We live in a time when the public’s trust in institutions is at an all-time low. It doesn’t matter if it’s a business, a government, an NGO or the media—consumers are suspicious of the motives of organizations they tended to trust in the past. And we can’t blame them. Industry scandals, populist politics and discussions about news quality, also known as “fake news”, have become reoccurring events in recent years.
One reason for the public’s loss of trust in institutions might be the lack of transparency in the ways these institutions operate in a world that has grown increasingly complex. In the agricultural sector, we need to acknowledge that our industry hasn’t done its best to transparently explain the benefits of innovation to consumers in the past. We were convinced that scientific facts would prevail and consumers would trust us, as well as the farmers who choose to apply our products on their fields. This belief has proven wrong. Today, consumers are more skeptical about agricultural innovation than ever, and their skepticism is fed by powerful NGOs and activist groups with a strong business interest in discrediting the safety studies that led regulators all over the world to approve agricultural products.
It is for these reasons that Bayer wants to provide more transparency to the way we perform our business. To regain trust, last year we decided as the first company in our industry to make safety studies about our products publicly available to anyone. Whether it is disclosing what was once considered confidential information about a new crop protection product or a clinical trial involving a new medicine, we want the public to better understand the scientific rigor that’s involved in evaluating the safety of our products.
We firmly believe that transparency is the currency of trust. And, given the scale of the public discussion about the safety of glyphosate, our company decided to take another step to provide insights to what we as an industry know about the safety of this herbicide. Last week, Bayer announced to publish summary studies about the product safety of glyphosate on its transparency website on 07 December 2018. In addition, Bayer will make company-owned glyphosate safety study reports available on the transparency platform in early 2019.
However, being transparent to regain public trust in our products and innovations is only a starting point in a discussion that goes far beyond consumer preferences. Last week, I had the pleasure to meet the EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, in Brussels. In his speech at the Bayer Annual Reception, the Commissioner emphasized that regaining societal trust in scientific studies will be crucial to maintain Europe’s reputation of being an innovation engine in the world, as thus keep investments in this area within the EU. Therefore, the Commission is also currently reworking the European General Food Law to further improve international quality standards for health and nutrition, and make the system more transparent to foster public support.
With a changing climate, evolving pests, and competition for scarce natural resources, we simply must keep agriculture at the forefront of innovation to ensure food security. We believe transparency will help to bridge the gap of understanding that often separates producers from consumers. Also it will allow us to talk much more and openly about the risks involved in products like glyphosate, as well as new breeding techniques such as CRISPR/CAS.
I truly hope that more transparency will allow us to elevate the discussion to be talking with each other in a dialogue, and not simply at each other from our own points of view. Let us explore the value that lies within transparency, and harvest the fruits of open discussions for the benefit of farmers, consumers, and our planet.