In our latest Lobbywatch review, we have some very disturbing examples of the extent of corporate capture of governments, regulators and international bodies. We also have items on the bizarre views of powerful billionaires like Bill Gates and Elon Musk, plus exposés on the dubious antics of lobby groups, one of which has even drawn in the Guardian columnist George Monbiot. And we finish with our now customary final section on COVID-19 origins and lab biosafety.
CORPORATE CAPTURE: GLOBAL
Until the end of last year, Antonio Aracre was Syngenta’s CEO for Latin America – a post he held for 12 years. Then within days of his stepping down, it was announced that Aracre was to become the President of Argentina’s chief advisor. Latin America is Syngenta largest market, accounting for about 33% of its global sales. Its profits come mainly from the controversial herbicides atrazine, paraquat and glyphosate, but it also controls a large part of the GMO seed market in Argentina, where the cultivation of GMO soy in particular is associated with devastating environmental and health impacts on rural areas. Aracre says his appointment as President Fernández’s new chief advisor is “a dream come true”.
Many figures in academia and civil society, including leading environmentalists, have condemned the appointment of Antonio Aracre as chief presidential advisor in an open letter that has over 15,000 signatures. “Syngenta is the world’s largest manufacturer of GMOs and pesticides” and “was key in the consolidation of GMO soy in Latin America,” the letter said. The letter writers also expressed concern about Aracre’s influence over government decisions regarding Syngenta, pesticide regulation, and a new Seeds Act in Congress. The University of Buenos Aires biologist and philosopher Guillermo Folguera said governments working hand in glove with agribusiness is nothing new but this appointment takes that to the point of obscenity.
The CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) president Siddika Mithani has resigned, following media revelations that the GMO seeds and pesticide industry lobby group CropLife Canada seemingly authored a CFIA file summarising the regulatory proposals for gene-edited crops. CFIA are saying that this was a planned retirement, but the NFU (National Farmers Union) Canada had sent a joint letter with environmental and other farmer groups calling for her to be replaced. The President of the NFU has now written to Prime Minister Trudeau urging him “to appoint as the next President of the CFIA someone with an unwavering commitment to preventing regulatory capture”.
Between December 2021 and July 2022, the European Commission met with the seed and biotech industries to discuss the proposed deregulation of GMOs. Documents from the European Commission obtained by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) shed light on the legislative intentions of this body. They also show that the Commission advised companies on how to communicate in order to get support for a new regulatory framework for GMOs and the “new GMOs”. The documents reveal that the European Commission’s objective is clearly aligned with the demands of the industry. In an interview with Bayer, the Commission said, “Our legal framework must make sure that suitable NGT [new genomic techniques or new GM] varieties - which are not GMOs - once available will be grown in Europe”. GMWatch comments that new GM varieties ARE GMOs, according to EU law and any objective scientific definition.
“Small-scale farmers are being hit first and worst by climate change,” says Million Belay of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA). “They struggled to have their voices heard at COP27, among the record high agribusiness lobbyists and the expense. They demanded support and finance for diverse and resilient agroecological food systems to help adapt to the floods and droughts they are facing. But they leave with very little.”
CORPORATE CAPTURE: UK
A recent study by Professors Erik Millstone and Tim Lang, published in the journal Nature Food, found extensive conflicts of interest (COIs) in UK food regulatory institutions. Their research suggests that not one of the bodies advising the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) or the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is free from such COIs. They say such conflicts undermine public trust, and to completely avoid corporate capture, such institutions “should not include anyone with COIs”. Correspondingly, public funding for food safety research needs to be increased sufficiently for UK-based experts not to be dependent on commercial sponsorship.
An important GMO regulatory committee tasked with evaluating the safety of GM foods and animal feed is too new to have featured in Millstone and Lang’s just-published analysis (see item above), so GMWatch carried out our own analysis. It confirmed Millstone and Lang’s findings. We found that only four out of the 11 members of this new committee (i.e. just 36%) have no apparent conflicts of interest. We also discovered that much of their business on GMOs in their five meetings to date is noted in agendas as “reserved” (or secret, at least for the time being). This all makes a mockery of any claims to be acting transparently or independently.
Post-Brexit science in Britain should focus on key areas where Britain can sustain a leading role, according to the UK’s science minister. George Freeman cited examples such as agritech and gene editing of crops; space; biosecurity; synthetic biology; and research into the growing sector of functional foods. Freeman said there is a “huge opportunity” for the UK in these areas because Brexit allows the country to become “a global testbed” and regulate in an “agile” and “responsive” way. Before he became a minister, Freeman was accused of allowing the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture, which he at one time headed, to be used by Monsanto and other GMO firms to lobby ministers on behalf of their business interests.
