Observations From the Panel Members Based on Interaction With DuPont
The Panel believes DuPont has an increased appreciation for how diverse cultures, countries, and peoples view biotechnology and the associated risks and benefits differently. We have particularly seen increased understanding around socio-cultural issues at the DuPont corporate level, and members look forward to increased interaction at the business level, particularly with the Agriculture and Nutrition Platform.
We wish to recognize that we are at a critical moment in the life of the Panel. In this next year, all of the original members will have rotated off of the Panel. Additionally, Paul Tebo, Vice President for Safety, Environment, and Health and John Himes, Senior Vice President for Corporate Strategy, who were true champions of public participation and input for DuPont, have both retired. These charter members and champions have institutionalized the Panel in a way that allows it to continue to grow and evolve with a changing environment, even beyond their own personal participation. We hope that we can use this transitional time to revisit how the Panel can continue to most effectively contribute to the company’s thinking at the platform and corporate level.
In addition, we think that the rotation of Panel members presents two opportunities for DuPont. First, we would encourage DuPont to stay strategically connected with members who have rotated off the Panel. We are happy to help the company think through a strategy to stay connected to alumni in a way that does not prove to be too burdensome. Furthermore, we recognize and commend the job DuPont has done in identifying new voices and perspectives to bring to the Panel as the biotechnology debate evolves. We would be pleased to provide recommendations on additional perspectives that should be considered in the future.
Actions DuPont Has Taken in This Area
Consideration of Scientific, Societal, Ethical, Environmental, and Cultural Impacts While Designing and Commercializing Products.
We have urged DuPont to consider, at the earliest points in the research and development process, the non-scientific factors that may affect a potential product or technology’s success. This assessment should occur before a great deal of intellectual and financial investment has been made in a particular product or technology that may fail based on factors other than scientific viability. The Panel has recommended that DuPont bring in external perspectives that can shed light on the potential questions or concerns during these early phases. Additionally, we recommend that there be good monitoring to ensure that DuPont stays consistent with its acknowledged obligations to society while maintaining its success in the marketplace.
DuPont has worked closely with the Panel as the company developed a comprehensive research stewardship approach that has a number of “gateways”-a diversity of questions are asked regarding whether the societal, political, and cultural impacts would make investing in a particular technology or product line unwise. In some cases this approach may indicate to DuPont that it should anticipate a great deal of work and investment to address some of the non-scientific factors. The Panel feels this approach is proactive and progressive, particularly given DuPont’s identity as a “science company.”
Formation of DuPont’s Bioethical Principles and Positions
DuPont representatives participated in some discussions with the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Bioethics regarding the potential of an industry-wide code of ethics. Based on that experience, DuPont chose to develop their own bioethical principles and positions. The principles and positions were developed over nearly a year and in close coordination with the Panel members. At every turn, the Panel pushed DuPont to stretch themselves and what commitments the company would make. The result is a set of eight principles that can be found on this website
. In our mind, the development of these principles ranks highly among DuPont’s leadership actions. The Panel continues to urge DuPont to use its influence among industry colleagues to adopt these principles, or to draft their own.
Development of a Pilot Program That Advances the Needs of the Poor Through Biotechnology
With the distribution of the first Biotechnology Advisory Panel report, it was suggested that the Panel have a joint session with DuPont’s Board of Directors. The Panel members interacted with the Board and discussed issues they felt were most pressing regarding biotechnology. Specifically, Panel members urged DuPont to be more aggressive in pursuing pilot projects that work to improve the lives of the poor through biotechnology. As a result of this conversation, the Board moved to create the Cura Village Community Project in partnership with Africa Harvest. This project will provide farmers with disease and insect-free tissue culture banana planting materials to increase yields and productivity. The project also includes hybrid maize demonstration plots to increase farmer knowledge and production of this staple food crop.
Investment in Biodiversity Through the Global Crop Diversity Trust
The Panel is optimistic about the potential of private sector applications of biotechnology to contribute to public goods and social benefits, and has urged DuPont to actively contribute to such efforts that may lead to better health and nutrition, environmental sustainability, and capacity building in developing countries. We are particularly excited about the investment in the Global Crop Diversity Trust as an example of DuPont’s investment in environmental sustainability, and we commend the company for this action. The Panel remains interested and concerned with preserving biodiversity-particularly crop diversity-around the world. The Panel strongly believes that preservation of indigenous germplasm is important to maintaining maximum biodiversity as well as honoring and respecting cultural preferences and practices. DuPont has pledged $1 million to the Global Crop Diversity Trust, an international fund charged with securing long-term funding for the support of genebanks-storage facilities for plant germplasm-and crop diversity collections around the world. Formed in 2002 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the 16 Future Harvest Centers of the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research, the Trust has been charged with raising a $260 million endowment to maintain the world’s most critical germplasm for agricultural and industrial crops as well as to support struggling collections-especially those in developing countries that may particularly wish to preserve the germplasm of coarse grains with high nutritional benefit.
