GM guide concealed vested interests
2.Sense About Science conceals vested interests of pro-GM scientists
3.Readers' comments on the Times Higher Education article
1.Charity guide criticised for not declaring GM interests
By Zoe Corbyn
Times Higher Education, 19 February 2009
*Sense About Science pamphlet failed to list contributors' links with industry. Zoë Corbyn reports
A charity has come under fire for failing to declare all industry affiliations of the experts it enlisted to compile a booklet explaining genetic modification to the public.
The pamphlet was produced by Sense About Science (SAS), a charity that claims to promote scientific reasoning in public discussions.
According to anti-genetic modification campaigners and academics, it failed to mention links between some of the experts who wrote the booklet and GM firms.
For example, the guide's biography of Vivian Moses, emeritus professor of microbiology at Queen Mary, University of London, and visiting professor of biotechnology at King's College London, does not mention that he is also chairman of CropGen, a GM lobby group that receives funding from the biotechnology industry.
It says only that he has been "a full-time researcher in biochemistry and microbiology" and is now "primarily concerned with communicating science to the public".
Critics also argued that the guide should have noted that the John Innes Centre, where eight of its 28 contributors are based, received funding from biotechnology companies.
Michael Antoniou, a geneticist at King's College London, described the omissions as "outrageous".
He said: "GM is a sensitive issue. People have been extremely suspicious because of its industrial connections. So it is imperative that they declare these in this context, as in a journal publication."
Dr Antoniou, who himself provides technical advice to anti-GM campaign group GM Watch, speculated that SAS had not disclosed Professor Moses' directorship because it was afraid of arousing public suspicion.
Guy Cook, a professor at The Open University who conducted two research council-funded studies into the language and arguments of the GM debate, agreed that the contributors' interests should have been declared.
"If not, they deal a severe blow to their own cause, the authority of science, which rests upon rationality, objectivity, evidence and disinterest," he said. "The problem with GM advocacy is that it has compromised these principles, and in so doing has dangerously undermined public trust in scientists."
David Miller, professor of sociology at the University of Strathclyde, who is involved in running the website Spinwatch.org.uk, likened the pamphlet to "a PR exercise".
In a statement to Times Higher Education, Professor Moses said his CropGen role was not a secret but should have been spelt out.
"Had I been asked by SAS how I should be described (I wasn't asked and presumed it knew as I have been one of its advisers for years), I would have suggested: visiting professor of biotechnology, King's College London, and chairman of CropGen."
A spokesperson for the John Innes Centre stressed that most of its funding was public.
"We do not regard our affiliations to industry as a contentious issue. Our interests are not 'vested' and our scientists are extremely careful to avoid conflicts of interest."
Tracey Brown, managing director of SAS, said the booklet's emphasis was on contributors' scientific background.
"They were not seeking to advance any commercial application of GM technology, but to set research in the context of other plant-breeding research and history," she said.
2.Sense About Science conceals vested interests of pro-GM scientists
GMWatch Press Release, 9 February 2009
The lobby group Sense About Science's new publication "Making Sense of GM: What is the genetic modification of plants and why are scientists doing it?", launched 9 February 2009, reads like a who's who of undeclared vested interests and affiliations with GM firms.
The publication fails to declare the vested interests in GM of the people and groups involved in the "working group" that produced it. Instead, individuals are misleadingly described in terms of their academic positions in universities or seemingly publicly-funded research bodies.
Campaign group GMWatch has stepped into the knowledge gap by providing the media and the public with a list of the corporate affiliations and vested interests in GM of the individuals involved in "Making Sense of GM".
To take just two examples, Prof Chris Lamb is presented simply as the director of the John Innes Centre (JIC) without any indication of the huge vested interests the JIC has in the uptake of GM food and crops, including having entered into multi-million pound deals with the major biotech corporations. In fact, Lamb is himself the co-founder of a private biotech company (now defunct) which has collaborated with the JIC (see profile below).
Prof Vivian Moses is presented simply as emeritus professor of microbiology at Queen Mary & Westfield College without any mention of his also heading the biotech industry-funded lobby group CropGen which exists "to provide a voice for crop biotechnology".
Said GMWatch director Jonathan Matthews: "We are giving the public the information that Sense About Science failed to provide. We hope it will allow people to make an informed judgment on issues relating to bias that may affect the claims for GM made in the publication.
"These undisclosed affiliations may explain why Sense About Science's misleading claims for the supposed benefits of GM crops and foods are neither science nor unbiased information, but more akin to advertising.
"The small amount of actual scientific research cited in the Sense About Science document is highly selective. There are now a number of animal feeding studies that show ill health effects from GM foods, along with studies showing environmental harm and agronomic problems with GM crops. The Sense About Science document doesn't even mention them. It's actually a piece of 'nonsense about science'."
For the truth about GM crops and foods (in publications written by independent scientists and other experts who volunteered their time for no pay), go to www.bangmfood.org/publications.
CORPORATE AFFILIATIONS AND VESTED INTERESTS of the individuals who contributed to Sense About Science's publication "Making Sense of GM: What is the genetic modification of plants and why are scientists doing it?"
*Sense about Science
Its directors, Ellen Raphael and Tracey Brown (Managing Director), are part of the extreme "LM" political network which eulogises GM, human cloning and nuclear power, and is involved in denial of climate change resulting from human activity.