Sky News has reported on the growing concern about All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) and their abuse by corporate interests. APPGs have huge influence in political debate, Sky News says, and they are big business, attracting millions of pounds, some of it directly or indirectly from corporations wanting to push their particular agendas. And those millions are going into a largely unregulated part of the political system. Several lobbyists that Sky News interviewed admitted there was a serious lack of transparency around APPGs and that some were trying to unfairly influence parliamentary decisions. GM Freeze tweeted, “Finally! Some attention on the abuse of ‘APPG’ parliamentary groups by corporate interests. The political move that started new GMO deregulation in the UK was proudly led by the Science and Technology in Agriculture APPG – funded by the agritech corps that own most of the patents.” More on the industry-backed All-Party Parliamentary Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture here.
George Monbiot recently tweeted that he was “excited to announce the upcoming launch of a radical new campaign I’ve been working on with RePlanet, called Reboot Food”. That campaign draws heavily on ideas in Monbiot’s latest book Regenesis, which champions “precision-fermentation” (a marketing name for synthetic biology) as a techno-fix for feeding the world on animal-free protein and fats while freeing up vast areas of farmland for rewilding. But Reboot Food also draws on the dubious agenda of those behind a new organisation called RePlanet, which is receiving a massive boost from Monbiot’s involvement in its campaign. RePlanet turns out to be run by the GMO promoter Mark Lynas and a bunch of rebranded ecomodernists. Their Reboot Food agenda includes pushing genetic engineering and getting the EU’s organic farming targets suspended. Having a leading environmental commentator like George Monbiot participating in a pro-GMO/anti-organic campaign is a dream come true for the pesticide lobby.
Since 2014, Mark Lynas has been part of the Cornell Alliance for Science, a public relations campaign funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that works to increase acceptance of genetically engineered crops around the world, particularly in Africa. Recently the Alliance dropped the “Cornell” from its name and its website is no longer hosted on the Cornell.edu server. The group had earlier moved into the Boyce Thompson Institute, an independent nonprofit research institute affiliated with Cornell University without being a formal part of it. Our understanding is that the Alliance for Science moved out of the University’s official structure to avoid the critical scrutiny it was increasingly coming under from development experts at Cornell. The move also seems to have coincided with its founding director, Sarah Evanega, quitting to join a gene editing firm closely linked to Bayer. An updated fact sheet by US Right to Know documents how the Alliance for Science advances the PR and political agendas of the world’s largest chemical and seed corporations.
Five years after a Monsanto ghostwriting scandal prompted Forbes magazine to delete dozens of his articles, Henry I Miller has joined the “full-time writing staff” of the Monsanto-funded American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). Miller, a former FDA official who founded the Office of Biotechnology, and ACSH both have long histories of product defence for pesticide and tobacco companies. See US Right to Know’s updated fact sheets on Miller and ACSH.
Cameron English of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) has authored reports for the UK’s neoliberal “free-market” think tanks the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs that call for the rapid adoption of GMOs in the UK. Cameron English is the former managing editor of the Bayer-funded Genetic Literacy Project. Needless to say, neither of the UK “free market” reports gives any indication that their author works out of corporate front groups with substantial financial and other ties to the biotech industry. Instead, both describe ACSH as “a consumer advocacy group”!
Business pages and farm media in the US have been sounding the alarm over the impact of Mexico’s proposed phaseout of GMO corn imports, claiming an economic modelling study shows it would have catastrophic impacts on US and Canadian farmers and on Mexico’s own food security. But almost entirely unreported is the fact the original modelling was commissioned by CropLife International, the trade association for the GMOs/pesticide corporations (BASF, Bayer, Corteva, etc.). Now a new report takes apart the multiple false assumptions that lie beneath the industry-sponsored model.
MERCHANTS OF POISON: SCIENCE DENIAL
An important new report, Merchants of Poison: How Monsanto Sold the World on a Toxic Pesticide, by Stacy Malkan, with Kendra Klein, PhD and Anna Lappé, documents pesticide industry disinformation, corrupted science, and manufactured doubt about glyphosate. The analysis draws from thousands of pages of internal corporate documents released during lawsuits brought by farmers, groundskeepers, and everyday gardeners suing Monsanto over allegations that exposure to Roundup caused them to develop cancer; as well as documents obtained through public records requests in a years-long investigation by US Right to Know, a public interest research group. The authors report on five tactics the Monsanto-led product defence campaign used to defend glyphosate, and why this matters for public health. Co-author Kendra Klein has published an article about the report here.
