Based in Basel, Switzerland, Syngenta was formed in 2000 by the merger of Novartis Agribusiness and Zeneca Agrochemicals. Its roots are considerably older.
Novartis was formed of the 1996 merger of the three Swiss companies: Geigy, which has roots back to 1758; Sandoz Laboratories which was founded in 1876; and Ciba, founded in 1884. Ciba and Geigy had merged in 1971 and had concentrated mainly on crop protection in its agro division, Sandoz more on seeds.
Zeneca Agrochemicals was part of AstraZeneca, and formerly of Imperial Chemical Industries. ICI was formed in the UK in 1926. Two years later, work began at the Agricultural Research Station at Jealotts Hill near Bracknell.
In 2004, Syngenta Seeds purchased Garst, the North American corn and soybean business of Advanta, as well as Golden Harvest Seeds. On 5 December 2004, the European Union ended a six-year moratorium when it approved imports of two varieties of genetically modified corn sold by Monsanto and its Swiss rival, Syngenta.
In 2005, Syngenta opposed a Swiss ban on genetically engineered organisms. On 28 November 2005, Switzerland enacted a five-year ban on the farming of genetically modified crops, underscoring the problems facing the European Commission and biotech companies like Syngenta, Bayer and Monsanto as they try to overcome consumer doubts about safety.
As of 2014 Syngenta's main competitors are Monsanto Company, BASF, Dow AgroSciences, Bayer CropScience and DuPont Pioneer.
In 2014, Monsanto sought to acquire Syngenta for a reported $40 billion, but Syngenta rejected the offer. Since April 2015 Monsanto and Syngenta had been working with their investment banks Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs respectively on a deal. The U.S. Treasury tried to stop the deal for tax inversion. Syngenta's Board of Directors rejected an even better offer by Monsanto during August 2015, and Monsanto withdrew from the negotiations on 26 August.
According to the Swiss business weekly, Finanz und Wirtschaft, many Syngenta shareholders were enraged, both by the company's refusal to enter into takeover negotiations with Monsanto, and with the subsequent offer withdrawal. This resulted in a group of investors responding by creating the Alliance of Critical Syngenta Shareholders, which urged the Board to "evaluate all options for value creation without prejudice".
In a recent interview, Chairman Michel Demaré was asked whether Syngenta could remain independent. He responded, "If you have the patience to wait for cycles to materialize, then it would be possible. But in these circumstances, where our shareholders have a kind of a benchmark share price, what they think this company is worth, it is very difficult to say that we can deliver this in the next twelve months." He thereby acknowledged that the company needs to be sold, especially given industry consolidation, which is creating larger competitors.
In February 2016, ChemChina offered to purchase the company for $43 billion (480 Swiss francs per share), a deal which the company "unanimously recommended to shareholders".
The following is an illustration of the company's mergers, acquisitions, spin-offs and historical predecessors:
Syngenta has eight primary product lines which it develops, markets and sells worldwide; Its five product lines for pesticides are selective herbicides, non-selective herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and seed care. Three product lines for seed products include corn and soya, other field crops and vegetables. In 2014, sales from crop protection products accounted for US $11.381 billion, i.e. 75% of total sales. Field crop seeds include both hybrid seeds and genetically engineered seeds, some of which enter the food chain and become part of genetically modified food. According to Syngenta, in the US their "proprietary triple stack corn seeds expanded to represent around 25 percent of units sold." In 2010, the US EPA approved insecticidal trait stacks including Syngenta's AGRISURE VIPTERA™ gene, which offers resistance to certain corn pests. Syngenta cross-licenses its proprietary genes with Dow AgroSciences and thus is able to include Dow's Herculex I and Herculex RW insect resistance traits in its seeds. It sells a VMAX soybean that is resistant to glyphosate herbicide.
Key Syngenta brands include Actara (Thiamethoxam), Agrisure (corn with Viptera trait), Alto (Cyproconazole), Amistar (azoxystrobin), Avicta, Axial, Bicep II, Bravo, Callisto, Celest, Cruiser (TMX, Thiamethoxam), Dividend, Dual, Durivo, Elatus, Fusilade, Force, Golden Harvest, Gramoxone, Hilleshoeg, Karate, Northrup-King (NK), Proclaim, Revus, Ridomil, Rogers, Score, Seguris, S&G, Tilt, Topik, Touchdown, Vertimec and Vibrance.
