The pesticide giants making billions on toxic and bee-harming chemicals


Groundbreaking joint investigation reveals enormous sales of ‘highly hazardous pesticides’ by leading members of the CropLife International lobby group

The world’s five biggest pesticide manufacturers are making more than a third of their income from leading products selling chemicals that pose serious hazards to human health and the environment, a joint investigation by Unearthed and Public Eye has found.  

Analysis of a huge database of 2018’s top-selling “crop protection products” has revealed the world’s leading agrochemical companies made more than 35% of their sales from pesticides classed as “highly hazardous” to people, animals or ecosystems. 

The investigation identified billions of dollars of income for agrochemical giants BASF, Bayer, Corteva, FMC and Syngenta from chemicals found by regulatory authorities to pose health hazards like cancer or reproductive failure.  

It also found more than a billion dollars of their sales came from chemicals – some now banned in European markets – that are highly toxic to bees. Over two thirds of these sales were made in low- and middle-income countries like Brazil and India.

By far the most valuable markets for the highly hazardous pesticides sold by these companies were the commodity crops soya and corn, grown in large part to provide animal feed for the meat industry.


There is a huge disconnect between what those companies are saying and what they are actually doing

Between them these companies control close to two thirds of the global agrochemicals market, and comprise five out of six members of the influential lobby group CropLife International. 

Of the $13.4bn of sales by the CropLife companies in the dataset, $4.8bn went on chemicals found by regulatory agencies to pose hazards like acute poisoning or chronic illness in people, or high toxicity to bees and other wildlife. 

The group’s full annual income from these chemicals will be billions of dollars greater, because the data analysed covered less than half of total global sales.

The investigation’s key findings include that:

  • The CropLife      members made 10% of their leading products income ($1.3bn) from chemicals      classed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as highly toxic to      bees. These include neonicotinoids produced by Germany’s Bayer and      Switzerland-based Syngenta, which were permanently banned from outdoor use      in the European Union in 2018. Brazil was their main market for these      chemicals.

  • CropLife members      made almost $3bn (22% of sales) from chemicals found by regulators to pose      chronic health hazards. Among their top sellers were BASF’s weedkiller      glufosinate and Corteva’s fungicide cyproconazole, both classed by EU      regulators as damaging to fertility, sexual function or the unborn child.      But by far CropLife’s biggest seller was glyphosate, classed by the      International Agency for Research on Cancer as a “probable human      carcinogen”. Glyphosate manufacturer Bayer and various regulators have rejected      this classification.

  • CropLife members      made $596m (4%) of sales from pesticides classed as highly toxic by the      World Health Organisation (WHO) or as fatal if inhaled. Syngenta accounted      for a large majority of these sales, with its top sellers including      paraquat, a herbicide so toxic that a single sip can kill, which      has long been banned in Europe and Switzerland.

  • The CropLife      group made the majority of its highly hazardous pesticide sales in low-      and middle-income countries like Brazil and India, where experts say the      risks posed by using these chemicals are greatest.

  • These companies’      biggest markets for highly hazardous pesticides were the commodity crops      soya and corn. These two crops alone accounted for around half of CropLife      HHP sales.

  • These five      companies alone accounted for almost half (48%) of all HHPs identified in      the Phillips McDougall database.

Meriel Watts, a senior science and policy advisor to PAN, told Unearthed: “This investigation shows that there is a huge disconnect between what those companies are saying in the international policy arena and what they are actually doing.”

Crispin Dowler