Help stop GM potatoes in Norfolk
2.Jones backs down over Monsanto connection
NOTE: Item 2 is about the Monsanto connection of the head of the Sainsbury Laboratory who oversees the GM potato trial.
1.The spuds don't work. GM potato trial, Norwich, 23 July
*Norwich, noon, 23rd July 2011*
British trials of genetically modified blight resistant spuds have been failing for the last ten years. But a conventionally bred variety of blight resistant potatoes has been available for 3 years. So why are we still paying for their dangerous experiment?
Come ride with us on the back of a trailor load of safe effective spuds as we go to deliver them to the Sainsbury Laboratory outside Norwich. It's one of only two possible open air trials for GM crops in Britain this year. Yet despite being publicly funded, it's so secretive no one will even say if it's been planted. Join us for tunes, chips and good cheer as we go and show them that we have already got the answers they say they're looking for.
Meet outside the Forum in Norwich town centre at noon for free blight-resistant chips, followed by a bike ride (or coach trip, contact info [AT] stopgm.org.uk to book) to the research centre where we're asking Sainsbury Lab reps to join us for blind spud-tasting and debate.
*A tale of two spuds...*
For the last 10 years, researchers at the Sainsbury laboratory at the John Innes Centre in Norwich have spent 1.7 million pounds of public money failing to develop a genetically modified potato resistant to the fungal disease blight. This project is so secretive and unaccountable that the laboratory has refused to even confirm if a trial has been planted this season, or if they've been forced to abandon any hopes of making the technology work.
Public rejection of the risks associated with eating genetically modified food means that even if the engineering involved was successful, there would be no market for the crop. Meanwhile, 3 years ago a small Welsh research charity dedicated to conventional breeding techniques developed a spud that is spectacularly resistant to blight. Not only does the crop pose no threat to health, the environment, or neighbouring farmers; it works. Over 6 different varieties are now available, and being grown on a commercial scale.
*Delivering the answer to GM crops*
We think the Sainsbury's laboratory and the government should be told that we've found the potatoes they're looking for. So we're going to deliver them to the doors of their research centre. We'll be forming a carnival procession of families and farmers led by the next generation on pedal tractors, each towing a mini trailer of safe spuds. There'll be pedal powered tunes, and a full sized tractor to jump on. There will almost certainly be chips.
The campaign against GM crops ten years ago was so successful that GM almost completely vanished from our fields and supermarkets, and many people have forgotten the issues associated with the technology. But in many other parts of the world peasant farmers have been desperately fighting its spread, and laws are changing in Europe that would make it much easier for GM to be grown in Britain. Despite pre-election promises to the contrary, the coalition claims it intends to be 'the most pro GM this country has ever seen'.
Let's call time on an outmoded technology that continues to waste money in failing projects, while simultaneously threatening the very science that's actually producing working alternatives quickly and cheaply. For too long the biotech companies have gone unchallenged in their claims that GM can create genuinely useful crops when in fact all the significant advancements in the last decade have come through conventional breeding.
With the renewed threat of GM on the horizon campaigners need to get together again to show the rest of the country (and each other) that we're still here, and we've got an even better case than ever. This is a chance to take the initiative with the media, to tell a story which explains clearly and practically why the pro GM lobby is wrong. That it's us, and not the corporations that have the answers to the food crisis. And we know how to turn them into an irresistible photo shoot.
*Our Key media messages*
Genetic Modification is unaccountable, expensive, and it doesn't work. We need to stop wasting public money on something that no one wants and start celebrating the real advances in agriculture.
*What we need*
You, and the people you know, and anyone you think might be interested.
This project is being worked on by Stop GM in conjunction with the Genetic Engineering Network. It's a grassroots initiative that evolved after one national gathering, several months of pondering and an over excited long weekend in Wales. Several experienced grassroots campaigners will be working on the project from now until the event, but we need help getting the word out. If you think you could help by distributing email
information about the event, dropping it about in any social media you may be involved in, letting your local growing projects or social justice groups know, distributing our soon to be produced 'Little Red Tractor and the Quest of the GM-free Spuds' leaflet or even organizing a coach to attend from your area, we'd love to hear from you.
For more information please check briefing to help you object to the proposed field trial of GM potatoes, and how to get hold of the solution www.sarvari-trust.org.
Please put it in your diary, forward this message on to anyone who might be interested, and hopefully we'll see you there.
All the best,
The Stop GM Crew.
2.Jones backs down over Monsanto connection
GMWatch, 20 July 2010
On Sunday (18 July) an article appeared in The Observer newspaper detailing Prof Jonathan Jones's failure to make clear his busines links to Monsanto in a recent article for the BBC. (Scientist leading GM crop test defends links to US biotech giant Monsanto)
The article quoted GMWatch editor Jonathan Matthews as saying, "The frontman for the latest GM push in the UK is being portrayed as a dedicated public servant doing science in the public interest, but it now appears he not only has vested interests in the success of GM but even commercial connections to Monsanto."
And Helen Wallace of GeneWatch UK was quoted as saying that Monsanto's "PR strategy relies on seemingly independent scientists making empty promises about the future benefits of GM crops".
In a statement to the Observer, Prof Jones insisted: "It is not true to suggest I have attempted to hide my role as co-founder and science advisory board member of Mendel Biotechnology, which has contracts with Monsanto, Bayer and BP. The information that I am co-founder”¦ of Mendel has been in the public domain on the Mendel website for at least 10 years."
The publication of the Observer article prompted a storm of criticism of Jones online and in the Comments section of the Guardian/Observer website.
One reader wrote:
"If Prof Jones cannot see that, no matter how fair and balanced his judgement in this case, his links with Monsanto will cast suspicion and doubt on a positive report on GM potatoes, he must be barking."
