Speaker transcripts and video highlights from the 'Seeds of Opportunity' conference are now available on line.
To view the papers presented and witness key speeches and Q&A sessions "from this popular and successful conference" go to:
for the conference website: http://www.seedsofopportunity.com/
[background and speaker details released by ngin ahead of the conference]
Almost a year ago on 1 June 2000 the far right think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs -- whose Environment Unit's directors, Roger Bate and Julian Morris, have been key players in the European Science and Environment Forum, founded with money from Big Tobacco as part of the Philip Morris campaign to undermine industry critical research -- provided a London platform for CS Prakash during his US embassy sponsored tour.
Exactly a year later on 31 May and 1 June this year, IEA intimate, Philip Stott, is chairing the conference, "Seeds of Opportunity: The role of Biotechnology in Agriculture", at which Prakash will be appearing. Among the conference's principal sponsors is the U.S. Embassy: http://www.seedsofopportunity.com
When NGIN started drawing attention to the extreme nature of the views of many of those particpating, CS Prakash invited NGIN and others to join him on the platform of a conference fringe event to try and iron out our differences. Others on the proposed platform, according to Prakash, in addition to himself, would include Stott and the IEA's Environment director, Julian Morris, with whom Prakash said he collaborated.
According to the "Seeds of Opportunity" conference blurb: "Participation will be broad-based, including leading policy makers; eminent academics; top scientists; senior business figures from the food and biotechnology industries; notable farmers; and representatives from consumer organizations, environmental groups and the news media."
There is, in fact, not a single representative from an environmental group speaking. The only one known to have been invited, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, withdrew as a result of unhappiness with the balance of the conference and the inaccuracy of the information it had been given - see below.
Nor was there a single representative of a consumer organization on the platform until Deidre Hutton, who sits on many bodies including a DTI Foresight committee with Janet Bainbridge, was brought in at the last moment as a "commentator" in place of Clive Beddall, editor of the Grocer.
Of over 20 speakers at the conference only one, the journalist Paul Brown of the Guardian, is known to have been at all critical of GM crops and the way in which they have been introduced, although Andrew Watkinson of the University of East Anglia, a late replacement for the RSPB, has pointed to limitations of herbicide tolerant crops for bird populations.
The conference will be broken into three sections: (1) the environment; (2) the consumer; and (3) the developing world and "pharming." Needless to say, there is not a single speaker from the developing world who is not avidly pro-GM.
Here's some background on most of the conference contributors. According to the conference chairman, Prof Philip Stott, "The independent university researcher has to be like Caesar's wife, always above suspicion". It may be interesting to view the contributors in this light.
Broad based? Above suspicion?
Professor Philip Stott is the chairman of the conference. Stott is Professor of Biogeography at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in the University of London. While parading his support for Tony Blair and New Labour, Stott has long worked hand in glove with the far right Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and the related Big Tobacco founded ESEF - see above - appearing as a key 'witness' for example in the Counterblast TV attack on organic farming presented by Roger Bate as Director of ESEF. According to Stott, "The idea that [organic] can replace other forms of agriculture is a dangerous lie..." Stott runs a pro-biotech website which also attacks concern over tropical deforestation and climate change. His antipathy to the latter concern is particularly revealing. In relation to climate change, Stott calls for people not to be taken in by apparent scientific consensus and to resist scientific fashion. In relation to GM crops, however, he calls for exactly the opposite. While claiming to deconstruct "eco-hype", Stott issues the crassest kind of bio-hype. Genetic engineering, according to Stott, is the "finest of all human adaptations" and is, "an advance vital for human development" and indeed, "essential for human survival". For Stott, "Boiling a kettle is a dangerous task; yet it produces that refreshing cup of tea. Biotechnology is no different." [http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/319.htm]
Graham Wynne is Chief Executive of the RSPB, which is Europe's largest conservation body. The RSPB has pulled out of the conference. Graham Wynne commented : "When we received the details, the balance of the conference content was different to that which had been understood at the time of the invitation to speak."
