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Imperial Chemical Industries PLC (ICI)/Zeneca

CorpWatch
December 1st, 1996

The first Greenwash Award goes to Imperial Chemical Industries PLC (ICI)/Zeneca**, for its full page advertisement "Paraquat and Nature Working in Perfect Harmony." The ad ran in the Malaysian newspaper, The Star, on April 21, 1993, as well as other Malaysian newspapers. ICI chairman Sir Denys Henderson received a bag of organically-grown tea in recognition of this ad.

After local and international protests, ICI/Zeneca withdrew this prime example of greenwash.

Nevertheless, we have chosen this ad for its extremely bad taste in linking nature with paraquat, a deadly synthetic chemical. We were struck by the ad's purely defensive tone. Nowhere in the ad does ICI explain who should use the product for what reasons. Rather, ICI transparently responds to educational program's about the dangers of paraquat.

Paraquat is an acutely toxic herbicide banned, severely restricted, or unregistered in ten countries. The Pesticide Action Network labels paraquat one of the "Dirty Dozen" pesticides which have caused many deaths in agricultural workers as well as widespread environmental destruction.

This ad violates the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides by making claims to safety referring to the "harmless" nature of paraquat. The FAO Pesticide Code states that industry should ensure that claims to safety, including statements such as "harmless" are not made (Article 11.1.8). Examining the ad carefully, we find several misleading claims.

  1. "Because of paraquat's adsorption to minerals and clay particles in soil, it is deactivated rapidly and cannot be released to contaminate ground water and waterways."

    Paraquat, which binds tightly to soil particles, tends to degrade minimally and to stay in soil, but it is not necessarily "deactivated." Because adsorption onto material such as clay helps protect paraquat from breakdown, it increases the herbicide's environmental persistence and accumulation. Water movement or precipitation can mobilize particles with paraquat, which can be ingested, inhaled, or contacted directly.

  2. "Paraquat is not harmful to our wildlife."

    Researchers in the US and Europe have found paraquat to be hazardous and even lethal to many aquatic life forms including algae and frog tadpoles. A 1979 report to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) s howed that exposure to paraquat reduces the survival rate of yearling salmons and a study cited by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1984 indicated that the herbicide increases the mortality rate of exposed trout.

    Research in the US in 1981 and 1985 demonstrated that paraquat harms species of wildlife including honeybees, mites, deer mice, and hares, while the 1984 WHO report indicated the same for some domestic farm animals. Paraquat has been shown to cause increased mortality and reduced growth rates in nestlings of the American kestrel. A number of US and European studies show that paraquat is also extremely toxic to bird embryos when applied topically to eggs of chicken, mallards, and Japanese quail.

  3. "Paraquat DOES NOT destroy the root system....[but instead] contributes to increased organic matter which improves soil tilth and fertility."

    Research in 1981 showed that paraquat had a negative impact on nitrogen fixing soil rhizhobial species associated with alfalfa. In 1984, an Indian researcher observed a powerful mutagenicity effect of paraquat on nitrogen fixing blue-green algae found in rice paddies. Both studies raise serious concerns about the impact of paraquat on nitrogen fertility management from non- chemical sources in a number of agricultural cropping systems.


This is the full text of the ICI/Zeneca advertisment for paraquat:

PARAQUAT AND NATURE WORKING IN PERFECT HARMONY

It's a FACT, PARAQUAT is Environmentally friendly. For over 30 years Nature and PARAQUAT have been working in perfect harmony. PARAQUAT'S unique formula provides continued variety and abundance of food without upsetting nature's delicate balance.

Ground water, rivers, streams and lakes are not affected by PARAQUAT. Because of PARAQUAT'S absorbtion to minerals and clay particles in the soil, it is deactivated rapidly and cannot be released to contaminate ground water and waterways. Once absorbed, it is biologically unavailable and cannot be taken up by plant roots, earth worms and other organisms. It also causes no adverse effects to fish and other forms of aquatic life.

PARAQUAT is not harmful to our wildlife. For many decades, PARAQUAT has been used to produce crops for Malaysia, causing no adverse effects on our wildlife.

Soil structure is unaffected by continuous and extended use of PARAQUAT. PARAQUAT does not destroy the root system. As such, it prevents soil erosion, helps retain moisture in the soil and contributes to increased organic matter which improves soil tilth and fertility.

PARAQUAT

Since its development in 1954, it has withstood the test of time and the most intensive scrutiny by Scientists and numerous Envornmental Protection Agencies. PARAQUAT is a unique chemical that has and will continue to be an important tool for food production in Malaysia and around the world.

PARAQUAT FOR A GREENER MALAYSIA.


**NOTE: ICI recently spun off its pesticide business into a company named Zeneca. Zeneca thus began its corporate existence as the world's biggest producer of paraquat, which it markets in over 130 nations.