As part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP), we are committed to helping one billion people improve their health and hygiene, halving the environmental impact of our products and sourcing 100% of our agricultural raw materials sustainably.
Unilever believes that Biotechnology offers important opportunities to help us meet our USLP commitments both in sustainable sourcing of ingredients and the development of innovative products.
Biotechnology can be described as the application of biological systems to develop ingredients and products. Humankind has used biotechnology in agriculture, food production, and medicine. Biotechnology has applications in four major industrial areas, including health care (medical), crop production and agriculture, non-food (industrial) uses (e.g. biodegradable plastics, vegetable oils, biofuels), and environmental uses.
Biotechnology has a history of use to modify crops for agriculture. For our position on use of GMOs and genetically modified crops, our communication can be accessed here.
Below we outline our position on Biotechnology with respect to production of new ingredients and products in a contained and controlled process through fermentation.
Biotechnology is becoming increasingly applied as a production route to sustainably produce ingredients at scale.
The biotechnology techniques – combined with traditional fermentation processes, such as that used to make bread and cheese – are now widely used to create everyday materials and products, ranging from pharmaceuticals and skin cleansers to enzymes. As these biotechnology approaches become increasingly commonplace, it is possible to produce a diverse range of more sustainable, functional and cost effective ingredients to benefit consumers.
Traditional genetic modification can be used in biotechnology to make ingredients at scale and the resulting products are free of any GMO. This is a well established process and the materials that result from this activity can be referred to as ‘biotechnology derived ingredients’. These ingredients are free of any genetically modified organisms (GMO).
Unilever believes that biotechnology can play and important role in the development of innovative products and production of ingredients for the benefits of the consumer and the environment.
We are already safely using biotechnology derived ingredients. For decades biotechnology produced enzymes have been applied in our Homecare business. More recently, we started using algal oils in Personal Care soap bar products (or soap bars) and future innovations using biotechnology derived ingredients are being explored.
We believe that biotechnology can help make affordable products in a sustainable manner that are better and more effective to the benefit of consumers, society and the environment. Such benefits can be seen, for example, in how new biotechnology-derived ingredients and processing can improve cleaning performance across different water qualities and temperatures, deliver better hygiene and provide improved health and nutrition benefits.
Our approach to biotechnology reflects the way we use science and innovation responsibly to drive sustainable living.
Commitment to safety
Our priority is to provide products that are safe and which meet our own strict safety standards and the regulatory requirements of the countries in which they are marketed. The decision to use new technologies in our products will always be taken on the basis of comprehensive safety and environmental evaluations and risk assessments carried out by our Safety and Environmental Assurance Centre.
We only use biotechnology-derived ingredients and processes in products if they meet the latest scientific and technological standards for safety and environmental stewardship. This applies to all our biotechnology supplier partnerships. We use controlled and contained production methods for all biotechnology-derived ingredients: this means that after fermentation no active ingredients are released into waste streams.
We actively apply and support a robust regulatory framework wherever we operate, for Unilever and our suppliers.
Commitment to sustainability
In our application of biotechnology, we aim to use sustainably sourced materials as feedstock for production of the ingredients and apply methods, which have a superior life cycle assessment, LCA. LCA involves studying the environmental impacts of a product or process throughout its history.
Unilever remains firmly committed to improving the lives of smallholder farmers. There is no conflict in our commitment to smallholder farmers and our support for biotechnology. We assess the risks and challenges to smallholder farmers on a case-by-case basis.
In doing so we take into consideration the competition for land use to generate food versus the land use for chemicals and assess the pressures on supply and demand. We turn to waste streams from agriculture, industry and society as a means to support biotechnology. In addition, efforts are made to ensure alternative sourcing of ingredients through biotechnology does not does not disadvantage smallholder farmer practices that may make similar ingredients in markets today.
Commitment to transparency
We are open, transparent and committed to engaging with stakeholders to promote the responsible development of new biotechnology approaches for our products. We provide information about the processes applied in a way that is meaningful for our consumers and enables them to make informed choices.
In addition, we comply with regulatory requirements on disclosure.
Working with partners
Unilever works with biotechnology industry partners such as Novozymes and Solazyme (now TerraVia) in bringing new opportunities for materials to use in consumer products. Our partners use established and proven biotechnology methods in a controlled and contained environment.