Agribusiness Tries to Destroy a Critical Scientist

The biologist Tyrone Hayes had studied the endocrinology systems of frogs for many years, so it made perfect sense when the agribusiness giant Syngenta asked him to study the effects of the herbicide atrazine on amphibians.  The company makes atrazine, which is used on half the corn in the U.S.

Hayes’ research came back with a disturbing finding: that atrazine impeded the sexual development of frogs. Specifically, Hayes found that atrazine caused tadpoles to develop both ovaries and testes.  So Syngenta decided to destroy Hayes.

In a New Yorker article published this month, reporter Rachel Aviv delves deep into Hayes’ relationship with Syngenta, and details how “company documents show that, while Hayes was studying atrazine, Syngenta was studying him, as he had long suspected.”  Because Hayes’ research did damage to Syngenta, which manufactures the second most widely used herbicide in the U.S., they tried to discredit Hayes.  The company looked for ways to “exploit Hayes’ faults/problems,” as a document said.  Syngenta also had “third party allies” that wrote Op-Eds in regional newspapers defending atrazine.

The documents were released in 2012, after a settlement was reached between Syngenta and 23 Midwestern cities and towns that accused the company of contaminating their drinking water.  As the lawyer for the cities, Stephen Tillery, put it, “Tyrone’s work gave us the scientific basis for the lawsuit.”

A lot was, and is, at stake for Syngenta.  They’re trying to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from banning their herbicide, which is  “one of the most common contaminants of drinking water; an estimated thirty million Americans are exposed to trace amounts of the chemical,” the New Yorker’s Aviv writes.

It’s been banned in Europe, and the EPA is reviewing the herbicide this year.


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