Lord Haskins is Chairman of Northern Foods. He is said to be one of Tony Blair's closest advisors. Haskins is passionately pro-GM and has made several vehement attacks on GM critics like the Prince of Wales and on organic farming. According to Haskins, "A wholly organic world agricultural system would quickly lead to mass starvation". "Let the heir to the throne enjoy his excellent if somewhat risky organic food," but ""Let my cattle enjoy their genetically modified soya" and "let the poor, starving people of the world have access to safe, affordable food - which GM food will probably offer them." This champion of the poor runs a company with a turnover of £1.2 billion. [http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/269.htm]
Dr Margaret Karembu is a lecturer in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at Kenyatta University and also projects' support researcher at the, principally biotech industry funded, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) AfriCenter based in Nairobi where she works with the Monsanto-trained biotechnician Florence Wambugu who co-authored Karembu's conference paper. Florence Wambugu also serves on DuPontÃs Biotechnology Advisory Panel. ISAAA currently has Novartis, and previously had Monsanto, on its board.
Professor Brian Heap is Vice-President and Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society. Heap helped produce the Royal Society's report 'Genetically Modified Plants for Food Use' which was used to reassure the Blair government that there were no significant problems with GM crops. Heap was also on the RS group that organised a partial 'peer review' of Dr Pusztai's unpublished work - something the medical journal, the Lancet, has described as "a gesture of breathtaking impertinence to the Rowett Institute scientists who should be judged only on the full and final publication of their work." He also contributed to the Nuffield report on GM crops which, funnily enough, contains an appendix which is highly critical of Pusztai. Pusztai has quite rightly characterised this appendix as "misleading and full of inaccuracies... unscientific and most unfair."
Dr Channapatna S. Prakash is Professor of Plant Molecular Genetics at Tuskegee University, Alabama, USA. Prakash started the pro-GM AgBioWorld Foundation and runs the Agbioview list which has run items accusing environmental groups like Greenpeace of murder, genocide, and terrorism.
Prakash has also, as he says himself, "served as a speaker on behalf of the U.S. State Department and has traveled to European, South-East Asian and Caribbean nations to deliver public lectures and meet with the media, scientists and trade experts, culminating in two debates in London with biotechnology critics at the University of London and the Royal Agricultural College." According to the US embassy in London, such speakers "are paid with U.S. taxpayer money" as part of programmes "to promote U.S. government interests". This rationale also obviously applies to all the other US embassy sponsored speakers at this conference, if not the conference itself for which the embassy heads the list of sponsors.
Professor Michael Wilson is currently head of Horticulture Research International. Prior to that Wilson was at the Scottish Crops Research Institute and earlier still at the Lord Sainsbury founded Sainsbury Laboratory of the John Innes Centre, where the projects he worked on included GM research for Lord Sainsbury's company Diatech. Wilson co-authored a piece for the IEA's book 'Fearing Food: Risk, Health and Environment'. Contributors included Bate and Morris of the IEA and the Hudson Institute's Dennis Avery [http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/rightwing.htm].
Since taking over at Horticultural Research International, Wilson has moved to close Stockbridge House, a highly regarded non-GM research centre that has pioneered biological pest control, hydroponics and other alternatives to GM (see 'Growers fight plant centre closure, The Guardian, 18 September 2000). On leaving SCRI to take up his HRI post, Wilson did a press interview with The Scotsman in which he claimed independent research had already proven GM crops a beneficial technology that encouraged wildlife. However, the evidence Wilson cited turned out not to be from the source he claimed; not to be independent in the way he implied; and nor did it contain any evidence for benefits to wildlife! [http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/false.htm]
Dr. Norman Borlaug was a key player in the green revolution for which he was awarded a Nobel prize. Now 86, he is a keen supporter of the "gene revolution" and a strong supporter of Prakash and his AgBioWorld Foundation. Like a number of key Prakash supporters Borlaug serves on the Board of Directors of the American Council on Science and Health which crusades against "health scares" and derives its funding from extensive corporate backing (eg Monsanto, Dow, Cyanamid).
