Syngenta’s Atkin Worried EU Will Control Cruiser Insecticide

Syngenta AG is concerned that the European Union may restrict the use of is thiamethoxam insecticide because of worries over the health of bees, Chief Operating Officer John Atkin said.

European Health Commissioner Tonio Borg will propose EU-wide legislation tomorrow, which Atkin said could clamp down on a product which brought Syngenta $1 billion of sales in 2011. Borg told EU ministers this week that the measures would be “inspired by the precautionary principle.”

“The way the comments were structured and the way they were reported on were in the direction of restrictions,” Atkin said in a telephone interview today. “We are concerned about the reputation for our product and for the company,” he said, adding that the alternatives are less effective and less environmentally sustainable.

Syngenta could deal with possible restrictions as there are “many other products” companywide to carry on with, he said.

The population of honey bees, which pollinate many different crops, has fallen in recent years partly because of Colony Collapse Disorder, an unexplained syndrome where worker bees abruptly disappear. A United Nations report in March said honeybee-colony deaths worldwide may be the result of reasons as varied as a decline in flowering plant species to the use of insecticides.

European sales of the Cruiser seed treatment, for which thiamethoxam is the active ingredient, are less than 1 percent of total global sales, said Paul Barrett, a company spokesman.

Varroa Destructor

Syngenta fell 1.4 percent to 393.20 francs today in Zurich. The shares jumped 33 percent last year compared with a 15 percent gain for Switzerland’s SMI Index.

“Even if there were restrictions, which Syngenta reckons would reduce yield by 40 percent, and not a full ban, it would probably have less than 0.5 percent impact on the top line,” Bettina Edmondston, an analyst at Kepler Capital Markets SA in Zurich, said in an email. Edmondston has a buy rating on the shares.

The varroa destructor, a parasitic mite that attacks honeybees is the most important reason behind declining bee populations, as it transmits diseases such as the deformed wing virus, Atkin said. The virus cuts bee life expectancy and renders their wings useless.

“It’s nothing to do with chemicals,” he said.

Insecticides known as neonicotinoids sold by Syngenta and Bayer AG pose a “high acute risk” to honeybees through the nectar and pollen of some treated crops and through drifting dust, the European Food Safety Authority has said.

(Updates with analyst’s comment in eighth paragaph)
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