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What The New Yorker didn’t tell you – the real facts behind the story

[ 0 ] February 6, 2014 |

In the course of The New Yorker magazine’s preparation of an article on Syngenta and the U.S. regulatory process, we provided important input and corrections of fact to both its staff writer and fact checker. Unfortunately, the magazine chose to ignore much of this information and gloss over key points, in order to present a highly slanted and false narrative to its readers. For that reason, we’re now posting our letter to The New Yorker fact checker, so that anyone who is interested can judge the importance of these issues for themselves.  

Dear Elisabeth:

Thanks for your time Monday to review the facts concerning Syngenta in Rachel Aviv’s story. You raised a few points that are important to clarify. They’re critical to understanding the interactions between our company and professor Hayes, about whom so much of Rachel’s article seems to revolve.

Kloas study

This pivotal study resolved concerns about atrazine and frog reproductive development, yet you seemed to pass over the Kloas study as unimportant. And in Rachel’s emails, she appeared to dismiss it as just another “industry study.” Indeed, this is the tactic activists and professor Hayes himself use to try to discredit this study and other company-funded studies. It’s a major misunderstanding of the regulatory process and the Kloas study’s significance. So let me try to explain.

  • Because Congress didn’t want taxpayers burdened with the cost of multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art studies, companies are mandated by U.S. law to fund studies as part of their product registration process with EPA. These studies must be transparent to the public as well as authorized, audited, reviewed and verified by EPA. Attempts to disband such industry studies, authorized and supervised by EPA, would throw our regulatory process into chaos. As principal registrant for atrazine, Syngenta is required to underwrite its safety studies.
  • In the face of so much Hayes-generated controversy over atrazine and frog sexual development, EPA outlined a study that would help resolve the issue.
  • The Kloas study is considered the definitive frog study by EPA and Scientific Advisory Panel members and the largest of its kind. No other study has met its rigorous scientific quality. It was conducted under strict Good Laboratory Practice regulations by teams of expert scientists, working independently in two labs, in different countries — the U.S. and Germany, using 3200 frogs. It was monitored by EPA scientists and Quality Assurance personnel, who inspected and verified all study protocols, data, records, specimens and audited the final results. Under these stringent conditions, the Kloas study found atrazine has no impact on amphibian reproductive health. This study data is available to the public through EPA.
  • EPA required Syngenta to conduct this study and was integral to the design, conduct and evaluation of the study protocols and results. In other words, EPA was fully engaged with the studies start to finish. Further, all the lab scientists and staff were instructed by Syngenta they could communicate directly with overseeing EPA scientists and Quality Assurance officials without Syngenta clearance. EPA’s evaluation of the study can be found here.
  • EPA has reviewed and evaluated 75 open studies on atrazine published since its 2003 Scientific Advisory Panel. In June 2012, EPA stated ­– and the Scientific Advisory Panel of independent experts once again agreed – the Kloas study was absolutely the best study on atrazine and amphibians (frogs). No other study, they said, comes close.
  • Here’s the critical point: The Kloas study resolved the issue about atrazine and frog reproductive development with well-conducted, highly transparent and closely scrutinized science. To ignore or underplay the role of this study is to miss the punch line in this long story. 

Hayes studies

Now compare the transparency of the Kloas study to studies professor Hayes has conducted.

  • EPA has found “significant methodological flaws” in the atrazine studies conducted by professor Hayes and has never been able to review his raw data. Professor Hayes has not even shared his data with EPA, but he wants EPA to act on the basis of his word that his studies are accurate and unbiased.
  • In 2005, Anne E. Lindsay, then deputy director of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, testified before the Minnesota House of Representatives:

“Dr. Hayes claims not only that his laboratory has repeated the findings many times in experiments with thousands of frogs, but that other scientists have also replicated his results. EPA, however, has never seen either the results from any independent investigator published in peer-reviewed scientific journals or the raw data from Dr. Hayes’ additional experiments …”

  • In 2010, Donald Brady, director of the Environmental Fate and Effects Division, reinforced this sentiment in a letter to an Illinois legislator, saying the EPA “could not properly account for the sample sizes and study design reportedly used by the Berkeley researchers.”

Hayes’ emails

On the phone you said the article mentions that our company commissioned a psychological profile of professor Hayes. I certainly hope the piece doesn’t discount the effect of the hundreds of obscene and threatening emails he sent to our female employees and other workers.

  • These emails were abusive, unprofessional and insulting, but also salacious and lewd. You can read them on the Internet.
  • This constant barrage of harassment went on for about 10 years.
  • Past stories about professor Hayes’ emails have glossed over their sinister nature. They usually quote the least offensive – and least representative of these emails – and make them seem amusing. But those on the receiving end of professor Hayes’ intimidating messages certainly didn’t think they were amusing.
  • Syngenta takes a strong stand on employee harassment and abuse. To protect the safety of our employees, we hired an outside expert to review the emails and evaluate whether professor Hayes posed any physical threat.

Other details

  • Many of the unsealed documents Rachel refers to in her story reflect ideas, discussions and proposals that were never implemented.
  • While our parent company is based in Switzerland, North Carolina-based Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC is the principal registrant for atrazine in the U.S.

I hope this information is helpful. And again I appreciate you checking with us. I’m happy to answer any other questions you might have.


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