Dr Phil Dale is Leader of the Genetic Modification and Biosafety Research Group based at the Lord Sainsbury founded Sainsbury Centre at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. He and Mike Wilson (see above) were among Pusztai's most aggressive critics at the OECD Edinburgh conference. [http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/watchingdrpusztai.htm] For more on Dale and the JIC see 'BIOSPINOLOGY! Report on leading plant science centre's GM propaganda' http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/biospin.htm
Sir Crispin Tickell is Chancellor of the University of Kent at Canterbury; Director of the Green College Centre for Environmental Policy and Understanding; and Convenor of the Government Panel on Sustainable Development. As Chairman of the Climate Institute of Washington, DC and a strong supporter of the Kyoto agreement, he might be thought a particularly strange bed fellow for Stott.
Lord Dick Taverne QC is a journalist and politician, and a rabid supporter of biotech who is keenly concerned to prevent "media distortion". According to Taverne, "The "Today" programme is one of the worst offenders. Some of the interviews by Mr John Humphries, who has a personal interest in organic farming, are a disgrace to fair and objective journalism." Taverne served on the SIRC Forum which laid down a Code of Practice and Guidelines on the Communication of Science and Health issues in the Media. Taverne, however, apparently sees no need for worry about the accuracy in his own science communication. Speaking of the need for the SIRC's media guidelines, he told the House of Lords, "The Pusztai saga and the GM food scares are a shameful indictment of British journalism. It all started when Dr Pusztai fed harmful lectins [wrong: the GNA lectin is not considered harmful to mammals which is why it was being developed, and cointinues to be so, in a food crop] inserted in potatoes to rats, which he claimed poisoned them. When his experiments, which were not complete and were not confirmed by peer review [they had been peer-reviewed and published in the Lancet at the point Taverne made this comment], were thoroughly discredited [this refers to the Royal Society's partial and partisan review - see above], there was no attempt to correct the stories about "Frankenstein foods"."
Professor Paul Davies, Vice Chairman of the Conference is Vice Principal and Professor of Agricultural Systems at the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester where Prakash spoke last year as part of his US embassy funded tour.
Professor Conrad Paul Lichtenstein, Vice Chairman of the Conference is Professor of Molecular Biology at Queen Mary, University of London. Lichtenstein is a keen supporter of GM crops and contributes regularly to the Prakash list.
Charles J. Arntzen is President and CEO of the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research. He also serves on Monsanto's advisory committee for plant biotechnology. Arntzen work on genetically modified edible vaccines grown in fruit and vegetables, eg potatoes, has been much hyped at conferences (eg at the OECD conference in Edinburgh) and in the media.
Dr Rosie Hails is an Ecologist working on GM at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH). She is also a member of the UK's Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission.
Sir Harold W. Kroto is Royal Society Research Professor in the School of Chemistry, Physics and Environmental Science at the University of Sussex.
Ambassador George McGovern is U.S. Ambassador to the UN Food and Agricultural Agencies. His support for GM crops is so extreme as to put Jimmy Carter in the shade.
Sir Robert May recently became President of the Royal Society and was formerly Blair's controversial Chief Scientist. He has been a strong supporter of GM crops and a fierce critic of Pusztai. See 'The Empire Strikes Back' http://www.btinternet.com/~clairejr/Pusztai/puszta_2.html And 'Duplicity, double-speak and disappearing first drafts' http://www.btinternet.com/~clairejr/Pusztai/puszta_3.html
Jonathan Taylor is currently the Chairman of Governors at SOAS (London University) and a Governor of the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester where Prakash spoke last year.
Phillip S. Kerr undertook work partially funded by Dupont Protein Technologies International on "gas production in humans after ingesting conventional soybeans versus soybeans naturally low in indigestible oligosaccharides" (Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 1999:135-9). He is a keen supporter of GM crops.