Focusing on product safety
Before crop protection products and technologies can be introduced to the market, they must demonstrate that they are harmless to people and animals and can be used without causing unjustifiable burden on the environment. For this they require official authorization, which is regulated by numerous international and national laws and provisions. The requirements for marketing authorization, particularly as pertains to the environment, have risen sharply in recent years with the goal of further increasing product safety and minimizing potential risks. CropScience satisfies all the regulatory requirements of the countries in which our products are sold to protect crops.
Product safety and environmental compatibility of crop protection products and technologies play a central role in development. CropScience examines the products during the development phase in stringent tests that are required by law. The tests evaluate a product’s mode of action, its ecotoxicological and toxicological properties and potential remaining trace concentrations in the plants or the environment following proper application. Each new crop protection active ingredient and each new technology must undergo several years of studies and testing to ensure that it can be applied effectively and that its use is safe for people, animals and the environment.
It takes roughly 10 years for a crop protection product or technology to complete the entire development process including all studies and be launched onto the market. But our product stewardship does not end there. CropScience also observes the International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The principles of this code cover the entire life cycle of a product or technology, from its development to its application and beyond. We implement all major aspects of responsible product handling in our Product Stewardship Program, which is based on the principles of our Product Stewardship Policy.
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Even beyond its core business, CropScience participates specifically in projects aimed at increased product stewardship – such as the Better Sugarcane Initiative, which works to promote sustainable sugarcane cultivation, and the International Sustainability & Carbon Certification organization, which is working to establish a system for certifying biomass and bioenergy. We are also a member of the Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil Production and the Round Table for Responsible Soy (RTRS). In 2015, we signed an agreement with RTRS to support the certification of soybean production in Brazil. In the United States, the e3 cotton sustainability program was introduced to support farmers in the production of sustainably grown cotton, which is much in demand by retailers. Farmers who sign up for the program commit to ensuring that the cultivation of their cotton is certified as traceable, environmentally responsible, economically viable and socially equitable.
Responsibility for customers and partners
The application of crop protection products requires the greatest possible care. Supporting our customers and partners in the proper and safe handling of our seed and crop protection products is therefore a focus of our product stewardship. In this connection, we offer targeted training measures worldwide particularly for farmers and dealers that are designed to promote the responsible handling of our products and thus improve safety for users, the environment and consumers. These training measures are carried out in all countries in which our products are sold. Responsibility for their implementation lies with the country organizations, which align their training concepts to the needs of the respective countries.
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We maintained our training activities in the Asia and Latin America regions again in 2015. In India, CropScience trained farmers in good agricultural practice. We teach them how they can enhance the growth of their produce, use crop protection products effectively and safely, and thus increase the quality of their harvested goods. This opens up new ways of marketing their products that help smallholder farmers in particular to gain increased profit from them.
Our AgroVida program in Latin America comprises various initiatives with which we have been continuously increasing the farmers’ safety awareness and specialist expertise for more than 20 years. Safety training offerings for farmers are an important aspect here. In 2015, for instance, we trained more than 35,100 farmers in the Andean region and almost 30,400 farmers in the Central America and Caribbean region (excluding Mexico). Together with the international crop protection association CropLife, we also carried out safety training measures in numerous African countries in 2015.
Our product stewardship measures also include internal employee training measures. Our Product Stewardship Policy also provides information on all principles for the responsible handling of our products, combined with specific instructions for use for our employees and those who work with our products.
In addition to training activities, we produce manuals explaining the safe use and scope of protective clothing and the correct storage and disposal of our products. These manuals are available online to our customers and partners, an example being the “DressCode” containing information on optimal protective clothing for the handling of our products. They are also distributed in the aforementioned training courses as brochures or information sheets. Furthermore, we offer farmers our support in implementing practical steps for user and environmental protection.
Users of our products can contact CropScience through a range of communication channels should they have complaints or feedback or wish to report any incidents. These include direct contact with our sales staff; our hotline, which is printed on all our product packaging; and, for example, in Germany, the “Agrar Telefon” hotline. All incoming product complaints and incidents are locally compiled and processed by the respective CropScience experts. Entries necessitating corrective measures are additionally recorded in a global database. An internal Bayer directive governs the processing, communication and, if necessary, implementation of corrective measures. Employee training courses also take place regularly here as well.
Crop protection products in the environment
Stringent legal regulations apply to the approval and use of crop protection products. They are aimed at protecting the environment from unwanted side effects, as every farmer’s livelihood depends on an intact environment and fertile soil. Responsible Care is extremely important in all areas of agriculture to minimize possible effects and the discharge of crop protection products outside of the treated crops. Bayer believes its responsibility includes protecting the environment from emissions and optimizing the safety of its products through extensive stewardship measures.
