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close this bookCircle of poison - Pesticides and People in a Hungry World (Food First, 1981)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAcknowledgments
View the documentPreface
View the documentChapter one - The circle of poison
View the documentChapter two - A victim every minute
View the documentChapter three - Dumping: Business as usual
View the documentChapter four - The pesticide boomerang
View the documentChapter five - Pesticides to feed the hungry ?
View the documentChapter six - The global pesticides super-market
View the documentChapter seven - Lubricating the sales machine
View the documentChapter eight - With the advice and consent of government
View the documentChapter nine - Breaking the circle of poison
View the documentBureaucracy glossary
View the documentAppendix A
View the documentAppendix B
View the documentAppendix C
View the documentFor more information
View the documentAbout the institute

Chapter six - The global pesticides super-market

FROM THE BILLBOARDS of rural Nebraska to shantytown walls in Kenya, pesticide company advertising is part of the scenery. The language may be English or Spanish or Swahili, but the message is the same: you need our brand of pesticide if you want a good crop.

''Whenever a new pesticide hits the area, every farmer knows about it right away," says Dr. Lou Falcon, a University of California entomologist who has studied Central America. ''There is heavy publicity by the companies - big billboards, radio and newspaper ads."

Using sophisticated marketing techniques and their worldwide network of subsidiaries and affiliates, the giant multinational pesticide manufacturers - such household names as Dow, Shell, Chevron, Bayer, Dupont - have created a global supermarket, its shelves stocked with products so dangerous they have been banned in the countries where they have been investigated.

As we have said, the multinationals claim they sell pesticides overseas merely to supply a demand a demand for their products to help feed a hungry world. But the fact is that multinational companies use sophisticatcd mass marketing techniques to create a demand in the third world. "Those pesticide boys are all over the place down there," says Michael Moran of the Interamerican Institute for Agricultural Sciences in Costa Rica. " It's amazing how they get down to the grass roots. Very few places are left in Latin America which are in isolation from the new technologies, including pesticides."

"We have overseas offices in almost every country in Asia," explains René Montmeyor, an agricultural product supervisor for Stouffer Chemical Company. "We have exclusive distributorships in most of those countries, too. We have our technical people who instruct farmers how to use our pesticides.''

Ads for pesticides appear prominently in third world agricultural journals. Away from the eyes of U.S. regulators, pesticide companies often extol the virtues of pesticides banned in the U.S.

At a supply center for the Kenyan Farmer's Association in Nairobi, a reporter spotted aldrin, BHC and chlordane - all banned from most uses in the United States - for sale on shelves and listed in the association's inventory. They were being sold by local subsidiaries of European pesticide companies - ICI, Bayer and Shell.

Formulating their way around regulation

TO ESCAPE REGULATION in their home countries, the multinationals have discovered a clever strategy: they simply ship the separate chemical ingredients of a banned pesticide to a third world country, then manufacture it there in "formulation plants." From the third world country, the prepared pesticide can often be re-exported to any third country, free of regulation.

"It's a real Mafia-type operation," says Dr. Harold Hubbard of the U.N.'s Pan American Health Organization. "Global companies are setting up formulation plants all over the world. {They}simply go into less developed countries, give a banned pesticide a local name, and then turn around and sell it all over the world under that new name."

"Formulators buy basic ingredients from importers and then put them together and call the product a name like 'Macho' and say it will kill anything," explains Frank Penna, a consultant to the Policy Sciences Center. " Usually it ends up killing the farmer."

("Macho" competes with other chemical weapons with such names as Ambush and Fumazone to battle an army of enemies led by kernel smut, the stinkbug, the whorl maggot, and the black whip and tip smut.)

The pesticides are dangerous before they ever reach the fields. A plant in Kenya which formulates BHC provides no protection for the workers mixing the chemicals. "The workers' eyes were all sunken, and they looked like they had TB," says a University of Nairobi professor who visited the plant. "There are regulations against this sort of thing, but there is no manpower for enforcing the regulations. And no one complains. The workers are perfectly happy until one of them gets sick, and then he's just fired.''

In Latin America, "you can see the dust rising from those formulation facilities for miles, says AID's Whittemore. "I wouldn't dare walk into some of them. There are no decent health or environmental standards for most of them - it's a terrible problem."

The worst formulators, Penna says, are the "pirate operators - little whiskey-still-like operations." An estimated 8,000 of them have opened in Brazil alone. But the large-scale formulation plants are foreign-owned.

Like many other third world countries, Brazil offers special incentives to bring foreign chemical plants into the country: deferral of taxes, exemption from import duties, government-sponsored clearing of land for the plants. Shell has put $20 million to $30 million into new plants under these incentives over the past few years. Dow has a 2,4-D plant there." The Swiss firms Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy set up a joint operation. And the largest pesticide company in the world - Bayer - has formulation plants in Brazil as well as in virtually every other country with a market large enough to warrant one. (See Table Four.)

