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Biotechnology Advisory Panel Report: Assessment

November 2007

Shifting Focus for the Panel


It is noteworthy that the early years of the Panel focused largely on questions related to the safety of biotechnology, particularly as it related to the human food supply. Since that time, Panel confidence has grown in the technology’s food safety record. Panel members are now more focused on how biotechnology might be applied in ways that decrease environmental footprints and alleviate poverty. Some lingering concerns remain about agricultural biotechnology’s environmental impacts as it relates to biodiversity and protecting centers of origin for food crops.

Global Climate Change and Energy Security — The Call for Alternative Fuels

As DuPont prepares for the 21st Century, the company has sought businesses and products that capitalize on sustainable development while decreasing its overall environmental footprint. The Panel recognizes DuPont’s long-standing leadership on the issue of global climate change. The Panel particularly commends DuPont’s recent enterprises that seek to find the next generation of biofuels. This past year, the company has engaged in several renewable energy initiatives and partnerships that hope to bring plant-derived renewable energy to the market. These efforts expand the application of biotechnology into the high impact areas of alternative fuels and renewable energy.

These renewable energy initiatives have the potential to decrease the world’s reliance on petroleum and increase energy security for nations like the U.S. The Panel is particularly pleased to see that the company is forming public and private partnerships in pursuit of its goals around renewable energy. As a Panel, we think the goal is to make the production of all fuel types more sustainable—both agriculturallyderived fuels as well as petroleum-based products. In order to do this, very good product throughput data is needed for different fuel types, and metrics and performance measures will be needed so that different fuels can be compared. DuPont can be an important voice in the dialogue regarding this analysis. Additionally, the Panel urges the company to look at how DuPont might contribute to conversations and strategies that focus on adaptation to global climate change. DuPont’s seeds, insulation, and containment products might be particularly suited in this arena.

In 2003, DuPont led the industry in developing a set of bioethical principles and positions. The principles and positions were developed over the course of a year and in close coordination with the Panel members. The eight principles to be measured are:

  1. Commitment to Food/Feed Safety
    DuPont will develop products derived from biotechnology that are at least as safe as their conventionally produced counterparts for both human food and animal feed using the best scientific knowledge.
  2. Environmental Focus
    DuPont will endeavor to apply biotechnology in production systems so there is a net gain for the environment.
  3. Conserving Biodiversity
    DuPont will strive to protect and conserve natural resource biodiversity.
  4. Transparency of Information
    DuPont believes in the individual’s right to information regarding product safety. DuPont will apply a strict and transparent standard in determining what product information is proprietary. DuPont will disclose safety information on its products in a clear and accessible manner.
  5. Engaging Stakeholders
    DuPont will routinely engage stakeholders (shareholders, customers, society, and employees) and consider their diverse viewpoints in its decision-making process for products derived from biotechnology.
  6. Advocating Independent Research
    DuPont will seek opportunities to advocate and/or find biotechnology research important to its business at public institutions, research centers, and non-governmental organizations that follow accepted science protocols and peer review standards.
  7. Contributing to Developing Economies
    DuPont will endeavor to be socially and culturally responsible as it shares knowledge and appropriate technology in developing economies to help improve food, nutrition, and the quality of life. DuPont will seek to utilize its intellectual property in ways that help alleviate hunger.
  8. Formalizing Access to Genetic Resources
    DuPont will strive to identify the owner(s) of natural biological resources and knowledge selected for research and product development and will develop fair and equitable business arrangements that recognize the contributions of the involved parties. To the extent possible, arrangements will be made public.

DuPont’s Contribution Toward Sustainable Agriculture and the Needs of the Poor

The Panel is pleased with and continues to encourage DuPont’s sustainable agricultural work aimed at alleviating the needs of the poor. The Cura Village Community Project (in partnership with Africa Harvest), a project providing farmers with disease and insect-free tissue culture and banana planting materials to increase yields and productivity, continues to grow and thrive. In addition, DuPont has several other efforts aimed at helping the world’s poor. These include:

  • African Biofortified Sorghum Project
    The Panel commends DuPont’s involvement in the Biofortified Sorghum Project. This effort seeks to improve the nutritional value of grain sorghum, a staple grown throughout most of Africa. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the project’s primary funder with a $16.5 million grant over five years. Project leadership is provided by Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International. Participants include companies like DuPont, as well as Africa-based academic and non-profit partner organizations. DuPont has donated technology valued at $4.8 million and is hosting researchers from Africa at laboratory facilities in Des Moines, Iowa. The intent of this collaboration is to develop this “super sorghum” and for African researchers to return to their countries with additional knowledge about key technologies.

    Panel members urge DuPont to remember that while the company views this product as a “technology,” people who consume sorghum view it as a food. With that in mind, Panel members encourage the company to continue to work with the intended recipients of the biofortified sorghum to ensure that taste, texture, and cooking properties aren’t compromised while developing the enhanced seeds.

