Contains distressing content.
24 Mar 2021

Revealed: Why UK kept exporting a deadly pesticide that kills thousands

Chief Correspondent

Tens of thousands of people, like teenager Shashikala from Sri Lanka, died from poisoning by a lethal pesticide made in the UK. Hundreds of secret documents and a whistleblower raise questions about whether manufacturer Syngenta put profit before people.

The weedkiller Gramoxone, with its active ingredient paraquat, has helped farmers grow food cheaply for decades. But it’s so lethal, one sip can kill. One former UN official told us deaths may be in the hundreds of thousands.

Gramoxone is so toxic its sale has been banned in the UK and EU for more than 10 years. But it’s still made by Syngenta in Huddersfield before being sent all over the world to countries including to India, where farmers still use it today.

Channel 4 News and Unearthed reveal that Syngenta presented flawed safety data on Gramoxone. And secret company documents suggest Syngenta had safer more expensive alternatives that it held back from consumers to protect its profits – which the company deny.

Channel 4 News spoke to a whistleblower, a senior scientist at the company for more than 20 years, about how as early as 1990 he raised safety concerns at the company. Little has changed.

Syngenta denies these allegations. It told Channel 4 News it is “heartbreaking that people have been harmed” by its product and that there is “fundamental disagreement” on the science concerned. It also told us that it’s “invested hundreds of millions of dollars” trying to make Gramoxone safer. Syngenta deny it ever put profits before safety.

“It’s the same that’s happened over the last 40 years. And they’re still dying.”

And a warning this exclusive report from our Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson deals with issues of suicide which some may find distressing.