Protecting water from agricultural emissions and maintaining good groundwater quality are cornerstones of the responsible use of water as a natural resource. It cannot be completely ruled out in agricultural practice that substances can leach into groundwater or can be emitted into flowing waters and lakes through surface runoff. Improper disposal of residual liquids following the cleaning of spraying apparatus can also lead to discharges of crop protection products into surface water. The application of crop protection products is subject to national water protection regulations, including in Europe the requirements of the Water Framework Directive. CropScience places particular importance on water protection and supports agriculture in environmentally friendly land cultivation and the disposal of residual liquids following the application of crop protection products.
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In the area of water pollution mitigation, we promote the biological remediation system Phytobac™ to customers. This is intended to prevent point source discharges of crop protection active ingredients into water bodies during the disposal of residual liquids that are generated during the filling and cleaning of spraying devices. There are already some 3,500 Phytobac™ plants in Europe (primarily in France).
Erosion and runoff processes on agricultural land can also lead to substance emissions into adjacent water systems. In this context, we are collaborating with external partners on the development of a web-based geoinformation system for water protection in agriculture. This enables the visualization of site-related runoff/erosion risks by means of high-resolution risk maps supplemented with suitable mitigation proposals. It is planned for this system to be used as an advisory tool for water protection in agriculture.
Pollinator protection is another focus of our product stewardship activities. As a Life Science company with a long tradition in agriculture and animal health, we know how important healthy bees are – not just as pollinators for sustainable food production and as honey producers, but also due to the key role they play in many ecosystems throughout the world. Promoting pollinator health and sustainable agriculture is of central importance for our business activity. In our view, protecting honey bees and wild bees is a matter that concerns society at large; maintaining their health is everyone’s responsibility. Bayer takes its role very seriously in this regard and wants to make a contribution.
In our Bee Care Program, we coordinate and combine all Bayer activities in the area of pollinator health and pollinator safety in order to advance the development and implementation of suitable solutions. Within the framework of this program, we proactively approach numerous stakeholder groups – including industry partners, scientists, farmers, beekeepers, governmental agencies, nongovernmental organizations and representatives of the food value chain – to improve our networks with them, address their questions and concerns and seek opportunities for cooperating with them in the area of pollinator health. Bee Care Centers exist in Germany and the United States for this purpose. In 2015, furthermore, we entered into a collaboration in the area of bee health in Latin America with the Fraunhofer Chile Research Foundation. A global Bee Care network has now been built up.
The Bayer Bee Care Program combines our well-founded knowledge in the areas of animal health and crop protection so as to contribute to protecting pollinator health. The objectives here are to:
- Develop further solutions to promote bee health so that beekeepers can better fight pests and disease pathogens
- Actively promote the bee-friendly use of our innovative solutions (products, technologies and services) and to enable involved stakeholder groups to ensure bee safety in farming and gardening
- Expand and improve pollinators’ food sources to help offset nutritional deficits
- Openly and actively promote an honest dialogue and transparent communication on pollinator health with all involved stakeholders
- Exchange knowledge and specialist information with all stakeholder groups and institutions (beekeepers, farmers, research institutes, NGOs, political decision-makers and registration authorities)
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Bee health is impacted by several factors for which Bayer pursues various solutions.
Bayer is investing in the research and development of a new form of application for products to control the Varroa mite, which scientists consider to be the biggest danger for honey bees. Bayer is also active in setting up flowering areas that can provide pollinators with a rich food source for pollen and nectar. The treatment of seed is an important step to protect sensitive crop seedlings from pest pressure. In the sowing of treated seed, however, small amounts of insecticide dust that is potentially harmful to pollinators can be released. Our “Zero Dust” project and further cooperation projects to reduce dust emissions help to minimize the dust release.
Bayer is firmly convinced that neonicotinoids Neonicotinoids Chemical class of systemic insecticides are an important insecticide class with beneficial properties. They are effective against key pests that in many regions have already developed resistances against other substances. They are especially user-safe due to their low human toxicity. Seed treatment with neonicotinoids is an environmentally friendly application technique because it significantly reduces the likelihood that pollinators and other environmental organisms can come into contact with crop protection products. Bayer is also convinced that neonicotinoids are safe for bees if they are used responsibly and properly. This was confirmed by risk evaluations performed during marketing authorization reviews by the responsible authorities of countries outside Europe. In Europe, however, Bayer products that contain two of our neonicotinoid Neonicotinoids Chemical class of systemic insecticides compounds have been prohibited since 2013 from use in crops that are attractive to bees. The European Commission has recently instructed the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to examine all newly available data and reports from the past two years. The results are expected for the end of 2016.
Bayer has brought the restriction on neonicotinoid use in the E.U. before the Court of Justice of the European Union in order to clarify the legal basis of the Commission’s decision. This decision is based on an assessment by the EFSA that in turn is based on neither a validated nor an officially recognized risk assessment system. With a view to future investment decisions, the company is primarily asking that the court clarify the regulatory framework.