When Money Speaks Louder than Morality – Tyrone Hayes’ Fight against Biotech Firm Synegata

Posted: June 8, 2015 in Uncategorized

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Although recent media attention has been centered on biotech multinational Monsanto’s aggression in silencing critics of its GMO crops, bovine growth hormone and pesticides, this has unfortunately resulted in other biotech companies being able to more quietly commit similar offenses.

When Tyrone Hayes, biologist and Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California Berkley, was hired to conduct research on the possible harmful effects of the herbicide atrazine for the Sweedish biotech multinational, Syngenta, what he did not expect was to be silenced and threatened when the results discovered were not conducive for business. Through his research Hayes discovered that atrazine had a negative effect as an endocrine disrupter causing developing male African clawed and leopard frogs to turn into females and develop eggs. Atrazine proved to completely reverse the development of the male reproductive organs. Later studies conducted by unrelated scientists proved that this same effect was also found in mammals.

Even though the initial results weren’t what Syngenta had hoped for, they paid Hayes to conduct further studies. When the results confirmed the initial findings, Syngenta attempted to prohibit Hayes from discussing or publishing his work. Hayes disregarded Syngenta’s requests and moved to publish his findings in high ranking scientific journals as well as to give lectures on the harmful effects of the widely used herbicide. After various instances of the company sending out representatives to Hayes’ lectures to publically refute his findings, Hayes realized things were taking a darker turn when he was directly threatened by an employee, Tim Pastoor, before a presentation “Your wife’s at home alone right now. How do you know I haven’t sent somebody there to take care of her? Isn’t your daughter there?”

After realizing the seriousness of the extent to which Syngenta would go to silence him, Hayes decided to turn to the institution he was working for, the University of California Berkley, for help. Unfortunately, as Syngenta was one of the highest contributing donors to the biology department at the time, the university lawyers turned a cold shoulder and insisted it was not their problem. Where Hayes should have been promptly protected by the university he was working for, he was abandoned to deal with the serious threats and slanders orchestrated by Syngenta entirely on his own.

In an interview with DemocracyNow! Hayes was asked about the way in which the university turned a blind eye, he stated that “there’s a lot of pressure on us not just to be scholars and to teach and to do research, but also to bring in funds that will support the university. So there’s some sentiment from the university that if you are raising a concern potentially that might cause the university to lose support to lose funders, then you won’t necessarily get the support on campus that you need.”

A class action lawsuit against Syngenta regarding water contamination later revealed internal documents confirming that Hayes was being directly stalked and targeted by the company. Since these findings, Hayes has regained his credibility and continues to spread awareness on the harmful effects of atrazine on the reproductive systems of amphibians and mammals.

Sources:

Hayes, T. (n.d.). Silencing the Scientist – Tyrone Hayes on Being Targeted by Herbicide Firm Syngenta. DemocracyNow!. Febuary 21, 2014.

 “Court-released documents: Exhibit 19, part1” (PDF). Source Watch. Center for Media and Democracy. Retrieved February 7, 2014.

Hayes TB, Collins A, Lee M et al. (April 2002). “Hermaphroditic, demasculinized frogs after exposure to the herbicide atrazine at low ecologically relevant doses”. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 99 (8): 5476-80.

 

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