Kellogg Company – Nanotechnology in Food (2009)
Outcome: Successfully Withdrawn
Nanotechnology is the science of manipulating matter at the molecular scale to build structures, tools, or products, known as nanomaterials. The extremely small particles create opportunities for innovation; however the scientific community has raised serious questions about safety. The processed food industry is reportedly involved in research on the use of nanomaterials, but it is not publicly known whether such materials are used in Kellogg products or packaging.
The novel properties of nanomaterials offer many new opportunities for food industry applications, for example as potent nutritional additives, stronger flavorings and colorings, or antibacterial ingredients for food packaging. However these same properties may also result in greater toxicity risks for human health and the environment. Because of their very small size, nanoparticles may have much greater access to our bodies, so they are more likely than larger particles to enter cells, tissues and organs. In fact, laboratory studies report that many types of nanoparticles interfere with normal cellular function and cause oxidative damage and cell death.
Some consumer products that incorporate nanomaterials are likely to be used by children or by women who are pregnant or nursing. Therefore, we are particularly concerned about liability risks from nanotechnology in this type of consumer product, including cereal or other products marketed to children.
Given recent scientific findings, proponents believe companies that use nanomaterials in consumer products may face significant financial, liability and reputational risks. The insurance giant, Swiss Re, notes that “what makes nanotechnology completely new from the point of view of insuring against risk is the unforeseeable nature of the risks it entails and the recurrent and cumulative losses it could lead to, given the new properties — hence different behavior — of nanotechnologically manufactured products… …[T]hese artificially manufactured nanoparticles will be traceable back to the manufacturer, which makes the establishment of liability easier than in the case of substances that are universally present, such as ultrafine particles from diesel exhaust fumes.”
Proponents believe nanomaterials are being sold to the public at large without adequate testing to ensure safety, and often without any notice or warning of their presence or potential hazard, placing manufacturers in potential peril.
Proponents believe that the best way to protect the public and to prevent unnecessary litigation-related financial losses may be to avoid producing products with nanomaterials unless they have been subject to robust evaluation for human health and environmental safety, and to label all products that contain nanomaterials.
Shareholders request that the Board publish a report to shareholders on Kellogg’s policies on the use of nanomaterials in products and packaging, at reasonable expense and omitting proprietary information, by August 1, 2009. This report should identify Kellogg product or packaging categories that currently contain nanomaterials, and discuss any new initiatives or actions, aside from regulatory compliance, that management is taking to reduce or eliminate potentially harmful consumer exposures.
Proponents believe the report should discuss activities such as labeling, consumer education and options for selection of materials.