Bayer drops legal action against Friends of the Earth re: Concealed pesticide data

Bayer drops legal action against Friends of the Earth re: Concealed pesticide data

Fri, 2 Jul 2004

The Guardian reports that Bayer, the giant pesticide / pharmaceutical company has backed off from its bullying tactics in its effort to prevent Friends of the Earth from informing the public how to gain access to concealed pesticide safety data:

“For eight months, Bayer has been trying to muzzle Friends of the Earth from publicising on its website how members of the public can legitimately obtain copies of scientific studies about the safety of pesticides.”

“The information at the centre of the row is of interest to people exposed to pesticides through work, living near sprayed fields, legal representatives and academics researching the environmental and health impacts of pesticide use.”

Bayer went to court last October seeking an injunction gagging the Friends of the Earth members, warning it “would sue FoE for damages.” But Friends of the Earth successfully challenged Bayer’s injunction:

“Bayer has now signed up to a settlement promising never to sue Friends of the Earth again for doing these things, and in particular not to sue Friends of the Earth for telling members of the public how to access this type of data or for requesting this type of data from regulators.”

The Scientist reports that European health ministers meeting in Budapest under the aegis of World Health Organization (WHO) moved to take action against synthetic chemicals that affect child development higher on the global health agenda. http://www.euro.who.int/budapest2004

They did so because of increased public concern and concern by scientists who raised questions about the impact of chemical pollutants on children’s health:

“children are very heavily exposed to an enormous number of synthetic chemicals that have been invented in the last 30 to 50 years, that didn’t even exist before, that are widespread in the environment, and present in children’s bodies and mother’s milk.”

But US Environmental Protection Agency caved under the lobbying efforts of pharmaceutical / pesticide industry led by Bayer (under its CropScience identity), and changed the US policy banning human pesticide experiments which have been outlawed under the 1947 Nuremberg Code. Bayer and the other chemical industry giants seek to reduce EPA mandated safety standards for pesticide levels that have been established through animal tests. Industry’s unethical human experiments, briefly exposing a few healthy adult subjects to pesticides do not provide needed safety information for the protection of young children – who most vulnerable to neurological hazards from pesticides.

Contact: Vera Hassner Sharav
Tel: 212-595-8974

The Guardian
FoE joy as Bayer drops legal action
June 30, 2004

Environmental campaigners have won a legal battle against a multinational company on the right to publicise the potential hazards of pesticides. Bayer has been forced to drop a court action against Friends of the Earth, in what FoE called a “humiliating climbdown”. FoE believes it is an important victory in its campaign for greater openness surrounding pesticides.

FoE campaigners had obtained safety studies submitted by Bayer to the Swedish inspectorate responsible for regulating pesticides. The documents were released by the Swedish government under its “freedom of information” laws. Bayer demanded that FoE promise not to tell the public it had obtained these studies, nor how to obtain further such studies. FoE refused.

Bayer went to the high court last October to get an injunction gagging the FoE campaigners. The company, which has a global turnover of £20bn, warned it would sue FoE for damages. FoE campaigners challenged the injunction and this week Bayer withdrew the injunction and promised to take no further legal moves against FoE. A Bayer spokesman said the company wanted to protect data which “would be valuable to competitors”. (by Rob Evans)

Friends of the Earth, Press Release

GM PESTICIDE “SECRETS” TO GO PUBLIC AS BAYER DROPS COURT CASE

Bayer CropScience, the multi-national agro-chemical and biotech corporation, has dropped its court action against Friends of the Earth. It had tried to prevent the environmental group from telling the public how to access safety data on pesticides – including a flagship weedkiller for use on GM herbicide tolerant crops in the UK, Glufosinate Ammonium.

Bayer started legal action when Friends of the Earth told them it had legally obtained copies of safety data from the Swedish pesticide regulator KEMI and said it was going to tell the public how they could obtain the information in the same way. The information at the centre of the row is of interest to people exposed to pesticides through work, living near sprayed fields, legal representatives and academics researching the environmental and health impacts of pesticide use.

