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DuPont Withdraws Benlate from Market

PANNA 7may01

On April 19, 2001, DuPont announced that by the end of the year it would cease selling the fungicide, Benlate (active ingredient, benomyl), after 33 years on the market. Although Benlate has come under repeated attacks for serious adverse health impacts and for damaging farmers' crops, the company cited high legal costs for their decision.

DuPont's legal and financial problems with Benlate began in 1989 when the company was forced to temporarily recall the product due to contamination with the herbicide atrazine. In 1991, U.S. farmers filed hundreds of lawsuits against DuPont alleging that using Benlate caused millions of dollars in crop damages. After years of litigation, the company settled the majority of the claims at a total cost of approximately US$750 million. Although this was the largest settlement to date, it only marked the beginning of the company's legal troubles with Benlate.

In 1996, a U.S. jury awarded US$4 million to a couple whose child was born without eyes after the mother was sprayed with Benlate while pregnant; however, on appeal, the award was reversed. The case is now awaiting a hearing by the Florida Supreme Court. In June 2000, DuPont was ordered to pay over US$100 million to two Texas fruit companies for damage to their orchards due to Benlate dust. And in December and February 2000, DuPont lost two separate lawsuits to Ecuadorian shrimp farmers and was ordered to pay US$10.2 million and $12.3 million respectively. The shrimp farmers contended that Benlate runoff from banana fields had poisoned their shrimp farms.

Total litigation costs associated with Benlate have so far cost DuPont an estimated US$1 billion dollars, and the company has set aside additional money to cover future losses and litigation expenses bringing Dupont's total financial cost to an estimated US$1.3 billion dollars. In spite of numerous jury decisions against the company, DuPont continues to insist that the product is "safe when used as directed". A company statement announcing the decision to stop production denied responsibility for problems associated with Benlate and instead cited "the high and continuing cost of defending the product in the US legal system" as the primary reason for ceasing production.

In addition to the legal storm surrounding its use, Benlate is also notable for problems with fungal resistance. The active ingredient in all Benlate products is benomyl (in some formulations, the active ingredient is reported as carbendazim, the primary metabolite of benomyl), which is in the benzimidizole class of fungicides. The Fungicide Resistance Action Committee notes that the benzimidazole fungicides "met serious resistance problems that arose in most of their target pathogens." Fungal resistance and the reluctance of farmers to use a chemical that has been implicated in crop losses limited the market for Benlate. Worldwide sales last year amounted to US$96 million.

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