As You Sow has graced this blog before, notably in a March 13, 2015 posting about their success getting the corporate giant, Dunkin’ Donuts, to stop its practice of making powdered sugar whiter by adding nanoscale (and other scales) of titanium dioxide. What’s notable about As You Sow is that it files shareholder resolutions (in other words, the society owns shares of their corporate target) as one of its protest tactics.
This time, As You Sow has focused on Walgreens, a US pharmacy giant. This company has chosen a response that differs from Dunkin’ Donuts’ according to a Sept. 21, 2016 news item on Nanotechnology Now,
Rather than respond to shareholder concerns that Walgreens’ store-brand infant formula may contain harmful, “needle-like” nanomaterials, Walgreens filed a motion with the SEC [US Securities and Regulatory Commission] to block the inquiry.
A Sept. 21, 2016 As You Sow press release, which originated the news item, fills in a few details,
Walgreen’s Well Beginnings™ Advantage® infant formula has been reported to contain engineered hydroxyapatite (HA) nanoparticles, according to independent laboratory testing commissioned by nonprofit group Friends of the Earth. The E.U. Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) has determined that nano-HA may be toxic to humans and that the needle-form of nano-HA should not be used in products.
Walgreens’ “no-action letter” to the SEC argues that the company can exclude the shareholder proposal because “the use of nanomaterials in products … does not involve a significant social policy issue.” The company also claims its infant formula does not contain engineered nanomaterials, contrary to the independent laboratory testing.
“Walgreens is effectively silencing shareholder discussion of this subject,” said Austin Wilson, Environmental Health Program Manager of shareholder advocacy group As You Sow. “If Walgreens had responded to consumers’ and investors’ concerns, there would be no need for shareholders to file a proposal.”
“Shareholders will ultimately bear the burden of litigation if infants are harmed,” said Danielle Fugere, President and Chief Counsel of As You Sow. “Walgreens’ attempt to silence, rather than address, shareholder concerns raises red flags. To be successful, Walgreens must remain a trusted name for consumers and it can’t do that by sweeping new health studies under the rug.”
Nanoparticles are extremely small particles that can permeate cell membranes and travel throughout the body, including into organs, in ways that larger ingredients cannot. The extremely small size of nanoparticles may result in greater toxicity for human health and the environment.
The shareholder proposal asks the company to issue a report about actions the company is taking to reduce or eliminate the risk of nanoparticles.
In 2014, Dunkin’ Donuts reached an agreement with As You Sow to remove the nanoparticle titanium dioxide from its donuts. Starbucks plans to remove it from all products by 2017, and Krispy Kreme is reformulating its products to exclude titanium dioxide and other nanoparticles.
To seemingly dismiss concerns about their brand infant formula appears to be an odd tactic for Walgreens. After all this is infant safety and it’s the kind of thing that makes people very, very angry. On the other hand, Friends of the Earth has not always been scrupulous in its presentation of ‘facts’ (see my Feb. 9, 2012 posting).
2016 hasn’t been a good year for Walgreens. In June they ended their high profile partnership with blood testing startup, Theranos. From a June 13, 2016 article by Abigail Tracy for Vanity Fair,
After months of getting pummeled at the hands of regulators and the media over its questionable blood-testing technology, Theranos may have just been dealt its final blow. Walgreens, the main source of Theranos’s customers, has officially ended its partnership with the embattled biotech company, cutting off a critical revenue stream for founder Elizabeth Holmes’s once-promising start-up.
In a statement issued Sunday [June 12, 2016], the drugstore chain announced that it was terminating its nearly three-year-long relationship with the once $9 billion company and would immediately close all 40 Theranos-testing locations in its Arizona stores, The Wall Street Journal reports. Like so many in Silicon Valley, Walgreens fell victim to Holmes’s claims that Theranos’s technology, and its proprietary diagnostic product, Edison, would revolutionize blood testing and put its rivals, Laboratory Corporation of America and Quest Diagnostics, out of business. When it inked its deal with Holmes in 2013, Walgreens failed to properly vet the Edison technology, which was billed as being capable of conducting hundreds of diagnostics tests with just a few drops of blood.
You can read more about the Theranos situation in Tracy’s June 13, 2016 article and I have some details in a Sept. 2, 2016 posting where I feature the scandal and the proposed movie about Theranos (and other ‘science’ movies).
Getting back to Walgreens, you can find the As You Sow resolution here.