Fedco is dropping all code ⑥ varieties from Syngenta
We have decided to stop carrying varieties sold by Syngenta Group and its subsidiaries, Hollar and Goldsmith, and have removed them from our catalog. We’ve been planning this for years and have found great alternatives in our trials to the varieties we are dropping (see chart below).
During Fedco Seeds’ 46 years in business, we’ve done our best to continuously evaluate what it means to be an ethical seed company and to stand for transparency in an increasingly complex and abstruse industry. In 2000 we introduced our Supplier Codes so customers could know more about where our seeds come from. We track the source of every variety we carry and label each description in the catalog accordingly:
- ① Small seed farmers including Fedco staff.
- ② Family-owned companies or cooperatives, domestic and foreign.
- ③ Domestic and foreign corporations not part of a larger conglomerate.
- ④ Multinationals not to our knowledge engaged in genetic engineering.
- ⑤ Multinationals who are engaged in genetic engineering.
In 2015 we added a sixth code in response to increased consolidation of seed and chemical corporations—a sector steeped in quiet mergers and hushed acquisitions—and especially as a way to express our concern about a particularly harmful class of insecticides that is a dire threat to pollinators and ecosystems:
- ⑥ Syngenta, manufacturer of neonicotinoids.
In the years since we began labeling Syngenta varieties, our alarm at its practices has only grown. While our engagement with Syngenta is nominal within the massive global seed trade, in the words of activist Angela Davis, “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”
Our decision to sever ties with Syngenta Group means we must give up a few dozen popular hybrid varieties—the results of expensive breeding programs with proprietary genetics—that we cannot source elsewhere. Our cucurbit line has been particularly hard hit, though we’ve found excellent replacements. The varieties we are dropping are widely available in other seed catalogs (as are varieties from Seminis/Monsanto, which we dropped for similar reasons in 2006). We hope you will opt to evolve with Fedco, to forgo these varieties and try something new, for the long-term benefits of autonomy, ethics and greater sustainability.
In our 2015 catalog, Fedco’s founder CR Lawn asked, “Can we, with a straight face, call our agriculture sustainable if we are addicted to varieties produced by multinational corporations that thrive by feeding a system dependent on the toxic chemicals they manufacture?” Trying to strike the delicate balance of economy, reliability and ethical seed sourcing, we’ve determined that we could not claim with integrity that we promote sustainable agriculture while continuing to purchase and sell seeds from Syngenta Group.
Unpeeling the Syngenta Onion
Syngenta Group is a global provider of agricultural products and technology, including seeds, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizer. Its headquarters is in Basel, Switzerland, with locations in Chicago, Tel Aviv and Shanghai. Syngenta AG was founded in 2000 by the merger of the agrichemical divisions of Novartis and AstraZeneca. Over the next 20 years, it acquired numerous seed and agrochemical producers internationally.
In 2017, Syngenta was acquired by China National Chemical Corp (ChemChina) in the largest global takeover by a Chinese company. Syngenta then merged in 2020 with Israeli crop-protection company ADAMA and the agricultural branch of Sinochem to form Syngenta Group. It continued to acquire other seed, chemical, and distribution companies.
In 2021, ChemChina and SinoChem completed their merger as Sinochem Holdings, a wholly owned subsidiary of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), run by China’s State Council, a powerful body of China’s executive branch. Sinochem is the world’s largest agrochemical conglomerate.
There are two major reasons Syngenta’s structure and practices are not aligned with Fedco Seeds’ values: Its perpetration of extreme and harmful consolidation of the seed industry; and its manufacture of a particularly toxic class of agrichemicals called neonicotinoids.
Extreme Consolidation of the Seed Industry
In her 2019 article in Civil Eats, Kiki Hubbard of the Organic Seed Alliance reported that four firms, including Syngenta, controlled 60% of the global vegetable seed market, making the seed industry one of the most consolidated in agriculture, and in the economy as a whole. She wrote, “History shows us that seed industry consolidation leads to less choice and higher prices for farmers. These companies also aggressively protect their IP [intellectual property] rights, which means less innovation and more restrictions on how seed is used and exchanged, including for seed saving and research purposes.”
We recall the words of eminent University of Wisconsin plant breeder Dr. William F. Tracy: “Placing the responsibility for the world’s crop germplasm and plant improvement in the hands of a few companies is bad public policy.…The primary goal of private corporations is to make profit, and…this goal will be at odds with certain public needs.… …The future of our food supply requires genetic diversity but also demands a diversity of decision makers.”
Between January 2019 and June 2023, Syngenta Group acquired seven more plant-breeding and seed-production companies. Of particular concern to us was their acquisition of long-time family-owned Hollar, for many years the source of our best cucurbit varieties.
Reliance on seed from companies that hold an oligopoly on the industry goes against our value of supporting the democratic and cooperative process. Stifling innovation through restrictive patents works against the independent companies and growers Fedco is dedicated to supporting. The privatization of seeds is in conflict with our value of encouraging the preservation and use of open-source seeds.
