Revealed - the private interests behind the Public Research and Regulation Initiative

1.Public Research and Regulation - a profile
2.Public Research and Regulation at the CPB Liability meeting and the CPB-MOP2


In 1997, in the midst of the Biosafety Protocol negotiations, the Global Industry Coalition flew in a panel of ''public researchers'' to lend support to the industry''s case.

The biotech industry''s attempt to influence the negotiations, although unsuccessful at the time, seems to have provided the model for the new Public Research and Regulation Initiative, whose supporters will be active in Montreal in the coming days (see item 2), seeking to make sure their voice is heard at MOP2 and beyond by promoting GM research and opposing strict regulation.

Our new GM Watch profile (item 1) makes clear the dubious backgrounds and behaviour of those driving forward this new initiative, and exposes the truth about their claims to being independent of the biotech industry.

1.Public Research and Regulation
- a GM Watch profile
[for links to sources etc.]

Established in December 2004 in the Netherlands, Public Research and Regulation is a foundation with the stated aim of involving ''the public research sector in regulations relevant to the development and application of biotechnology''. The implicit concern is that the ''development and application'' of genetically modified organisms will be obstructed if regulations are too extensive, too complex or too stringent.

The foundation''s focus is not just on national regulations, and how they are implemented, but on the international agreements that influence them, particularly the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which controls the trade in genetically modified organisms. It is the view of the foundation that while industry and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were well represented both at the the negotiations that led to the adoption of the Protocol and at the first Meeting of Parties to the Protocol (MOP1 in February 2004), a third group ''the public research sector involved in developing biotechnological applications'' should also have been given a voice. The aim of the foundation is to make sure this sector has a bigger say on the Protocol at MOP2 (May-June 2005) and beyond.

The foundation also wants to talk up the benefits of public research into genetically modified crops and, in particular, to counter the ''misconception'' that GM crops are ''the exclusive domain of a handful of big, western multinationals.'' The foundation contrasts this handful of big companies with a ''public research sector involved in developing biotechnological applications, which includes over a hundred thousand researchers in thousands of governmental, academic and international research institutions in developing and developed countries.''

It is unclear how reliable these figures are, however, particularly as the foundation uses the vague term ''biotechnological applications'', which could have relevance to a whole variety of fields (medical, industrial, environmental and agricultural) and to a wide range of biological processes. It seems likely that the number of researchers involved specifically in developing GM crops - the foundation''s main point of concern - is a small fraction of the figure the foundation quotes. Moreover, following the launch of the initiative, and in the run up to MOP2, the ''list of public sector scientists and others who support the initiative and wish to be actively involved in the activities'' of the foundation amounted to just 113 scientists (as at 19 May 2005).

The list of those supporting the initiative also undermines the foundation''s clear cut separation of public research and private companies. The list includes, for instance, Dr. Andrew Bennett of the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture. Yet, 3 of the 5 seats on the Syngenta Foundation''s board are occupied by directors of Syngenta, the world''s largest biotech corporation, and Syngenta''s Chairman is the Foundation''s President. The Syngenta Foundation has been accused, by Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies, of conducting showcase projects that are more about generating useful public relations for GM crops than meeting the real needs of poor farmers in the developing world. DeGrassi writes, ''The Syngenta Foundation - has a poor record of supporting client-driven public agricultural research institutes''.

The call for increased leverage for ''nonprofit'' ''public sector'' players, in fact, belies the heavy industrial-alignment of most public sector agricultural biotechnology, where there is a long history of involvement with intensive agricultural R&D, of collaboration with agribusiness multinationals and of significant dependence on commercial funding. The effect of this has inevitably been to generate a convergence of interests, views and even personnel, between private sector and public sector operators.

Other supporters of the initiative also point to this interpenetration of public and private. Dr. Gerard Barry, for instance, although now an employee of the International Rice Research Institute was formerly a research director at Monsanto. The Chairman of the Public Research and Regulation foundation, Prof. Phil Dale, works at an institute, the John Innes Centre, which has benefitted from tens of millions of pounds in funding from big biotechnology corporations.

This public-private convergence can also be seen in the way in which the initiative was launched. The formal launch took place at the Danforth Center in St. Louis, Missouri (3-4 March, 2005), hosted by Roger Beachy, the Center''s founding president. St Louis is the home town of Monsanto, and the Danforth Center was, in fact, established by Monsanto ''and academic partners'' with a $70-million pledge from the company. Monsanto also donated the 40-acre tract of land, valued at $11.4 million, on which the Center is built.

Similarly, Monsanto and other biotechnology companies have helped to fund the research of the Center''s founding president, Roger Beachy. As well as being on the Public Research and Regulation foundation''s Steering Committee, Beachy is also co-Chair of the scientific advisory board of the Akkadix Corporation, a global agricultural biotechnology company. He is also on the scientific advisory board of Spacehab, Inc. Beachy is also a consultant to the United Soybean Board which works to ''make U.S. soybeans the world leader'' . This clearly illustrates the extent to which a public sector biotechnologist can be enmeshed in a series of private sector interests.

