global South. While paraquat has been banned in more than 50 countries, it is still in use in many countries (even in those where it is supposedly banned), and its manufacturers continue to export it to poorer countries even though it’s banned in the EU (since 2007) and Switzerland, where Syngenta is based (since 1989).