Harmful Effects of Neonics on Pollinators
The largest multinationals dominating the seed industry all position themselves as agri-chemical companies. Syngenta Group is no exception, with more than 80% of its gross revenue of $16+ billion in 2022 coming from manufacture of “crop protection” chemicals. Among the most harmful of these are neonicotinoids (aka neonics).
Neonics are a class of insecticides that affect the central nervous system of insects, killing or harming a wide variety of both target and non-target species. When applied to a seed or the soil, the chemical is absorbed by roots and transported by the vascular tissue to become systemic throughout the plant, present in leaves, flowers, nectar and pollen. These water-soluble chemicals can be transported through soils into waterways. In a national study of streams near agricultural sites in the U.S, at least one neonic was detected in over half of streams sampled. Neonics can persist in soils for weeks to months, and possibly even years, extending the duration and extent of effects on the ecosystem.
In 2013 after conducting a formal review of existing studies, the European Food Safety Authority concluded that neonics pose an unacceptably high risk to bees. The European Union voted for a 2-year moratorium restricting the use of imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam on crops that attract bees. Syngenta took them to court, claiming it was based on a false process and inaccurate assessment. The court ruled that the EU could pass the ban if there was uncertainty about risks to human health or the environment, and did not have to wait until it was clear harm had been caused. In 2018, the EU extended the ban, which is still in effect today.
In June 2022, EPA released the final Biological Evaluation assessing effects to endangered or threatened species from labeled uses of thiamethoxam and found it adversely affects 77% of these species and 81% of their critical habitats. Additional studies on freshwater fish indicated that thiamethoxam causes deleterious effects on the blood and organs of freshwater fish, including DNA damage in liver, kidney, and blood cells.
Building on our History, Looking to the Future
Since the beginning, Fedco Seeds has stood for the intersectional advocacy of environmental, social and food justice issues. We dovetail this work with our goal of offering the best varieties adapted to our demanding climate.
We are most passionate about supporting our code ① growers (about 20% of our varieties come from small seed farmers), but many excellent varieties are available only from bigger companies, coded ②, ③, ④ and ⑤. As the code number rises, the waters tend to get murkier, with more corporate consolidation, liberal use of restrictive patents, participation in genetic-engineering technologies, and less overall transparency.
While we normally select varieties based on their merits in the field, rather than on our supplier preferences, several times we’ve chosen to eschew varieties that run contrary to our values:
- In 1996, our co-op voted unanimously not to knowingly offer any genetically engineered variety because the gene technologies posed unacceptable risks to the environment. In 1999 we affirmed and clarified that position and began to follow the guidelines of the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) which prohibit the use of genetically engineered organisms in organic crop production.
- In 2006, the Monsanto buyout of Seminis presented us with a serious ethical dilemma and we made the pivotal decision to drop the Monsanto/Seminis product line. Many of these popular varieties felt indispensable at the time, but we knew supporting Monsanto came at a devastating social and environmental cost.
Our decision to drop varieties from Syngenta aligns with this precedent.
Where We Are Headed
As we shift our reliance and resources away from consolidated corporate control by chemical companies, we are better able to invest in seed breeding and distribution where the goals are a sovereign food system, climate resilience, ecological stewardship, and farmer and community well being.
For decades we’ve worked with like-minded seed companies and independent breeders who are passionate about developing open-pollinated varieties for people and for the future:
- Carol Deppe conceptualizes breeding for survival for the next thousand years. Her varieties in our catalog include Fast Lady Northern Southern cowpea, Gaucho bean, White Candle bean, Brown Resilient bean, Cascade Ruby Gold flint corn and Goldini II zucchini.
- Dave Christensen has brought forward delicious corn varieties dense in vital nutrients. His varieties include Painted Mountain Flint, Blue Mountain Flint and Montana Morado Maize.
- Common Wealth Seeds recently brought us two great cukes that repeatedly outperform hybrids in our trials: Common Wealth pickler and South Wind Slicer.
- Wild Mountain Seeds develops OP varieties bred to perform well in the harshest growing conditions: Resilient Shishito, Alpine Poblano, Chocolate Stripes Improved tomato, and Mountain Spirit tomato.
- Wild Garden Seeds have been developing seemingly endless lettuce, kale and calendula varieties, listed in our catalog for many years.
The seed industry will keep changing. Even for us, steeped in it day in and day out, keeping up with the swift and quiet mergers and acquisitions of companies large and small is a challenge. We will keep sharing our findings with you, so please stay tuned.
Our departure from Syngenta Group brings us a step closer to the world we want for each other, for other creatures, for the land and for future generations. You, farmers and gardeners, are a critical part of this step. We hope you take it with us.
You will not see any Syngenta Group, or Code 6, varieties listed in our paper catalog, however we will continue to sell some varieties online until our in house inventory is gone. Purchasing them will not further support Syngenta Group, but help us limit our losses and lessen the financial impact of our decision. See our remaining Syngenta inventory and help us clean house!