The activities of the foundation are similarly enmeshed. Prior to the formal launch of the foundation, a number of ''awareness raising activities'' at events involving public sector scientists were undertaken with the financial support of the private sector. The private sector is also contributing to the running costs of the foundation. The foundation is even administered via a private sector company - Cambridge Biomedical Consultants Ltd.

Conflicting interests also enmesh the prime movers behind the initiative, Willy de Greef and Piet van der Meer, who are on the Foundation''s four-member Board as well as being the Vice-Chairs of its Steering Committee. De Greef is currently the Executive Director of his own private consultancy - International Biotech Regulatory Services - but until the end of 2002 he was the Global Head of Regulatory Affairs - Biotechnology for Syngenta.

Syngenta has been a key player in the Global Industry Coalition which has represented the biotechnology industry throughout the Biosafety Protocol negotiations. Although it has been claimed in relation to the initiative that, ''nobody has mobilized these [public sector] scientists before'', this is not in fact the case. In 1997 de Greef was part of a panel of ''public researchers'' brought in to support the industry''s case by the Global Industry Coalition during the course of the Biosafety Protocol negotiations. Although unsuccessful at the time, this attempt to influence the negotiations appears to have provided the model for the Public Research and Regulation initiative - with the crucial difference that the ''public researchers'' are now presented as a third party, wholly independent of industry.

De Greef has also been Chairman of the ICC Commission on Biosociety, which has sought to project a positive vision of biotechnology to government and international policy-makers in order to counter what de Greef calls the ''uncoordinated proliferation of international policies and regulations affecting the life sciences''. ''Everybody seems to feel the need to make laws about the life sciences,'' de Greef was quoted as saying and this ''threatens the survival of the innovative wave.'' From this, it seems that what de Greef was trying to achieve as head of a Commission of ''40 senior executives from companies and business associations involved in agriculture, food processing and pharmaceuticals'' was strikingly similar to what he is now trying to achieve via the Public Research and Regulation foundation. The critical difference is that there is no ambiguity about whom the ICC (International Chamber of Commerce) represents. (Companies form group to champion biotechnology)

The other main mover behind the Public Research and Regulation foundation, Piet van der Meer, is married to a lobbyist for the Global Industry Coalition. As Laura Reifschneider, Laura van der Meer won notoriety during the Protocol negotiations for the fervour of her lobbying on behalf of the Coalition.

Laura Reifschneider''s husband-to-be was also involved in the negotiations, ostensibly as a non-partisan expert chairing the technical terms subworking group in the Protocol negotiations throughout their duration. However, Dr Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, Director General of the Environmental Protection Authority of Ethiopia and Chair of the Africa Group at the Protocol negotiations, found Piet van der Meer to be very far from impartial. ''Piet was the most unfair of the chairs in the negotiations. Many of our delegates were, understandably, not very fluent in English. He used to make them sound as ridiculous as he could by finding fault with how they said what they said, instead of focusing on the content. He often blatantly disregarded them when they wanted to make interventions. Sometimes he championed ideas, disregarding the fact that he was chairing. For example, he made the issue of protoplastic fusion almost useless by championing that it be considered as a biosafety issue only when the fusion happend accross a taxonomic level above the family.'' (personal communication)

Piet van der Meer is also said to have shown a similar bias in the post he subsequently took up in December 2002 as Programme Manager of the United Nations Environmental Program-GEF Projects on Implementation of National Biosafety Frameworks. The aim of these projects was to assist countries to develop national biosafety regulations in line with the Biosafety Protocol but Juan López Villar of Friends of the Earth International, who observed Piet van der Meer in action at a UNEP workshop in Turkey in December 2003, says van der Meer used his UNEP role to implicitely promote ''a fast-track process of creating minimalist biosafety frameworks''. (personal communication)

Some of van der Meer''s critics in developing countries accuse him of ''letting industry in to biosafety development'' via the UNEP-GEF initiative. They point to the UNEP-GEF Workshop on the Implementation of the National Biosafety Framework of Kenya (April 2003) as a classic example. Here the international panel of ''independent experts'' - ''Resouce Persons'' - who addressed the Kenyan bureaucrats and others on the issues of GM crops and their regulation at the start of the workshop, consisted of:

*Dr S. Wakhusama of ISAAA, an industry-backed body which has had leading executives from Monsanto and Syngenta on its board;
*Dr C.S. Prakash, who has acted as a GM ambassador for the US State Dept and whose controversial pro-GM Internet campaign was co-founded with the free market Competitive Enterprise Institute;
*Dr Marceline Egnin, a colleague of Dr Prakash''s;
*Dr Florence Wambugu, a Monsanto-trained scientist whose controversial communications activities are funded by CropLife International;
*Dr Eugene Terry, the Implementing Director of AATF, a ''public-private partnership designed to remove many of the barriers'' to the uptake of GM crops by Kenyan farmers;
*Dr Silas Obukosia of USAID Kenya; USAID''s ''training'' and ''awareness raising programmes'' provide companies such as Syngenta, Pioneer Hi-Bred and Monsanto with opportunities for ''technology transfer''. Monsanto, in turn, provides financial support for USAID.

