Since 2014, the annual protest campaign against business practices of Syngenta has been taking place in Basel and other cities around the world – with Monsanto, the world's largest pesticide producer. According to UN reports, 200,000 people die each year from the use of toxic pesticides. The most harmful ingredients have been banned in Western industrialized countries since the 1970s, but remain legal in developing countries.
Since the beginning of their industrial production, pesticides have been controversial. The various interests of chemical companies, farmers, consumers and conservationists clash when asked how legitimate or dangerous their use is. How much the basic conditions in Basel have changed can be seen from the view of the May Beetle War in the 1950s.
DDT lie of the Basel chemical company Geigy
For centuries, the massive occurrence of roosters in certain annual cycles has been a major challenge for agriculture. The trembling of infected trees and the collection of beetles have been handed down since the early modern period. Since 1870, several cantons have coordinated their control measures.
During World War II, Switzerland became the market leader in pesticide production. Now these funds should also be used to combat roosters. The mainstay of worldwide supremacy was the discovery by chemist Paul Hermann Müller of Geigy's laboratory in the fall of 1939. He was the first to prove the insecticidal effect of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT). In 1942, Geigy launched the DDT pesticide "Gesarol". Due to animal testing, the company has known since 1941 that DDT is not only toxic to insects but also to warm-blooded animals. Still, she praised the funds with skillfully designed billboards as "non-toxic, persistent, odorless." After World War II, the pesticide business ceased. Attacked insects developed resistance and there were increasingly undesirable side effects. Expansion to foreign markets failed as expected.
Tons of sprayed to complete destruction
From today's point of view, the war rooster bears grotesque features. Timely can be seen as the last major promotion of DDT containing pesticides in the local territory. The declared goal was the complete destruction of all the roosters. To this end, tons of DDT and hexachlorocyclohexane preparations from aircraft and helicopters were sprayed over the forest edges. Maag and Siegfried were also involved. ETH Zurich and the Federal Department of Economic Affairs supported the action.
After the first extensive test in the Canton of Friborg in 1949, about 200 kilometers of forest edge was sprayed with pesticides in northwestern Switzerland the following year. Beekeepers and conservationists protested, and several entomologists who did not cooperate with the chemical industry also pointed to the dangers.
This did not prevent chemical companies from undertaking eight further major operations on the Central Plateau next year. In 1954, 1750 kilometers of forest and 2200 hectares of forest were dispersed in the cantons of Thurgau, Zurich, Solothurn and Bern. Another action in the northwest of Switzerland was planned for 1956. But the criticism became incomprehensible.
The name of the representative is Mr Phm Schmidt, who made his complaints in a lengthy letter to the editor at the Riehener Zeitung dated 13 April 1956: The contamination of drinking water proved by Basler Wasserwerk was rejected, the promised official assessment of the poisoning action was never submitted. Finally, he quoted eyewitness accounts of the effects of poisoning in Thurgau in 1954: a few days after pesticide treatment, the water surface of the forest pond was covered with fish, frogs and newts. Dead perch and pike were found in the stream. In the woods he found himself dead dead young badgers, rabbits and songbirds. It was also negligent to destroy animals protected by law, Schmidt wrote, and demanded official clarification.
Due to numerous protests planned in 1956 for the basin region, the action was canceled. The last use of cockroach poison appeared in 1957. The Canton of Bern explicitly requested this.