Production Blog

Bayer Opens Door on Safety Studies

Pam Smith
By  Pam Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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Bayer plans to start to allow public access to some crop safety data in hopes of building public trust. (DTN photo by Pamela Smith)

ST LOUIS (DTN) -- Intellectual property is the lifeblood of crop protection companies. However, Bayer revealed it is taking a novel approach to gaining public trust by allowing public access to some of its crop protection safety studies.

The new, more open door policy will start with imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid used in some 400 products for sale in the U.S. Imidacloprid is best known by farmers for use in seed treatments, but the insecticide can also be found protecting homes against termites and pets from ticks and fleas. Over the past few years, the neonicotinoid class of insecticides have been under heavy scrutiny with regard to pollinator health and safety.

"By sharing what was once confidential information, we hope to connect the public with our scientific community in a way that builds trust and shows our desire to create transparency," said Adrian Percy, Bayer global head of Research and Development for the Crop Science Division.

A new website (www.cropscience-transparency.bayer.com), goes live today, Dec.7, and gives access to scientific data needed for the evaluation of plant protection products. It does not include the company's confidential product composition and manufacturing process data.

Percy said the disclosure of safety study data will be a continuous process. "As a first step, study summaries for about 20 active substances and some representative products (formulations) will be made available online. This will be expanded over time. By doing this, Bayer wants to foster a fair, science-based dialogue around the safety of crop protection products," he added.

Additional information will be provided through videos, infographics and other communications material to help put regulatory science into context. Eventually, Bayer intends to let users request access to full, in-depth safety study reports.

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"We want anyone -- from an interested person to a member of the scientific community -- to be able to access the information in a way that is quick and easy to understand while at the same time safeguarding confidential business information," he said.

Percy wrote in a recent blog post that the decision did not come easy. "We had to analyze how to balance transparency with ensuring that business confidential information do not fall into the hands of competitors. Also, there were fears that the disclosure of obscure scientific information could confuse people or be used by others to unfairly attack the work we do," he admitted.

Still, Percy stressed during the 2017 Future of Farming Dialog (http://bit.ly/…), held in September and attended by DTN, that he felt strongly about Bayer taking leadership in opening conversations on science.

"After many years involved in conducting research to evaluate the safety of our products, I'm still surprised that there are many people who not only don't appreciate the incredible accomplishments of modern agriculture, but who also believe that its products and practices threaten people, wildlife and the environment," he wrote in his blog post.

"Where I see miraculous innovations that will help sustainably feed the world, they see a profit-driven industry with no regard to safety ..."

Percy, who actively participates in social media, also recently wrote about a growing trust crisis and how the public perceives private research compared to that of public research (http://bit.ly/…).

The perception that industry might be hiding something takes on even more significance in the current consolidation of the crop protection industry. If Bayer's bid to purchase Monsanto is successful, it becomes the world's largest integrated pesticide and seed company. The ongoing question is how the two company cultures will meld.

Neonics are but one current public image challenge. GMOs and glyphosate are under the global microscrope and this year, dicamba drifted into the public view.

There's no shortage of mistrust for the public to amplify. Hopefully opening the doors will begin to air out some concerns.

Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.smith@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

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