Medtronic: PETA and Public Pushback
By: Cameron Parry
BIOT*6610 Individual Case Report
In the spring of 2005, the world’s largest medical device producer, Medtronic, received proposals from the animal rights organization PETA in an effort to minimize the company’s use of animals in their medical device testing. Unlike their battles with other companies, PETA was unable to propose that Medtronic completely eliminate the use of animals in testing because there are government regulations that require medical devices undergo a certain amount of animal testing prior to any clinical trials on humans. No clear agreement was made between the two sides, and in 2008 PETA filed another proposal to Medtronic, this time in an attempt to stop the medical device giant from outsourcing its animal testing to countries such as China, which have less stringent animal welfare laws. This, once again, resulted in no concrete agreement. Finally, in 2010 PETA filed another resolution proposal for Medtronic to stop performing tests on live animals, including the insertion of medical devices. Medtronic refused this proposal, and PETA withdrew their resolution proposal. However, the reputation of Medtronic took quite a hit in the eyes of many, especially those who support PETA and their initiatives. Being able to come to resolutions with PETA, along with getting out front on other public relation issues, may be in Medtronic’s best interest to repair its reputation in the eyes of the public.
Medtronic PLC is a medical device company founded in 1949 by a man named Earl Bakken, originally as a medical device repair shop. Through his business, he met a man named Dr. C. Walton Lillehei, a doctor at the University of Minnesota who was one of the pioneers of open-heart surgery. Lillehei approached Bakken in 1957 after a power outage caused the death of one of his pacemaker-dependent patients and asked Bakken if he had any potential solutions. Bakken, who considered himself quite innovative, ended up developing the first ever battery-powered artificial external pacemaker, which would turn out to be the first revolutionary product developed by Medtronic. Nowadays, Medtronic continues to be operational out of Minneapolis, Minnesota; however, for legal and taxing purposes, their headquarters are stationed in Dublin, Ireland.
Throughout its history, Medtronic has gone through multiple acquisitions, expanding its expertise and product line to grow on an international level. This was best represented by the 2014 purchase of Covidien for $42.9 billion, the largest medical device acquisition ever, which expanded Medtronic’s portfolio immensely and has helped continue their excellence across a wide variety of areas. This range of product areas include pacemakers, spinal implants, neuromodulators, as well as having an entire division dedicated to producing high-quality surgical devices. This continued expansion has been reflected by the company’s financial success, with Medtronic having a 2018 revenue of $29.95 billion USD. As a company, they have stood by their original mission statement that proclaims they aim:
To contribute to human welfare through application of biomedical engineering to alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is a non-profit animal rights organization founded in 1980 and is located in Norfolk, Virginia. As a whole, PETA has approximately 400 employees and nearly 6.5 million supporters worldwide, generating just under $50 million in revenue in 2017. The organization is famously known for standing up to a multitude of companies, organizations, and governments who they feel are not maintaining or practicing a high standard of animal welfare, whether it be through law, experimentation, or any form of animal cruelty. However, many followers and advocators of PETA feel as though the company doesn’t go far enough in their efforts and that their resolution proposals should be much more extreme than they are. Many times, people believe PETA proposes deals for the sake of making deals, rather than attempting to make significant change with their partners.
PETA is known to be very vocal in the public sphere, taking stances on an array of animal rights issues. Some of the areas where PETA directs a great deal of time and effort towards include pet rights (euthanasia, neutering, outdoor pets, etc.), clothing, wildlife conservation, and scientific/industrial testing on animals. Quite often, PETA employees will become shareholders in companies that have some animal rights issues, simply to be able to build relationships with the companies in hopes of coming to some sort of resolution. However, some feel that this may look bad on PETA if they have employees who are shareholders in companies with poor animal rights values that choose not to come to agreements with PETA.
MEDTRONIC VERSUS PETA
The battle between Medtronic and PETA began in 2005 when PETA proposed that the medical device giant implement an initiative that they called “Give the Animals 5”, where a company replaces five crude or cruel animal experiments with other scientifically-validated, non-animal experiments. This initiative was not meant to eradicate any misbehaviour or poor practices within a company, rather it was seen as a way for companies to start moving in the right direction. Although, PETA withdrew their proposal to Medtronic, claiming that they were having advanced discussions with Medtronic to develop a partnership that would last beyond a simple initiative.
However, this partnership did not go as well as PETA had anticipated, claiming that Medtronic refused to make significant strides regarding their animal testing practices. This lead to PETA filing another shareholder resolution with Medtronic in 2008, calling for them to stop their outsourcing of experimentation to China where their animal rights laws are almost non-existent. This seemed to have some real negative blowback onto Medtronic in the public’s eyes, as PETA made numerous appearances in the press calling out Medtronic, while at the same time essentially giving other companies doing similar things a heads-up that PETA would not turn a blind eye simply because a company moves its testing halfway across the world. Once again, PETA withdrew its shareholders resolution based on the advice given by PETA scientists and advisors, stating that Medtronic would comply with their wishes.
Not surprisingly, Medtronic seemed to sweep their PETA discussions under the rug by not following up or making any substantial progress on significant issues. With these previous resolution proposals not leading to any change, PETA once again went after Medtronic, this time filing a shareholder proposal that Medtronic stop using live animals for experimentation and demonstration for sales purposes. Finally, Medtronic agreed to some terms with PETA, stating that they would being performing feasibility tests to determine whether or not they are able to stop using live animals to test their devices. PETA seemed to be satisfied with this and withdrew the shareholder proposal again. However, the results of Medtronic’s feasibility tests were not what PETA hoped, and Medtronic claimed that they would be unable to confirm the safety of their devices without being able to test them on animals first, and that they will continue to use live animals until other solutions come along.
The five year battle with PETA overall gave Medtronic an extraordinarily large amount of bad press, causing many people to question whether or not it should be acceptable to put the needs of humans above the welfare of living animals. Medtronic spent close to five year skirting around the issues that PETA brought to light, rather than coming forward and making definitive statements in the early going. By finally doing the feasibility tests in 2010, Medtronic was able to save face by claiming they aren’t just using animals for their own convenience and benefit, but rather it is for the safety of humans. Although their public battles seem to have calmed down, PETA remains active in their attempt to make progress with Medtronic.
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