Jones himself posted a comment saying he had disclosed his interest in Mendel:
"I told Jamie Doward [the journalist who wrote the Observer article] before today's Observer article that in a commentisfree [article] in 2007 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/mar/28/jonathanjonesscientist) I specifically pointed out that I had cofounded Mendel Biotechnology."
Jones added: "My [recent] BBC website piece was invited in the context of my GM blight resistance potato trial, which has nothing to do with Mendel or Monsanto, neither of whom have any business in potato."
A reader responded:
"Had to laugh that Jones thinks that declaring his interests in Mendel/Monsanto 3 years ago is enough. Try writing an article for any reputable scientific journal these days. You have to fill out a new conflict of interest form every time. This makes sense because how can you expect readers to look back at an author's publication history every time he/she writes a new article?
"Also very funny is his claim that Mendel/Monsanto has no interest in spuds. It does have an interest in the acceptance of GM technology in the UK, and this spud trial will be used by GM proponents to leverage that. Also Mendel has patents on GM technologies that could be used in a variety of plants. http://www.mendelbio.com/newsevents/issuedpatents.php ... Monsanto did create a GM potato which was rejected by consumers even in the US. Clearly the company is hoping for a turnaround in consumer feeling. This is from Monsanto's current website: 'Potatoes are an important crop and there may be a day in the future when Monsanto re-enters the potato business.'
"Monsanto also owns De Ruiter Seeds and Seminis Seeds, both suppliers of veggie seeds. It would be extremely funny if they made a vow that they would never deal in potatoes.
"Hilarity apart, I think it is a wise principle to know with whom one is in bed."
Another reader disputed even Jones's claim to have declared his interest in Mendel/Monsanto three years ago:
"Prof Jones seems to think that mentioning his connection to this company once in passing in an article on a website 3 years ago constitutes full and frank disclosure!
"What makes this worse is, if you look at the actual piece, Jones doesn't even name the company he founded. You have to click a link to find out it's Mendel Biotechnology and you'd have to dig around still further to discover Monsanto regards Mendel as a key collaborator. http://monsanto.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=43&item=544
"Even this indirect disclosure is a complete one-off. In Jones' other Comment is Free article, there's absolutely no reference to Mendel or his having any commercial interests:
"Likewise in the recent BBC piece promoting GM, there's absolutely nothing to suggest he's a cofounder of a company that has Monsanto as its principal client. And any time I've heard Prof Jones speak on TV or radio, there has been no reference to his having founded Mendel or sitting on its board. His self-description is exactly like the BBC piece - he is a senior scientist at a non-commercial research centre.
"I would wager a guess that absolutely no one who interviewed Prof Jones, or offered him comment space during his recent wave of PR activities related to the GM potato trial had a clue about his involvement in a company with 'very effective mechanisms of collaboration' with Monsanto, 'including the exchange of extensive proprietary information.'
"Yet it's vital that people benefiting from the label 'public science' are completely upfront about the extent of any commercial interests. After all, if Jones were successful in gaining acceptance for GM potatoes, it would almost certainly open the door to Monsanto's products.
"Unfortunately, Prof Jones' failure to be completely upfront about his ties to Monsanto fits an all too familiar pattern with GM promoters:
Another reader's comment also confirmed that Jones's failure to declare conflicts of interest was part of a consistent pattern rather than a one-off event:
"I found out about Prof Jones' involvement in an American based biotech firm back in 2001 when someone told me there were jobs going there. I was quite surprised to find Prof Jones, and if my memory serves me correctly a couple of other leading British plant scientists on the directorial board. The thing that surprised me back then was that having worked in their field for over ten years and having heard them speak on numerous occasions at conferences etc that I had never heard them mentioned their clearly relevant commercial interests. If my memory serves me correctly they always stuck to their wholly impartial for 'the public good' scientist persona.
"Now following the thieving banks [and] the thieving politicians, I am not surprised at all. Our leading lights are all the same, out for number one."
Placing the Jones/Mendel/Monsanto episode in a wider context, a reader criticised the public-private partnerships at academic institutions that inevitably give rise to often undisclosed conflicts of interest. The reader wrote that scientists who speak out against such deals are victimized:
"Scientists who point to the obvious conflicts of interest in the public-private partnerships that dominate American and British academic institutions these days are blacklisted from ever having senior appointments - and that's why lead scientists on GMO trials have ties to the corporate agribusiness lobby. Those ties are encouraged by university presidents, who might hold stock in Monsanto, and who will give financial favors, lab space, and important positions to those who support their agenda. ”¦
"For example, the University of California jointly controls the patent (with Monsanto) on rGBH milk production. The UC expects to receive $100 million in royalties from sales of rGBH. You think the UC administrators would be pleased if some associate professor published studies pointing to health problems with rGBH, or even wrote a grant to do that? Would they get tenure? Probably not - they've canned people repeatedly for similar violations of their ideological principles."
Towards the end of the storm of comments from readers, Jones himself left a comment, saying he had asked the BBC to update his bio note on the BBC website to include his interests in Mendel and Monsanto.
Late yesterday the BBC did so better late than never. Let's hope this sets a precedent for media outlets to require full disclosure of interests when "experts" are given a platform for their views on controversial issues. As one reader commented:
"I congratulate Prof Jones on revising his affiliation information. I know that he regards his commercial ties as purely incidental but that's really for his readers to decide. As Richard Smith pointed out when editor of the BMJ [British Medical Journal], 'These competing interests are very important. It has quite a profound influence on the conclusions and we deceive ourselves if we think science is wholly impartial.'"
For the sake of clarity, GMWatch has made minor corrections of typos, spelling etc. to the Comments posted at
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