Atrazine is an herbicide of the triazine class. Atrazine is used to prevent pre- and post-emergence broadleaf weeds in crops such as maize (corn) and sugarcane and on turf, such as golf courses and residential lawns.
It is one of the most widely used herbicides in US and Australian agriculture. Atrazine has been banned in the European Union. There has been controversy over atrazine's effects on amphibians, but the EPA has concluded "that atrazine does not adversely affect amphibian gonadal development".
The European Commission decided to suspend use of the company's insecticide Cruiser (thiamethoxam, TMX) on crops pollinated by bees. Syngenta together with Bayer is challenging this ban in court.
Syngenta's predecessor, Ciba-Geigy, introduced the insecticide Galecron chlordimeform in 1966, and it was removed from the market in 1988. In 1976, Ciba-Geigy told regulatory authorities that it was temporarily withdrawing chlordimeform because ongoing long-term toxicology studies - particularly studies to determine if long-term exposure could cause cancer - showed that it was causing cancer, and that it has already started to monitor its workers' exposure and had found chlordimeform and its metabolites in the urine of its workers. Ciba-Geigy then applied for, and was granted, permission to market Galecron at lower doses for use only on cotton. However, as further long term monitoring data was obtained, regulators banned chlordimeform in 1988. In a 1995 class action in the US, Ciba-Geigy agreed to cover costs for employee health monitoring and treatment. In 2005, Syngenta reported that employee health monitoring was continuing at the company's Monthey, Switzerland site.
Like many agriculture companies, Syngenta also works in the biofuel space. In 2011, it announced the corn trait ENOGEN to reduce substantially the consumption of water and energy versus conventional corn. Several ethanol producers plan to process such improved corn. For example, Syngenta has signed a commercial agreement with Three Rivers Energy, LLC of Coshocton, Ohio, US to use grain featuring Enogen trait technology following the 2014 corn harvest.
In 2007, Queensland University in Australia contracted with Syngenta to research different inputs for biofuels as a renewable energy source.
Syngenta is led by CEO J. Erik Fyrwald. The other Directors are Vinita Bali, Stefan Borgas, Gunnar Brock, David Lawrence, Eleni Gabre-Madhin, Eveline Saupper, Jacques Vincent, and Jürg Witmer. Syngenta is listed on both the Swiss stock exchange and in New York. Syngenta employs over 28,000 people in over 90 countries.
In 2001, the United States Patent and Trademark Office ruled in favor of Syngenta which had filed a suit against Bayer for patent infringement on a class of neonicotinoid insecticides. The following year Syngenta filed suits against Monsanto and other companies claiming infringement of its U.S. biotechnology patents covering genetically modified corn and cotton. In 2004, it again filed a suit against Monsanto, claiming antitrust violations related to the U.S. biotech corn seed market, and Monsanto countersued. Monsanto and Syngenta settled all litigation in 2008.
Syngenta was defendant in a class action lawsuit by the city of Greenville, Illinois concerning the adverse effects of atrazine in human water supplies. The suit was settled for $105 million in May 2012. A similar case involving six states has been in federal court since 2010.
In the US, Syngenta is facing lawsuits from farmers and shipping companies regarding Viptera genetically modified corn. The plaintiffs in nearly 30 states contend that Syngenta's introduction of Viptera drove down US grain market prices, leading to financial harm, and that Syngenta acted irresponsibly by doing too little to enable shipping companies to export the grain to approved ports. Before Viptera's 2010 introduction Syngenta secured all US and NCGA-recommended export approvals, but none from China. China had imported little to no US grain prior to 2010, and at the time was not considered a major partner, but it became a major partner in 2010, when it dramatically increased US grain imports. For three years, China imported U.S. Viptera grain without formal approval. In November 2013, Chinese officials destroyed a U.S. grain shipment containing Viptera grain, started rejecting all US shipments with the GM grain, but continued to accept it from all countries other than the US. That same year, US corn market prices dropped $4 per bushel, causing over $2.9B in losses, with just over half of that loss occurring prior to China's November rejection. China later approved the GM corn in 2014 but US corn grain market prices have not rebounded.