Academics and universities have played a key role in Monsanto’s PR and product-defence efforts, Stacy Malkan and co-authors show in their new report, Merchants of Poison: How Monsanto Sold the World on a Toxic Pesticide (see above). Indeed, the “voices of authority” — especially academic experts — receive the highest marks on public trust, according to global surveys. In this context, the growing private-sector influence over universities, and land grant institutions in particular, is concerning. From 1970 to 2014, public funding to land grant universities for agricultural research and development grew by just 20 percent, while private funding grew by 193 percent to $6.3 billion. Today, hundreds of millions of dollars flow from agribusiness, including pesticide companies, into land grant universities in the United States.
Pesticide industry “helped write” disinformation playbook used by Big Oil and Big Tobacco, report reveals
The pesticide industry is not just following in the footsteps of Big Tobacco and Big Oil, they co-wrote the disinformation playbook, a new report (see above) reveals. The analysis sheds light on key tactics Monsanto used to distort science and spin the narrative in defence of its glyphosate herbicide product Roundup. Those tactics include distorting science and disseminating misleading messaging through third party allies to convince regulators and the public that its products are safe and necessary, the report explains. One industry front group that worked to attack cancer scientists and the evidence linking glyphosate to cancer was the Genetic Literacy Project (GLP). Its founder Jon Entine has worked in defence of chemicals, plastics, fracking and oil companies. The GLP’s funding sources track back to some of the largest, most consistent funders of climate science denial. These include foundations like Donors Trust, Scaife Foundation, and Charles Koch Foundation. It is also funded by Bayer.
In response to concerns over Kenya’s decision to allow GMO cultivation and imports, GMO promoter Bill Gates told Kenyan TV, “Every piece of bread I’ve ever eaten is from genetically modified wheat, every piece of corn I’ve eaten is GMO”. But researcher Timothy A Wise replied in a tweet, “Justifying Kenya’s approval of GMO maize imports, Bill Gates offers ignorant lies about eating only GM wheat (which hasn’t been available) and only GM corn, which in the US feeds animals and ethanol factories. Your sweet corn, Bill, ain’t GMO. BIG LIE from Mr Science.” Gates even claimed that GM crops had been in use for “billions of years” – initially by microbes presumably! GMO Free USA has made a great graphic that takes apart Bill Gates’ nonsensical claims.
The techno-utopian credos known as “effective altruism” and “longtermism” have recently gained wide notice, writes Pete Shanks. Longtermism holds that the welfare of future humans is as morally important – or more important – than the lives of current ones. They seem particularly attractive to billionaires like Elon Musk, who are keen to save the planet for later, engineer superior human beings, and colonise other planets. Musk seems to have been principally inspired by the Swedish philosopher, transhumanist and longtermist Nick Bostrom, whose neo-eugenicist vision looks to advanced genetic engineering to enable the creation of super-smart designer babies. “Given that Elon Musk is one of the most powerful individuals in all of human history, we should be very concerned,” says the critic of longtermism Émile P Torres. Indeed, it surely suggests the need to both reduce the power of billionaires to shape future development and ban the gene editing of embryos.
Boris Johnson, who in his very first speech as UK Prime Minister vowed to liberate GMOs, had a butler smuggle £27,000 of organic food into Downing Street for his own table. Johnson followed in a fine tradition of GMO promoting leaders – e.g. the Clintons, Obama, George W. Bush, Tony Blair, David Cameron and Mitt Romney — keen to feed GMOs to their citizens while quietly ordering up organic at home. And apparently, China's political elite eat all-organic GMO-free foods too.
Agricultural multinationals are hyping the ability of GM crops to boost yields when facing climate challenges such as drought, heat or heavy rainfall. But skeptics of GM foods aren't buying it. “They told us in the ’70s and ’80s that GMOs were going to be more nutritious, fix the nitrogen level, withstand everything,” said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumer Reports. “What did we see? Mainly herbicide-tolerant crops.” Dana Perls of Friends of the Earth, said GMOs “go hand in hand with harsh chemicals that perpetuate pesticide pollution,” harming insect populations, soil health and water quality.