Leadership Action — Seeking Agriculture Practices with Least Impact to Soil, Water, and Habitat

The Panel has encouraged DuPont to take on more leadership roles and to use its influence as a large and successful multi-national company. The Panel commends DuPont’s leadership as it participates in a multi-stakeholder group working to identify sustainable agricultural practices. While the task is complex, the group seeks to identify six to eight desirable environmental outcomes resulting from sustainable agricultural practices. These are likely to focus on soil, water, and habitat conservation. Once those outcomes are identified, the group will seek the preferred agricultural practices that best meet those environmental outcomes. The coalition hopes to implement a pilot program in the spring of 2008, focusing on the U.S. Should this pilot prove successful, the Panel encourages DuPont to take this initiative globally.

 

Increased Dialogue Regarding Products Early in the Research & Development Stages

In the last report, the Panel shared their hope that the company would increase its level of interaction with external stakeholders early in a product’s life, prior to significant investments. The Panel is pleased that DuPont is bringing more technologies and products that are in the early incubation stages of Research & Development. In the last two years, the Panel has discussed new technologies near commercialization, as well as products and leading edge technology that are in their infancy. While the Panel understands the sensitivities entailed, we would continue to encourage DuPont to reach out to stakeholders beyond the Panel as early in the Research & Development process as possible.

Areas the Panel Would Like to Continue to Challenge DuPont’s Thinking in the Future


  • Ethical Obligations: The Food Versus Fuel Debate
    As evidenced by the recent “food versus fuel” debates, being in the “business of food” is fundamentally different than being in almost any other business. As the Panel continues to stress to DuPont, because food is a basic human need and not a luxury, it carries different moral and ethical obligations. In much of the world, it is difficult for people to understand growing a traditional food crop for the purposes of fuel. Additionally, the Panel believes that water issues will be a vital focus in the future. Careful tracking and monitoring of DuPont’s water usage and the company’s potential contribution in securing healthy and sustainable water supplies will be imperative. The Panel looks forward to additional dialogue about the morality of basic needs such as food, water, and shelter and its implications for contemporary corporate responsibility.

  • DuPont’s Contribution to the World’s Nutrition
    The Panel encourages DuPont to honor both parts of their “Agriculture & Nutrition” platform. While DuPont—and specifically Pioneer—has a long agricultural history, the Panel hopes the company will continue to look for ways to improve the quantity and nutritional quality of the world’s food supply. Recognizing that DuPont’s comfort zone has traditionally been in commodities markets, and given recent political and economic enthusiasm for biofuels, the Panel hopes DuPont does not overlook the important contributions agricultural biotechnology is poised to make regarding world nutrition.

    Given DuPont’s long record of accomplishment in safety and innovation, the Panel urges the company to continue to push itself in the area of nutrition and to grow its research portfolio in this arena. It will also be important for DuPont to collaborate locally and to remember that while the company views its product as a “technology,” people who consume it view it as a food. Panel members urge DuPont to remain sensitive to different geographies and food preferences, taste, texture, and traditional food preparation that might alter DuPont’s nutritional targets.

  • Encouraging Public/Private Partnerships
    The Panel continues to encourage DuPont to seek public and private partnerships. While these partnerships are beneficial in all areas of biotechnology development and commercialization, the Panel suggests they are particularly important as DuPont works internationally. In the complex and highly conservative European regulatory environment, which occasionally borders on protectionism, the Panel recommends that DuPont seek strategic alliances with leading European partners (companies, academia, NGOs, and others) in order to engage jointly in regulatory-related activities. Teaming with NGOs, governments, and other private companies allows for the expedited sharing of information, creation of goodwill, and building in-country capacity that ultimately leads to stronger, more viable markets for DuPont’s products.

    The Panel commends DuPont’s generous donation of technologies in developing countries, but suggests that it is only one essential piece in the larger sustainability puzzle. While the Panel respectfully understands DuPont’s desire to stay focused on the company’s area of agricultural expertise, it will take a holistic approach for DuPont’s technology to take hold and have a positive effect. The Panel encourages DuPont to experiment further with public/private partnerships and to team locally whenever possible. The Panel would welcome additional conversations about how to identify and evaluate potential partnering opportunities.

  • Where to "Draw the Circle" — Taking a Closer Look at Total Product Lifecycles and Footprints
    Increasingly, advocates and policymakers are asking for more detail about where companies “draw the circle.” This refers to how far backward and forward in the value chains energy inputs and ultimate impacts are measured. For corn, the company is actively assessing the water, soil, land, and labor inputs in order to have a clear understanding of its impacts. With all crops, it might also be important to factor in subsidies in the final evaluation of impacts. Of particular interest to DuPont will be those impacts that negatively affect the environmental and social commitments detailed in DuPont’s Bioethical Principles. While this detailed assessment will entail sophisticated modeling and absolute transparency regarding assumptions, it is essential in helping decision makers determine the sustainability of a product. The Panel highly recommends that DuPont continue to engage external stakeholders as the company builds its assumptions for how it assesses a product’s feasibility including its total energy lifecycle.