< Company Profiles / Syngenta

A Corporate Profile

By Corporate Watch UK
Completed November 2002

1. The Company


Industry Areas
Seeds (including GM), agrochemicals

Market share/importance
Syngenta is the largest agribusiness company in the world. In 2000 Syngenta was the worlds largest manufacturer of agrochemicals,[1] the third largest owner of plant biotechnology patents[2] and the third largest seed supplier.[3] Syngenta has more than 20,000 employees in 20 countries worldwide[4] and sales of over USD $6 billion.[5]

d. History
Syngenta is a powerful player in the introduction of GM crops both in the UK and globally. Despite being a ‘new’ company, Syngenta inherits the dubious legacies of both its parent companies, Novartis and AstraZeneca, promoters of GM technology and producers of hazardous chemicals. Syngenta was formed in December 1999 with the spin-off and merger of the agrochemical and seed division of Novartis (a Swiss lifesciences company formed in 1996 by the merger of two giant Swiss chemical/pharmaceutical companies Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz), and the agrochemicals and biotechnology research divisions of AstraZeneca (a British lifesciences company formed in 1999 by the acquisition of Astra AB, a Swedish pharmaceutical company, by Zeneca, a British chemicals and biotechnology company, formerly part of ICI). Astra Zeneca has retained its seed interests, a 50% stake in Advanta, a joint venture with Cosun.

In the late 1990s Novartis and AstraZeneca were keen to establish themselves as ‘lifesciences’ companies and exploit the potential synergies between their pharmaceutical, chemical and agricultural sectors. Both invested heavily in acquiring seed and biotechnology companies. However, the strain of having to manage several very different sectors more than out weighed the savings made during basic research ‘synergies’.[6] The Syngenta spin-off was a result of the poor performance of both Novartis’ and AstraZeneca’s agribusiness divisions during 1999, largely caused by the global backlash against GM crops. The creation of Syngenta has enabled parent companies Novartis and AstraZeneca to make considerable savings, and to rid themselves of their controversial agricultural biotechnology ventures. Syngenta has so far managed to avoid the public vilification Monsanto attracted, and has been quietly getting on with developing some of the most controversial applications of agricultural biotechnology including genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs)/traitor technology. End of year results for 2001 show that all is not going well for Syngenta: sales are down by 4% and European opposition to GM crops is said to be costing the company tens of millions of dollars.[7]

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[1] Barbara Dinham, 2001, ‘Corporate Change’, Pesticides Action Network UK available online at <http://www.pan-uk.org/pestnews/pn53/pn53p12.htm> (viewed 26,03,02)
[2] ‘Globalization Inc. Concentration in Corporate Power: The Unmentioned Agenda’, ETC Communiqué 2001, available on-line at <http://www.rafi.org/documents/com_globilization.pdf> (viewed 26,03,2002)
[3] ‘Globalization Inc. Concentration in Corporate Power: The Unmentioned Agenda’, ETC Communiqué 2001, available on-line at <http://www.rafi.org/documents/com_globilization.pdf> (viewed 26,03,2002)
[4] figures from Syngenta available online at <http://www.syngenta.com/en/syngenta/facts.asp> (viewed 26,03,2002)
[5] ‘Syngenta Full Year Results 2001’ published 28,02,2002 available online at <http://www.syngenta.com/en/downloads/FYR2001.pdf> (viewed 26,03,2002)
[6] Syngenta CEO Michael Pragnell quoted in ‘Green and Dying’ in The Economist 16.11.00. available on line at <http://www.biotech-info.net/green_and_dying.html> (viewed 26,03,2002)
[7] ‘Syngenta earnings flat’, David Firn, Financial Times; 01,03,2002 available on line at <http://globalarchive.ft.com/globalarchive/article.html?id=020301001747> (viewed 26,03,2002)