Canada: New report on food and ag promotes speculative, unproven and costly technologies like new GM
A new report, “Green Revolution for Canada”, promotes speculative, unproven and costly technologies like new genetic modifications of crops and the soil microbiome. But human ecologist and author Phil Loring says we must abandon the technological optimism and relentless pursuit of productivity increases that got us where we are today: A world that produces much food but also produces much hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation. Scholars are increasingly arguing that we need to move away from a narrow focus on production and yield, and instead focus on dismantling the deeply oppressive systems of economic and ecological enclosure and the take-and-make-waste mindset that presently comprise our approaches to food.
COVID-19 ORIGINS AND LAB BIOSAFETY
The Wuhan lab at the centre of suspicions about the pandemic’s onset was far more troubled than is known, documents unearthed by a US Senate team reveal. Vanity Fair and ProPublica downloaded more than 500 documents from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) website, including Communist Party branch dispatches from 2017 to the present. They found that WIV dispatches signalled that the institute faced an acute safety emergency in November 2019; that officials at the highest levels of the Chinese government weighed in; and that urgent action was taken in an effort to address ongoing safety issues. The documents do not make clear who was responsible for the crisis, which laboratory it affected specifically, or what the exact nature of the biosafety emergency was.
Newly released emails cast more doubt than ever on the official story of COVID-19 virus as naturally occurring
The scientists who assured the world that the COVID-19 virus could not have been engineered in a laboratory based their decision on a single piece of flawed evidence. Their discussion of the scientific facts was interspersed with frequent speculation about the public impact of their findings. Theirs was no openminded search for the truth; one scientist expressed his determination from the start to disprove the possibility of a lab leak. In the rush to publish their predetermined conclusion, they ignored a critical viral feature that points to manipulation. These departures from customary scientific procedure are evident from emails released after litigation to block the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from making redactions. The emails were exchanged principally between Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a branch of the NIH, and Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust in London. Other participants were Francis Collins, then director of the NIH, Patrick Vallance, chief scientist to the British government, and various virologists, including those that authored the influential Nature Medicine paper, “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2”, which dismissed any possibility of a lab origin for SARS-CoV-2.
Unredacted records obtained by The Nation and The Intercept offer more detailed insights into how the “proximal origin” paper (see above) came about and of what some see as “a desire to downplay the deep concern about the possibility of a lab origin”.
Prof Jeffrey Sachs gives damning interview on Fauci, gain-of-function research, and COVID origins (video)
In a damning interview, Prof Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, chair of the Lancet's COVID-19 Commission on the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, said he’s known Anthony Fauci for decades and that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) head was warned long ago about the danger of so-called “gain of function” research and coronaviruses. Yet Fauci continued to promote this research and now many, including Sachs, believe that the COVID pandemic was likely caused by a lab leak at the Wuhan facility where Fauci and the NIH funded gain-of-function research. TV host Jimmy Dore spoke with Prof Sachs about the widespread campaign to silence anyone inquiring about the lab leak theory. Sachs said, “I don’t like how Tony Fauci behaved, at all. And there is going to be an investigation now in Congress.” Sachs called the Nature Medicine “proximal origin” paper “absolutely awful”.
Instead of grappling only with the fact that scientific research might have caused this pandemic, we also have to contend with whether and how members of the scientific community have suppressed inquiry into a laboratory origin, writes Alina Chan.
Did Drs Francis Collins and Anthony Fauci commit research misconduct? A recent batch of internal NIH emails suggests they did, by providing “advice and leadership” on the widely cited "proximal origins" paper (see above item) that did not acknowledge their involvement and dismissed a possible virus research lab accident in China. The issue? Hiding an author’s contribution to a paper is ghostwriting or plagiarism to be handled by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Research Integrity (ORI), according to a 2011 letter signed by Collins, while director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
US Right to Know has submitted a freedom of information request to the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), asking for any SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-related sequences that are not publicly accessible. In 2021 it emerged that early SARS-CoV-2 sequences had been deleted from the NIH's Sequence Read Archive (SRA) because the researchers requested it. On July 31, 2022, 163 spike protein sequences from SARS-like coronavirus strains that had been submitted in 2018 were released. These sequences were then removed by August 10, and no longer appear when the same search terms are used as before. Early genomic data for SARS-CoV-2 and related coronavirus strains are crucial for understanding the origins of COVID-19.
In America’s biolabs, hundreds of accidents have gone undisclosed to the public. The Intercept obtained over 5,500 pages of National Institutes of Health (NIH) documents, including 18 years of laboratory incident reports, detailing hundreds of accidents. In 2013, a University of Wisconsin lab had two accidents, a spill and a needle prick, involving modified strains of H5N1 avian influenza. The accidents prompted a stern reaction from NIH, which called the lab's safety procedures “unacceptable”.
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