Investors Pressure DuPont Over Risks of Genetically-Modified Products

The DuPont Co. needs to provide more information to its shareholders about the potential risks posed by genetically modified organisms, a group of faith-based investors said last week.

Christian Brothers Investment Services is seeking support for a shareholder resolution calling on DuPont to disclose the potential financial risks of manufacturing and distributing food-related genetically modified organisms, such as corn and other crop seeds produced by DuPont-owned Pioneer Hi-Bred International.

CBIS, joined by the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, believes DuPont is obligated under the reporting requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate anti-fraud law to spell out the potential liabilities posed by GMOs, including contamination of traditional seed stocks and possible allergy-related and other health effects in humans.

Leslie Lowe, director of the ICCR’s Environmental Justice and Global Water Supply and Food Working Groups, said insurers in some European countries have refused to insure genetically modified crops, and that the European Union has said planters of genetically altered crops may be held liable for contamination of neighboring farms.

‘”This is a very new technology; there are a number of questions,” she said.

The resolution, which will be voted on at DuPont’s annual meeting in Wilmington on April 26, calls on the board of directors to report by next year’s annual meeting on the company’s post-marketing monitoring of GMOs.

The shareholders also want DuPont to hire an independent environmental expert to review the company’s risk management processes.

“As investors, we are deeply concerned that DuPont may unknowingly be sowing the seeds of risk,” said John Wilson, director of socially responsible investing for CBIS.

“We don’t need another Teflon-like hidden risk at DuPont,” Wilson added, referring to concerns about the potential health and environmental effects of perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, a processing aid in the manufacturing of fluoropolymers that are used in a variety of products, including Teflon-coated cookware.

DuPont agreed in December to pay $10.25 million in fines and $6.25 million for environmental projects to settle allegations by the Environmental Protection Agency that the company kept information about PFOA from government regulators. A scientific review panel advising the EPA has recommended that PFOA be labeled a likely carcinogen.

DuPont is opposed to the shareholder resolution, saying many of the safeguards sought by the investors are in place.

“In the area of genetically engineered food products, the pre-market testing is a robust, multiyear process,” the company says in its proxy statement.

DuPont also notes that it established an independent biotechnology advisory council in 1999, and that data the company collects in any post-market monitoring is integrated into its stewardship process.

Stephanie Jacobson, a spokeswoman for Pioneer, said DuPont officials would not comment beyond the proxy statement.