Providing Safe, Nutritious Food

How to Meet a Mom’s Safety Standards

We understand: (*whispers*) pesticides can seem scary. How do we know they’re safe, really? Or maybe more importantly, how can YOU know they’re safe?

But Safety Comes First

Let us introduce you to Dana Sargent. When it comes to pesticides, she knows her stuff. And she’s got a fancy title to show for it, too. (She’s Bayer’s Global Head of Regulatory Toxicology, since you asked! As well as a mom, a retired Army Major, and wife to a race car driver!)

Yeah, you could say she knows a little bit about keeping people safe. Her job is to test the safety of Bayer products and then work with government regulators who are ultimately responsible for approving them.

(Oh, and we haven’t forgotten about animals and natural resources — some of Dana’s colleagues focus on ensuring pesticides are safe for wildlife and the environment.)

We spent some time with Dana recently, and she gave us the lowdown on pesticide testing at Bayer.

Dana Sargent, Head of Regulatory Toxicology at Bayer Crop Science

Where to Begin?

“Safety is the foundation for every scientist in our organization,” Dana says. “As they are testing and evaluating our products, our scientists know that Bayer as a company will always support them — and that if they feel uncomfortable with some safety aspects, we will address it. With Bayer, it is the strongest part of our values and our culture to ensure that the products we put on the market are safe.”

“Ultimately, we can all agree that safety is our number one concern,” she adds. “Of all the things I see in my kids’ future and the possibilities for what they can accomplish, I don’t want them to have to worry about the safety of products and where our generation has left the environment.”

Why Do We Need Pesticides Anyway?

“People often hear in a very general sense that pesticides are chemicals, and that chemicals are bad. I like to take the time to explain just how much we know about them,” Dana says.

And what’s the reality? First, Dana explains that these products are actually super important to modern agriculture, as they help farmers to stock our grocery stores with healthy, safe and nutritious food. Without them, we’d have far less food… and that’s clearly not a great thing for health and nutrition when there are people who still go hungry every day.

“I truly care about people’s concerns and am so passionate about creating better, safer products, because first and foremost, I’m a mom.”
Dana Sargent, Head of Regulatory Toxicology at Bayer Crop Science

Dana is proud of both being a Bayer employee and a mom of two kids.

This is one of the biggest motivations for Dana. “I truly care about people’s concerns and am so passionate about creating better, safer products, because first and foremost, I’m a mom,” she says. “I look to the future for my kids just like everyone else does. I want to say that my work in toxicology helped ensure that my children have a safe and abundant food supply.”

OK, Now Hit Me with the Science

We already know a lot about the properties of our compounds — and we use many, many tests to ensure we only bring the safest products to the market.

But when Dana and her team think they might have something promising, here’s how they work out if it’s safe.

Testing the Safety of Pesticides for Humans

1. Consider all possible scenarios for people coming into contact with it.
How could people come in contact with it?
For example, we consider scenarios for people ingesting it, breathing it in, or spilling it on their skin.

How much?
We consider whether someone would be exposed to a large dose or a small dose in different scenarios.

For how long?
We look at the scenarios for a onetime accident as well as a lifetime of exposure (from eating an apple a day to keep the doctor away).

Testing the Safety of Pesticides for Humans

2. Consider critical aspects to human health.
Are there specific effects on different organs?
For example, we look at specific potential effects on the kidneys, liver, and nerves.

Would any effects be passed down?
We examine potential effects on pregnancy as well as any longterm risks to future generations.

Testing the Safety of Pesticides for Humans

3. Hit the lab
What chemicals show potential?
We start with cells in a petri dish. We can quickly screen up to 100,000 chemicals a year in hopes of finding at least one chemical that meets our safety criteria.

What do simulations tell us?
We then run selected chemicals through computer models (many designed for pharmaceuticals) to understand how the chemical will react in the body.

What does testing tell us?
Finally, we complete more than 100 human and environmental safety tests required by law to register a chemical for use by farmers and consumers.

And How Do We Know That’s Reliable in the Real World?

Well, it doesn’t stop there. Once a product is on the market, what happens next?´

… *Drumroll please* ...

Yup, more testing! Or, as Dana puts it: “We keep testing, we keep evaluating, we keep updating our information on our chemicals.”

Basically, Bayer keeps watch as the product is used in the field. And if there’s anything going on that they didn’t see coming? “We immediately go in and investigate to resolve or fix the issue,” Dana says. “But it is very, very rare that we ever find something unexpected.”

Bayer continues to test older products using the latest methods. Typically, new data reinforces what researchers know. “Even as we improve our science, what we understand about the products doesn’t generally change,” Dana explains.

Did You Know?

Bayer tests a brand-new chemical for about 10 years before putting it on the market, learning all the ins and outs before it sees the light of day. One product can go through more than 1,000 tests, to determine if it’s safe for humans and the environment, to assess its effectiveness, and to analyze plant tolerance. Products only go to market if scientists and government experts are 100 percent confident in them.

How Many Scientists Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb Develop a Crop Protection Product?

Take a guess. Maybe 30? 100?

Pat yourself on the back if you said, “Higher. So much higher.”

“When we develop a molecule, there’s probably as many as 1,000 people worldwide involved,” Dana says. “That includes the chemists who develop the molecule, the scientists who assess human and environmental safety, efficacy and crop safety, and not forgetting the folks who work with farmers to figure out how they should use the product. It’s truly amazing!”

We guess it’s safe to say there’s a lot of brainpower in there.

Still not sure you can trust what a big company or a stranger says about safety? That’s no problem. We want to be an open book so we’re making our studies available to the public.

So, Dana – Why Is All This Your Cup of Tea?

“What I love about my job is the ability to use the best available science,” Dana says. “I am proud of our company’s commitment to innovation and driving the future of farming. But I am personally perhaps even more proud of our commitment to creating a safer, better world both today and tomorrow.”

We’re proud to have you watching out for us, Dana.