Amidst considerable criticism, Van de Meer quit UNEP for private consultancy.

Willy de Greef has also been in the firing line over what is seen as an extreme bias in the way he has sought to promote GMOs. In February 2005 de Greef was invited to address an audience of ''producers and agribusiness representatives from across the United States'' at a U.S. Grain Council''s Meeting in California. According to a press report, de Greef told his audience that the ''failure of developing countries to accept genetically enhanced crops is a tragedy''.

Referring indirectly to the rejection of GM food aid by Zambia, he is reported to have talked about the need to identify those responsible for the ''outrage'' and ''tragedy'' of having ''children starve'' rather than eat ''genetically enhanced foods'': ''How did we get that far; who was responsible for whispering (those) messages to those policy makers
That is something that I would rather sooner or later want to find out, because you''re talking about literally crimes against humanity.'' In fact, not a single person is known to have died as a result of the Zambian government''s decision to reject GM grain. Alternative non-GM supplies were found and there does not appear to have been any kind of ''tragedy'', let alone ''crimes against humanity''. In short, de Greef appears to have rewritten history in order to create a compelling argument for GM crop adoption. (Biotech Rejection a ''Tragedy'')

The backgrounds and behaviour of those supporting this initiative suggest it would be unwise to take at face value their demands that they should be allowed to ''weigh in'' at meetings that help determine biosafety rules on the grounds that they represent a large group of disenfranchised experts who are independent of industry.
2.Side events of the Public Research and Regulation Initiative at the CPB Liability meeting and the CPB-MOP2
Draft note version 21 May 2005

The Public Research and Regulation Initiative aims to involve the public research sector in regulations and International agreements that are relevant for biotechnology, such as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

The Public Research and Regulation Initiative will participate as an observer in:

- The first meeting of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group on Liability and Redress under the Biosafety Protocol (Montreal, Canada, 25 - 27 May 2005)

- The Second meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (Montreal, Canada, 30 May - 3 June 2005).

For more information about the participation of the Public Research and Regulation Initiative in MOP2, see, under ''events''

The Public Research and Regulation Initiative will hold a lunch-time side event at the liability meeting and two lunch time side events during MOP2. The main purpose of these side events is to inform the negotiators what kind of activities are being carried out in public research institutions world wide, and for which purposes that work is initiated.

The following side events are scheduled:

- May 26, "Liability and public research".

- 30 May: Public research in agricultural biotechnology in developing countries.

- 31 May: Public research in agricultural biotechnology through collaborations between developed countries and developing countries

The side event on May 26, will have the following topics:

1. Overview of the public research in agricultural biotechnology for use developing countries (Dr. Christian Fatokun) 20 minutes

2. The impact of liability regimes on public research (Shawn Sullivan, CIMMYT) 20 minutes

3. Facts and misconceptions about liability and GMOs (prof. Julian Kinderlerer). 20 minutes

4. Questions and discussion (30 minutes)

The side event on May 30 will have the following topics:

1. Overview of the public research in agricultural biotechnology for use developing countries (Machuka) 15 minutes

2. Public research in agricultural biotechnology in developing countries:

a. Africa (Dr. Charles Mugoya) 15 minutes

b. Asia (Dr. Desiree Hautea) 15 minutes

c. Central and Eastern Europe (Prof. Yaroslav Blume) 15 minutes

3. Questions and discussion (30 minutes)

The side event on May 31 will have the following topics:

1. Overview of the public research in agricultural biotechnology for use developing countries (Dr. Zaida Lentini.) 15 minutes

2. Public research in agricultural biotechnology in developing countries:

a. Latin America (Dr. Maria Jose Sampaio) 15 minutes

3. Examples of Public research in agricultural biotechnology through collaborations
between developed countries and developing countries:

a. Golden Rice Project, Danforth Centre, IPBO, (Dr. Gerard Barry) 30 minutes

4. Questions and discussion (30 minutes).

The presentation with the overview of the public research in agricultural biotechnology for use developing countries will give a general overview of the main areas of agricultural R&D activities and the broader context of those activities, such as crops of interest, annual loss of yield, annual pesticide use etc. Table 1 gives an example.

The presentations by colleagues from Africa, Asia, CEE and Latin America will present a similar matrix, worked out per country Table 2 gives an example.