Syngenta archive

Movies like “Michael Clayton,” have portrayed American industry as ruthless and devious when it comes to fighting off environmental opposition. But are these stories simply paranoid fiction?

Feb. 5, 2014

A fascinating New Yorker story about the biologist Tyrone Hayes and his battle with the agribusiness giant Syngenta reminds us: Just because it sounds paranoid doesn't mean it isn't true.

Hayes, an expert in the endocrinology of amphibians, was tapped by Syngenta to conduct experiments on the herbicide atrazine. His studies suggested that atrazine could impair the frogs' sexual development. In 2000, Hayes severed his relationship with Syngenta, and that's when things got interesting.

Even some of the scientist's former students grew skeptical when he described a campaign by the company to discredit him. But as reporter Rachel Aviv writes:

"The company documents show that while Hayes was studying atrazine, Syngenta was studying him, as he had long suspected. Syngenta's public-relations team had drafted a list of four goals. The first was 'discredit Hayes.' "