Formulation planes are also spreading throughout Asia:

India. Many pesticides that have been banned or heavily restricted in the United States are produced in India, including BHC and DDT. Union Carbide, ICI, Bayer, and Hoechst have plants there.

Malaysia. Dow and Shell alone formulate one-quarter of all liquid pesticides here. Three organochlorines banned in the United States - aldrin, DDT and BHC - constituted 730 of the 960 tons of pesticides manufactured in Malaysia in 1976.

Indonesia. Bayer, ICI, Dow, and Chevron dominate the local pesticide manufacturing industry, accounting for over 70 percent of the total production in 1978.

This trend toward formulation plants is paralleled in many heavily regulated industries which are also moving their production facilities overseas.

Seeds: the final round ?

HE MULTINATIONAL pesticide producers already 1 control the manufacturing, distribution and promotion of pesticides at the global supermarket. Now they are working on a strategy to control an even more basic agricultural "input," the seeds themselves.

"Where might a chemical company interested in agricultural chemicals go ? " rhetorically asks a high official of the Chemical Manufacturers Association. "Obviously, into seeds," he answers. " Some members of the chemical industry are getting into seed development."

The FAO estimates that by the year 2000, 67 percent of the seeds used in underdeveloped countries will be the "improved" varieties, which in most cases are more vulnerable to pests. Since virtually all pesticides are produced in the industrial countries, that means more pesticide exports to the third world.

For the agri-chemical multinationals, plant patenting provides greater inducement to add seeds to their conglomerate families. Championed by the American Seed Trade Association and the USDA, controversial legislation to allow the patenting of all U.S. crop varieties has been debated in Congress since early 1980. The bill would extend the patent umbrella to six crop varieties that were excluded from the original 1970 plant protection act.

Already a few multinational corporations, many of them pesticide producers, control the seed patents for several important crops. Of the 73 patents granted for beans, for example, over three-quarters are held by just four corporations: Union Carbide, Sandoz, Purex, and Upjohn. Two Swiss-based companies, Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy, alone control most of the U.S. alfalfa and sorghum seed supply.

Chemical companies are buying traditional seed supply firms, and their patentable "commodities," at an alarming rate. After the first wave of acquisitions, the international pesticide giants Monsanto, Ciba-Geigy, Union Carbide, and FMC are ranked among the largest seed companies in the United States. (See Table Five.) Between 1968 and 1978, multinationals - mainly chemical and pharmaceutical companies - bought 30 major seed companies. Today, the largest seed enterprise in the world is Shell, the oil and petrochemical giant which controls 30 seed outfits in Europe and North America.

Entering the $10-billion-a-year seed industry is a natural for the multinational pesticide producers. They already have the marketing and distribution structures for reaching the small farmer throughout the world, explains The Global Seed Study, a $25,000-a-copy investment guide sold to potential seed investors. The study points out how seeds and chemicals can work together, as in the possibility of "seed coatings and pelleting, utilizing the seed as a delivery system for chemicals and biologicals to the field."

By cornering the global seed market, the companies apparently plan to insure that farmers the world over are dependent on their seeds, as well as their fertilizers and pesticides.

"Obviously they're being damn quiet about it," says an industry official. "But some of those high yield seeds require particular applications of fertilizers and pesticides to produce their high yields."

Now that the chemical companies have entered the seed business, they hold the enviable economic position of helping to aggravate the (pest) problem for which they also offer their (chemical) cure. If the chemical industry's monopolization of the world's seed stock is successful, we will be one critical step closer to the ultimate corporate vision of the global supermarket, where every grower in the world is hooked on patented seeds and the pesticides they require.

Genetic uniformity

COMMON NON-PATENTED varieties often become extinct and disappear as seed varieties are patented. By 1991, the FAO's Erna Bennett estimates, three-quarters of all vegetable varieties now grown in Europe will be extinct due to patenting, which is more advanced in Europe than in the United States.

As fewer seed varieties are used to grow larger crops, the earth's genetic base is narrowing. At the same time, the uniform high-response variety seeds of the green revolution are displacing centuries-old varieties and accelerating their disappearance from the earth's seed stocks.

The implications of this genetic uniformity may be devastating for our food supply. The hybrid, high-yielding seeds do not have an inbred resistance to pests and are usually planted in huge fields that can satisfy swarms of the same type of pest. "If the crop is a monoculture, you no longer have the buffers of different varieties of crops," adds a congressional aide working on the plant patenting issue. "What you've got instead is a super-highway for these insects."

Scientists now suggest that genetic uniformity was the underlying cause of the Irish potato famine in the late 1840s. Then, a single potato variety imported from the Caribbean was struck by blight and over one million people starved to death. More recently, the United States had a glimpse of what this genetic uniformity means, when 15 percent of the nation's corn crop was destroyed by a pest epidemic in 1970. (Only six seed types make up 71 percent of the domestic corn crop.)

The world's farmers will become even more dependent on pesticides as they find that their seed varieties are less able to resist the diseases and pest epidemics that sweep through local areas periodically.