Farm workers in Kauai have been the unfortunate targets of verbal abuse and intimidation in recent weeks. The trigger has been misinformation spread about the seed company Syngenta and its products. I’d like to set the record straight.

Syngenta is proud to be a member of the community in Kauai and on Oahu. We are also proud that we pay our Hawaii workers good wages. Our state’s seed industry jobs employ about 1,400 people and pay 36 percent higher on average than other Hawaii farm labor jobs and 11 percent higher than the state average for all jobs. Our industry also contributes around $551 million to the local economy and $29.4 million in state taxes. And we produce the most highly valued agricultural commodity in Hawaii.

Groundless charges about the safety of our products misrepresent our company, its work and our people. By targeting an industry that’s good for the residents, economy and environment of Hawaii, misguided individuals are threatening the livelihoods of local workers and creating unnecessary antagonism among the people of our state.

Lately, this misinformation has focused on atrazine, which is a safe and effective herbicide used by farmers to control weeds while protecting crops. For more than 50 years, atrazine has contributed to improved crop yields, better use of natural resources and stronger protections for the environment.

It is important to note that the protocol for herbicides has changed dramatically over the years. In keeping with modern best practices, seed farmers use atrazine, along with all other herbicides and pesticides, sparingly in prescriptive applications, and only in those situations when it is identified as the best herbicide for a given weed problem.

The Kauai Department of Water released its results for testing the Kauai water supply for atrazine on March 12. In its release, the department stated, “. . . there have been no levels of atrazine detected in drinking water since 2005.” On the West Side of Kauai, where we farm, we now have official confirmation that the recent claims against our products have no basis in fact and only serve to unnecessarily generate fear and anxiety among the people of Kauai.

Atrazine is one of the most thoroughly researched molecules in the world, with nearly 7,000 studies establishing its safety. It has been approved by the EPA twice — most recently in 2006 after a dozen years of close review. The trace amounts that show up in water are well within EPA’s conservative standards and include a thousand-fold safety factor.

In addition to the EPA, health and regulatory agencies around the world have reviewed this product and approved atrazine as safe, including the World Health Organization and Australia’s equivalent of the EPA. And while atrazine isn’t used in Europe, the product received a favorable safety review there. In fact, millions of European farmers continue to rely on its sister herbicide. Further, atrazine is used in more than 60 countries across Asia, Africa, North America, South America and the Middle East.

The many benefits of atrazine start with weed control and ripple outwards. Without large numbers of weeds competing with crops for sunlight, soil nutrients and space to grow, crops can thrive and yields go up. Producing higher yields on the same amount of land using the same amount of water — or less — is a major benefit to farmers and Hawaii agriculture.

The seeds grown in Hawaii are the parents of a generation of seeds that farmers in developing nations are using to improve their lives. Moreover, seed research performed in Hawaii is also playing an important role in solving the problem of feeding a growing world population — while protecting our environment. Experts say we will have to increase agricultural production by 70 percent by 2050. The only way to do that without plowing up all our remaining natural habitat and wild places is to grow more food with less land and less water. Atrazine has helped corn farmers boost corn yields 64 percent per acre in the last 30 years — at the same time lowering soil erosion 67 percent, irrigation water use by 53 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by 36 percent.

Syngenta’s seed farmers care deeply about Hawaii. This is our home, too. Like every other member of the local community, we want to protect our environment and invest in our children’s future. The work we do here accomplishes both. We hope that as the facts about atrazine become known, we can have a productive discussion about the bright future of Hawaiian agriculture.

To learn more about atrazine, I encourage you to visit www.SavingTheOasis.com. There you’ll find three six-minute videos telling the complete story about atrazine — how it’s safe, how it benefits farmers and the economy, and how it aids the environment.

There is simply no substitute for atrazine. It is an affordable and very well understood product.

About the author: Mark Phillipson is Lead, Corporate Affairs, for Syngenta, Hawaii. He is the current President of the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association.


Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Columns generally run about 800 words (yes, they can be shorter or longer) and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.com.