Areas the Panel Would Like to Continue to Challenge DuPont’s Thinking in the Future:
As a Panel, we will continue to push DuPont to be a leader internationally. The Panel is disappointed that DuPont does not choose to more actively lobby the U.S. Government to support the Convention on Biodiversity and other international agreements. DuPont is a powerful and influential company and it is disconcerting that while DuPont is quietly supportive of many of the principles in these treaties, it does not invest its influence in support of them. While DuPont continues to push the frontiers of agricultural and food science, it could do more to be a trusted partner. It is our perspective that not being supportive of these international agreements hurts DuPont’s credibility.
As a Panel we are pleased that we will have increased interaction with DuPont’s Agriculture and Nutrition Platform and the DuPont personnel in Saint Louis and Des Moines. We are particularly interested in working on a strategy to address some of the nutritional and health needs of people and how to increase access and choice through nutritious food. The Panel strongly encourages DuPont to responsibly react to negative global health trends in diet and nutrition, such as issues of micronutrient malnutrition and the rise of obesity. The Panel hopes DuPont will capitalize on the ingenuity of the private sector to contribute to the improved nutrient quality and dietary diversity of foods. It is our view that DuPont should more closely associate with companies whose profits are based on healthy dietary trends and consumption patterns.
Develop Metrics for the Bioethical Principles and Positions
Principles and positions are only as strong as the metrics by which you evaluate your performance and progress. We strongly urge DuPont to develop metrics that will challenge the company to be high-achieving as they strive to live by their principles and positions. We encourage the company to solicit external feedback in the development of these metrics.
Continue to Determine What Actions Demonstrate DuPont’s Position Regarding Support of Informed Consumer Choice
In January 2004 we had a fascinating session on Informed Consumer Choice. A multitude of issues were discussed including how DuPont can act in a way that supports Informed Consumer Choice around biotechnology-enhanced foods. The issue is complicated in that DuPont’s interactions primarily focus on farmers (DuPont’s customers) and not on the end consumers who ingest the food. Panel members continue to emphasize that while the company’s relationship with farmers is important, its reputation with consumers is influential in whether the company is ultimately viewed as a “good actor” or “bad actor” among multinational companies.
Furthermore, we recognize that DuPont does not believe it is appropriate or necessary to label products produced from biotechnology that are substantially equivalent to their non-biotechnology counterparts. Additionally, we understand it to be the company's position that labels should contain data based on science and addressing issues of risk as it pertains to the product. Members of the Panel continue to suggest that labels responsive to consumers must address not only the final product, but also the process by which the product was made. Given these, and many other issues, we hope to have additional conversations regarding what DuPont means when it says the company is “in support of Informed Consumer Choice.”
While many Panel members support labeling for the benefit of consumers, and believe that DuPont could use its influence to assuage fears and remove barriers within industry, the Panel is prepared to work with DuPont to determine whether other actions may adequately address consumers’ right to make an informed choice about what they buy and eat. These actions may mean additional steps at the point of sale: the use of toll free numbers, websites, and flyers or inserts.
Lastly, the Panel also hopes DuPont will think through scenarios that would result in the company’s labeling position to change. We think that this exercise will continue to inform and add clarity to the company’s position.
Develop a Strategy As To How DuPont Will Be a Leading Company in Addressing the Needs of the Poor Through Its Innovative Technologies
The Panel is pleased that DuPont is exploring and piloting projects that will attempt to address the needs of the poor through biotechnology or other DuPont technologies. We look forward to understanding the early data from projects such as the Cura Village Community Project to determine its effectiveness. While the Panel thinks these individual projects are invaluable, we strongly feel that the next step is to define a longer-term and more comprehensive strategy regarding how the company hopes to participate in addressing the needs of the poor. The Panel particularly urges DuPont to develop strategies for Africa and Asia, which are clearly the most vulnerable to hunger and poverty and the associated impacts. Of particular interest would be a comprehensive study and resulting action plan regarding how DuPont technologies could impact a reduction in hunger and poverty in these regions of the world while at the same time have an impact on enhancing quality of life.