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Frequently Asked Questions About Plant Biotech

Have U.S. regulators judged that plant biotechnology is safe for consumers?

Yes. U.S. regulation of biotechnology-based food and crops is as rigorous as those for products made by traditional methods. Before products reach consumers, comprehensive safety and environmental testing is done. While nothing in life is absolutely guaranteed, the U.S. regulatory system has an excellent track record in food safety.

At the same time, regulators are constantly updating their regulations — and their judgment of products — as more scientific information becomes known. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration, one of the chief agencies involved, regularly improves its standards and regulations. In food safety testing, genetically improved plants and foods are compared with traditional counterparts in a variety of chemical, genetic, biochemical, compositional, nutritional, and environmental tests. They are also compared to known allergens.

If plant biotechnology is so safe, what is the controversy?

Much of the controversy is around the unknown. Some people are concerned that biotechnology will produce unforeseen problems in human or environmental safety. So the question is do we stop and do nothing, or do we proceed cautiously and adapt as we have more knowledge?

As DuPont goes forward, we will continue to work intelligently to fulfill biotechnology's promise to improve the quality of life for people everywhere, while listening and responding to people's concerns. We remain committed to sound science and product stewardship.

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Who decides if a biotechnology product is safe? Who does the testing?

A number of organizations establish the procedures and standards, then companies like DuPont perform the required tests. Test results are subject to review by regulatory bodies. These bodies include regulatory agencies in many countries and international bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization. In the United States, regulatory guidance is given by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The combined goal of these agencies is to assure the safety of products to be used or consumed. Ultimately, DuPont is responsible for applying biotechnology safely; we take this responsibility seriously.

Consumer Choice

Shouldn't consumers have the right to know what is in their food?

Yes, and DuPont supports that right. For this reason, informed consumer choice is one of our four public commitments on biotechnology. Our other public commitments on biotechnology are to:

  • Engage and listen to all interested parties;
  • Achieve sustainable growth; and
  • Assure product safety.

In keeping with this commitment, we support consumer education and information. Labeling is one way to provide information to consumers but it is not necessarily the most meaningful one.

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What are some specific alternatives to labeling?

Other widely available channels include educational advertising, brochures, toll free telephone lines, and websites. Regardless of the channel, all information provided must be science-based, understandable, accurate, and useful. If you have an alternative to suggest, please tell us about it.

Are DuPont biotechnology products labeled?

Our products are always labeled according to the regulations of the country in which they are sold. In the U.S., the FDA does not require source labeling — how a product is made — if the products are substantially the same in composition, nutrition, or other pertinent characteristics as their traditionally produced counterparts. In the U.S., our current biotechnology-based products do not require differential labeling, but we do make efforts to give additional information to consumers through channels such as toll-free numbers and the Internet.

Environmental Safety

What are the major environmental controversies about biotechnology?

One concern is that a dangerous organism could be unleashed unintentionally in the environment. Another concern is that biotechnology, even in doing something good such as decreasing soil erosion and providing plants that repel insects, will upset the balance of nature. The first concern is being guarded against through rigorous testing, product stewardship, and government review. The second concern must take into account that there really is no set "balance of nature." Everything that happens on the planet from volcanic action to population growth changes the balance - and has for eons.

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What is DuPont doing to ensure that its biotechnology products will not pose risks to the environment?

We do the prescribed testing, use our common sense and safety assessment experience, and listen carefully to cautions voiced by our critics. We also support rigorous testing and regulatory safeguards and work with the U.S. EPA and its government agency counterparts around the globe so that all relevant environmental issues are addressed.

Does biotechnology negatively impact non-target species?

Part of the research and development plan for any new agricultural product involves studying the potential impact on both target and non-target species. For example, most Bt proteins have been shown to have high levels of activity or control on a few species of insects, lower levels of activity on a few other species of insects, and no activity on most insects, other arthropods, or other organisms such as mammals or birds. On a case-by-case basis, this research on potential impact is conducted in the laboratory, greenhouse, and field in the United States and in other countries. In addition, research is conducted on potential routes and levels of exposure to the biotech crops. The combination of the effects and exposure data makes up the environmental risk assessment, which is a critical part of the decision as to whether or not development will continue.

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Are meat, milk and egg products from animals fed biotech crops safe for consumers?

Yes. Biotechnology grains have been thoroughly evaluated by USDA, FDA and EPA and are considered to be substantially equivalent to conventional crops. Therefore, meat, milk, and eggs from animals fed biotechnology feeds are as safe as those from animals fed conventional grains.

Do biotechnology crops that offer insect resistance and herbicide tolerance affect the health, growth and performance of livestock?

No. Food/feed regulatory agency reviews have all concluded these biotech crops are the same as conventional crops in nutrition, composition, safety, and functionality in food and feed products. In addition, feeding studies demonstrate the nutritional equivalence of these crops.

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Do improved grains produced from biotech crops affect the quality and composition of meat, milk and eggs?

Yes. Today's improved grains — when fed to animals — can produce meat, milk, and egg products that offer improved shelf life, enhanced flavor, and a more healthful, nutritious profile.

Ethics

How will DuPont determine that its biotechnology research is conducted in an ethical way?

We have made a public commitment to be open and transparent. We routinely consult with biotechnology's critics and proponents about the development of biotechnology products and we are make key safety information available to the public. DuPont works with independent advisors to guide our actions, help us consider and address important issues, and guide and challenge us in the development, testing, and commercialization of new products based on biotechnology. 

Will DuPont engage in dialogue with organizations such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth?

We have already met with a number of groups and hope to continue the dialogue and engagement regarding biotechnology. From our experience in working to improve our environmental stewardship over the last decade, we have engaged and listened to many environmental organizations. We have found most of these groups to be thoughtful and challenging. In many cases, we have incorporated their thinking into our planning and actions.

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Do seed companies restrict academic research on commercial seed products?

DuPont Pioneer encourages agronomic and comparative yield testing to ensure it is delivering the outstanding value growers expect from Pioneer® brand products. Pioneer allows growers, academicians and competitors to purchase commercial seed products for comparative sample plot tests without any additional agreement beyond the regular bag tag and invoice. Further, Pioneer has a standing multi-year agreement with most major agricultural universities which allows the expedient transfer of commercial seed products for agronomic testing. These blanket agreements allow agronomic testing – and unrestricted publishing of results – on traits observable in the field, such as yield.

Pioneer also participated in the development of a set of guiding principles on “Research with Commercially Available Seed Products” through the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO.) These principles are consistent with Pioneer’s historical process of working with the public sector research community and support academic’s ability to independently conduct research studies on commercially available seed products in laboratory, greenhouse, and field settings for the purpose of understanding the technology, education, extension and the safe and effective use of these products.

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