The group told Bayer it intended to use its website to tell people how to get data from regulators around the world, including Sweden, Denmark, Ireland and the USA. Bayer had previously taken the UK government to court to stop them releasing the same information to FOE [1].

Last October Bayer applied to the High Court for an injunction to stop Friends of the Earth: telling people that KEMI or any other regulator held Bayer’s pesticide data; telling people that Friends of the Earth had obtained copies of Bayer’s pesticide data from foreign regulators; from making any more requests to KEMI or to any other foreign regulator for access to Bayer’s data.

Bayer has now signed up to a settlement promising never to sue Friends of the Earth again for doing these things, and in particular not to sue Friends of the Earth for telling members of the public how to access this type of data or for requesting this type of data from regulators. [2]. A web page [3] published today by Friends of the Earth gives advice to the public on how to make requests to international regulators to get copies of information submitted by the companies as part of approval applications. The web page includes a warning that the data be subject to copyright protection and intellectual property rights [4].

Commenting Tony Juniper Director of Friends of the Earth said: “This is a humiliating climb-down by a biotech bully. Bayer tried to use their massive financial muscle to prevent members of the public having access to important health and environmental data about substances that are sprayed on our food crops every day. Bayer have gone to great lengths and expense to keep their data out of the public domain but in the end were forced to cave in because our case was right.” “Friends of the Earth’s victory is a major step towards lifting the veil of corporate secrecy that surrounds pesticide approvals. It is an important signal to big business that we will not be silenced. It’s high time the corporations making pesticides and chemicals moved into the 21st century and supported full access to information instead of resorting to bully boy tactics in the courts”.

Bayer market many pesticides world wide which pose a threat to the environment and health [5]. Last month, the French government banned Bayer’s pesticide Gaucho because of the threat it poses to honey bees [5] until the product undergoes a further EU safety review in 2006. Other Bayer pesticides include aldicarb, one of the most toxic chemicals still approved – Bayer successfully lobbied to prevent a EU wide ban last year and continues to keep the product on the market beyond 2007. The Bayer weed killer IPU is frequently detected in rivers during the winter months and has to be filtered out from water going into public at high cost to the water companies to comply with EU drinking water limits.

Friends of the Earth has been campaigning for full access to information for many years. It argues that companies that market pesticides and other potentially toxic chemicals must recognise the public has a right to know the potential impact of being exposed to them through breathing eating and drinking. Public access is also important because it means that independent scientists can monitor the effectiveness of the regulatory process in protecting people and the environment.

Notes to Editors

1. In 2000 Friends of the Earth asked the Pesticides Safety Directorate for copies of data supporting Bayer’s application to use their weed killer glufosinate ammonium on GM crops in the government sponsored farm scale evaluations. PSD eventually agreed to release the documents at which point Bayer sought a judicial review to prevent them releasing the information. After a two day hearing in May 2003, Bayer agreed to an out of court settlement which allowed Friends of the Earth to have “read-only” access to the data. In the meantime, Friends of the Earth established that copies of some of the data being denied them in the UK was available from other pesticide regulators around the world. Copies of some documents were obtained from the Swedish regulator KEMI and from the USA’s EPA and also from the Danish Environmental Protection Agency.

2. http://intranet.foe.co.uk:880/campaigns/real_food/news/2004/june/bayer/

3. Please note that the owner of the data retains proprietary rights in respect of information contained in documents obtained from regulatory authorities which also may be subject to copyright protection and other intellectual property rights (including the protection of confidential information). Making further copies, distributing or publishing the documents whether for commercial purposes or otherwise, or permitting or assisting any third party to do so, outside the terms of relevant national legislation (being the national legislation of the country in which the copy documents have been obtained or received) may give rise to criminal or civil liability.

4. Media Briefing on pesticides: Link

5 Bayer acts to keep Temik available to vegetable growers. Grower. December 11 2003 P.6. Additional information – Friends of the Earth’s proposals for access to information on pesticides available on request.