On 21 October 2007, a Brazilian peasant organization, the Landless Workers' Movement (Portuguese: Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra - MST), led a group of landless farmers in an occupation of one of the company's seed research farms, in protest against genetically-engineered ("genetically modified") vegetables and in hopes of obtaining land for landless families to cultivate. After the occupation had begun, a team from NF Security arrived in a minibus and a fight with gunfire ensued. A protestor and a security guard were killed, and some protesters and security guards were wounded.
The Brazilian police investigation completed in November 2007 blamed the confrontation and death of the protestor on nine employees and the owner of NF Security; the leader of MST was blamed for trespassing. The inquiry found that the protester was fatally shot in the abdomen and in the leg. The security guard was shot in the head. Eight others were injured, five of them landless.
The Civil Court of Cascavel granted an order for the repossession of the site on 20 December 2007 and on 12 June 2008, the remaining MST members left the Santa Teresa site they had been occupying. On 14 October 2008, Syngenta donated the 123-hectare station to the Agronomy Institute of Paraná (IAPAR) for research into biodiversity, recovery of degraded areas and agriculture production systems, as well as environmental education programs.
In November 2015, Judge Pedro Ivo Moreiro, of the 1st Civil Court of Cascavel, ruled that Syngenta must pay compensation to the family of Valmir Mota de Oliveira ("Keno"), who was killed in the attack, and to Isabel Nascimento dos Santos who was injured. In his sentence the judge stated that "to refer to what happened as a confrontation is to close one’s eyes to reality, since […] there is no doubt that, in truth, it was a massacre disguised as repossession of property". The version of events put forward by Syngenta was rejected by the Court. In May 2010 Syngenta was condemned by the IV Permanent People's Tribunal for human rights violations in Brazil.
There has been a long running conflict between Syngenta and University of California at Berkeley biologist Tyrone Hayes.
According to an article in the 10 February 2014, issue of The New Yorker, Syngenta's public-relations team took steps to discredit Hayes, whose research is purported to suggest that the Syngenta-produced chemical atrazine was responsible for abnormal development of reproductive organs in frogs. The article states that the company paid third-party critics to write articles discrediting Hayes's work, planned to have his wife investigated, and planted hostile audience members at scientific talks given by Hayes.
During a 21 February interview conducted on Democracy Now, Hayes reiterated the claims. After the interview aired, Syngenta denied targeting Hayes or making any threats, calling those statements "uncorroborated and intentionally damaging" and demanding a retraction and public apology from Hayes and Democracy Now.
In 2010 Syngenta forwarded an ethics complaint to the University of California Berkeley, complaining that Hayes had been sending sexually explicit and harassing e-mails to Syngenta scientists. Legal counsel from the university responded that Hayes had acknowledged sending letters having "unprofessional and offensive" content, and that he had agreed not to use similar language in future communications.
The issue has been described as "one of the weirdest feuds in the history of science”, by Dashka Slater in her 2012 profile of Hayes in Mother Jones magazine.
Syngenta's contributions to US federal candidates, parties, and outside groups totaled $267,902 during 2012, ranking it 10th on the list of companies in its sector. Its lobbying expenditures in the US during 2012 were $1,150,000, ranking it 7th in its sector.
The objectives and goals of the Syngenta Foundation are "to work with rural communities in the Semi-arid regions of the world and improve their livelihoods." This non-profit organization supports sustainable food security projects in a number of countries. The Syngenta Foundation addressed the World Food Day Symposium in 2005 as an output of the Millennium Ecosystem Report.
In 2007, Syngenta's Canadian division was named one of Canada's Top 100 Employers, as published in Maclean's magazine, one of only a handful of agribusiness firms to receive this honour. In October 2008, Syngenta Crop Protection Canada, Inc. was recognized as one of Waterloo Area's Top Employers, as announced in the Waterloo Region Record, Guelph Mercury and Cambridge Times. In 2011, Syngenta was named among the top 10 employers in biotechnology by Science magazine. The 2011 Dow Jones Sustainability Index named Syngenta one of the best performing chemical companies worldwide. Syngenta was one of five chemical companies in the World and Europe indices based on economic, social and environmental performance.
In 2013, Syngenta announced a set of corporate goals to improve agricultural resource utilization, environmental stewardship, productivity, and education, particularly in poverty-stricken areas.