March 07, 2015
Good News for Shareowner Engagement on Food Issues
by Robert Kropp
Dunkin Brands agrees to remove nanomaterials from powdered sugar, and Dow Chemical commits to
increased disclosure on its management of environmental and social impacts associated with an
herbicide used with genetically engineered seeds.
Food security and safety is bound to be a fraught subject as climate change and natural resource
scarcity become increasingly critical. The question is, how do we go about addressing it? Do we
align ourselves with the corporates that contend their profit margins justify the release of
laboratory experiments, or do we find a pathway that the same corporates disdain at the risk of
irrelevancy in a sustainable economy?
The sustainable component of the economy has
long since concluded that a natural approach to agriculture is the best hope for feeding a global
population projected to reach nine billion people by 2050, as a 2013 UN report insisted.
Corporations may have other ideas—genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and nanomaterials among
them—but sustainable investors and other activists are doing what they can to hold corporations to
a standard of responsibility. Recent withdrawals of shareowner resolutions suggest that a measure
of success has been accomplished.
More than 60 countries require some form of labeling of
food products that contain GMOs. Yet the same multinational corporations that label their
genetically engineered food products overseas, or in some cases even reformulate them to exclude
GMOs, spend millions of dollars to prevent labeling from becoming law in the US.
Chemical is one of those multinational corporations, and has been
identified as lobbying for a new federal law, known as the Denying Americans the Right-to-Know
(DARK) Act, which if passed by Congress would prevent states from adopting their own labeling laws.
The law would even prevent the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from requiring GMO labeling.
Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved with some restrictions the Enlist
Duo herbicide manufactured by Dow's AgroScience business unit. The herbicide, which contains a
component found in Agent Orange, will be used with genetically engineered corn and soy seeds.
Members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate
Responsibility (ICCR) filed a shareowner resolution with Dow, expressing concern over “adverse
human health impacts, including cancers; to environmental impacts including crop damage from
off-target drift; and to increased weed resistance leading to the use of even more potent
pesticides.” The organization's shareowner activists requested that Dow report on its management of
the environmental and social impact of its products.
“The company agreed to monitor and
report annually on grower compliance with protocols for the use of its Enlist Weed Control System,”
ICCR recently reported, and the Adrian Dominican Sisters, the lead filer, withdrew the resolution.
“This commitment by Dow Chemical is a major achievement, the first such commitment by any
major producer of genetically engineered seed,” Margaret Weber of the Adrian Dominican Sisters
said. “We are hopeful other seed companies we engage, such as DuPont, come to see the importance of
monitoring and public reporting in helping to build a safer and more sustainable food system.”
The potential adverse impacts of nanomaterials in food products may be less clearly understood
at present, but “nanomaterials such as silver and titanium dioxide have been found to be highly
toxic to cells in laboratory studies,” a shareowner
resolution filed with Dunkin Brands by As You Sow states. “Because of their small size,
nanoparticles are more likely to enter cells, tissues, and organs where they may interfere with
normal cellular function and cause damage and cell death.”
Dunkin Brands uses titanium
dioxide in several of its donuts, and As You Sow's resolution requested that the company “report on
Dunkin’s use of nanomaterials in the company’s food products or packaging. The report should
identify products or packaging that currently contain nanomaterials; the purpose of such use; and
actions management is taking to reduce or eliminate risk, such as eliminating or disclosing the use
of nanomaterials until they are proven safe through long-term testing.”
This week, As You
Sow announced that Dunkin Brands has decided to remove titanium dioxide from the powdered sugar
used on its donuts. The organization responded by withdrawing the resolution.
“This is a
groundbreaking decision. Dunkin’ has demonstrated strong industry leadership by removing this
potentially harmful ingredient from its donuts,” said Danielle Fugere, President and Chief Counsel
of As You Sow. “Engineered nanomaterials are beginning to enter the food supply, despite not being
proven safe for consumption. Dunkin’ has made a decision to protect its customers and its bottom
line by avoiding use of an unproven and potentially harmful ingredient.”