The Scientist, July 1st 2004 Chemicals in kids new WHO foe

“Ministers call for ‘decisive action,’ while the chemical industry says WHO threatens business”
By Robert Walgate

BUDAPEST – At a meeting of European health ministers http://www.euro.who.int/budapest2004 here last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) moved action against synthetic chemicals that affect child development higher on the global health agenda.

Scientists said action was overdue, with tens of thousands of novel chemicals of unknown effect circulating in our bodies, but chemical industry representatives told The Scientist the new stance could delay chemical research and development by 15 years, and raise issues of international competition and equity.

Philip Landrigan http://www.cdc.gov/eis/about/landrigan.htm of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, NY, said in a scientific meeting at the Budapest summit that “children are very heavily exposed to an enormous number of synthetic chemicals that have been invented in the last 30 to 50 years, that didn’t even exist before, that are widespread in the environment, and present in children’s bodies and mother’s milk.”

While the toxic effects of a few, like lead and methyl mercury, are now known, the impact of most remains unknown, Landrigan said. A massive new research effort will be needed to identify the safety or dangers of the others, he argued.

At the meeting, under the aegis of the WHO European region http://www.euro.who.int/ , the ministers of health and environment of 52 countries from Ireland to Uzbekistan issued a declaration calling strongly for more research on these substances.

Ministers said: “Decisive action should be taken without undue delay to overcome the gaps in knowledge about the effects of chemicals on human health and to achieve sustainable development in the chemical industry.”

Ministers cautiously supported WHO in a widespread and stronger use of the “precautionary principle,” which is employed by the European Union and others to suspend production of chemicals in which initial evidence shows risk.

Some scientists at the Budapest meeting, like Philippe Grandjean http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/faculty/PhilippeGrandjean.html of the Institute of Public Health, University of Southern Denmark, likened the chemical industry to the tobacco industry.

But Marc Danzon, Regional Director of WHO Euro told The Scientist: “I think the chemical industry ignored health for many years and has been a bit stressed by what’s happening with the tobacco industry. But we don’t consider the chemical or food industry to be the same as the tobacco industry. Tobacco gives nothing positive to health. You can’t say that for the chemical industry.”

Danzon wants constructive dialogue but said, “WHO will maintain our position as the advocates for health… Health cannot be negotiated. The dangers should be known, and we cannot be weak on that… If they want to locate themselves [like the tobacco industry], it’s up to them. But we are not at all in the same configuration.”

Colin Humphris, executive director for research at the European Chemical Industries Council http://www.cefic.be/ , told The Scientist: “Industry experience is that at the technical level we get cooperation,” with government and regulatory bodies such as those of the European Union. “This is a different sort of political debate,” he said.

Humphris acknowledged that “there are gaps in the data sheets on some chemicals and there are issues over quality of data for others – but the industry has a voluntary program to fill those gaps for the 1000 top-tonnage chemicals. That’s a big fraction of chemical production,” he said.

The combination of public concern and the new WHO position means “the chemical industry is headed to be like the pharmaceutical industry,” Humphris said. “They go through all the various phases of trials, which take typically 15 years to get approval. So the first thing you’ll see is that some of our technological development will become long term.”

But drugs and chemicals have some specific differences, Humphris said. “Largely pharmaceuticals are being given in known doses to a known and defined population. And even so, unknown risks arise later, like breast cancer and HRT. The issue for the chemical industry is we don’t have control over exposure. What a child might be exposed to is very difficult for our industry to handle.” “This has a way to run… There are a lot of potentially conflicting issues here,” Humphris said.

Links for this article Fourth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health: The Future for Our Children, Hungary, June 23–25 http://www.euro.who.int/budapest2004

Philip Landrigan http://www.cdc.gov/eis/about/landrigan.htm

World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe http://www.euro.who.int/

Philippe Grandjean http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/faculty/PhilippeGrandjean.html

European Chemical Industry Council http://www.cefic.be/

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