Funding derives from "corporations and learned societies". Funders have included:
* Amersham Biosciences plc
* Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry
* AstraZeneca plc
* BBSRC (the major public funder of biotech research in the UK)
* BP plc (now engaged in biotech research on biofuels)
* ISAAA (biotech industry-funded body)
* John Innes Centre (partly biotech industry-funded)
* The John Innes Trust
* Martin Livermore (a PR man who previously worked for biotech company DuPont and whose activities attracted controversy. His PR firm, Ascham Associates, has done PR work for a number of biotech firms and organizations.)
* Oxford GlycoSciences plc
* Pfizer plc
* Dr. M. Ridley (Matt Ridley is the disgraced ex-chairman of Northern Rock, as well as chairman of the International Centre for Life, which seeks to foster the life sciences. He is on the Advisory Council of Sense About Science.)
* Social Issues Research Centre (food and drinks and pharmaceutical industry-linked lobby group.)
*Prof Derek Burke
Chair of the UK regulatory committee on GM foods (Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes - ACNFP) for almost a decade (1988-97), during which time the first GM foods were approved for the UK (so he's hardly likely to admit that GM foods are problematic).
He was Vice Chancellor of the University of East Anglia (1987-1995) and chairman of the governing council of the John Innes Centre (JIC) 1987-1995. Both institutions have benefited from investment in GM research, with the JIC enjoying multi-million pound investments from biotechnology corporations like Syngenta and Dupont.
He is a former member of the Advisory Council of Sense About Science.
*Prof Ian Crute
Director of Rothamsted Research, which in 2003 listed Aventis, DuPont, Novartis and Syngenta, as among its commercial "partners".
*Prof Mike Gale
Prof Mike Gale is the former Head of the Comparative Genetics Unit at the John Innes Centre, which receives funding via Lord David Sainsbury's Gatsby Trust and the BBSRC as well as via several of the major biotech corporations (see Prof Derek Burke, above). He was briefly head of the JIC prior to the appointment of Prof Chris Lamb. Gale is on record as saying of a ban on GM food that "It would be very, very serious for us. There's no doubt the Norwich Research Park and Norwich would suffer".
*Prof Jonathan Jones
Prof Jonathan Jones is Head of the Sainsbury Laboratory (funded by the former science minister and biotech investor Lord Sainsbury) of the John Innes Centre (JIC). See Prof Mike Gale and Prof Chris Lamb for the JIC's corporate affiliations.
*Prof Chris Lamb
Director of the John Innes Centre (JIC), which has received funding from all the major biotech companies, including multi-million pound deals. In 1998 the JIC announced GBP10m of investment by Dupont and GBP50m by Syngenta (the original commitment in '98 was made by Zeneca).
This investment led to the construction of a Syngenta laboratory (now closed) to aid the close cooperation of JIC scientists with up to 40 Syngenta colleagues. According to Chris Lamb, "Collaborations with companies, such as Syngenta, is one way to ensure science is converted into products that benefit end-users." In December 1999 Lamb was appointed co-chair of the scientific advisory board of plant biotechnology company, Akkadix, based in San Diego, California which he co-founded. Akkadix (now defunct) was acknowledged as a notable collaborator with the John Innes Centre in an annual report.
*Prof Chris Leaver
His declaration of interests on the GM Science Review website (http://www.gmsciencedebate.org.uk/panel/members/leaver.htm) lists paid consultancies with GM companies: Rhone Poulenc (1993-1998) and Syngenta (1998-2002). Leaver is a Trustee of Sense About Science.
*Prof Vivian Moses
Chairman of CropGen, the biotech-industry funded lobby group. He is on the advisory council of Sense About Science.
Director, Sense about Science (see funders of Sense about Science, above). Prior to working for SAS, she worked for the PR company Regester Larkin, which numbered several biotech corporations and bodies amongst its clients (Aventis CropScience, Aventis Pharma, Bayer, BioIndustry Association, Royal Pharmaceutical Society).
*Prof Alison Smith
Has worked at the JIC for 25 years (see Prof Chris Lamb for the JIC's corporate affiliations)
*Prof Mike Wilson
Formerly in the Department of Virus Research at the John Innes Centre (see Prof Chris Lamb for the JIC's corporate affiliations). Holds a number of GM-related patents. His aggressive promotion of GM crops at the expense of alternative agricultural approaches has attracted considerable controversy.
3.Readers' comments on the Times Higher Education piece, 19 February 2009
Jonathon Harrington 19 February, 2009
I should start by declaring that I too was consulted and contributed in a very small way to the SAS publication.
I have also 'confessed' to growing two varieties of maize which were bred to be resistant to the European Corn Borer using genetic modification.
I am also a member of The CropGen Panel but this group does NOT ( as far as I aware) receive any funding from the biotech industry and we give our time and expertise free of charge in the interests of providing information on this contentious issue to the wider public...
Anthony Trewavas FRS 21 February, 2009
Corbyn's article was a disreputable use of space by a journal that claims to be about education.
Years back I was told no doubt by the same individual who now turns up in Genewatch that i was funded by industry. When I asked the basis of this I was told that I had attended a general biology meeting at the University of York away from my University of Edinburgh to which industry had donated £100.
When Antinou and Genewatch and other similar unqualifed and uninformed groups are reduced to slur and innuendo it merely indicates to the public at large a total paucity of thought, argument and sense.
I presume on the basis of Corbyn's silly article that if I suggest to my wife she should take an aspirin for a headache I become an advocate for the drug industry and thus my recommendation is entirely suspect.
How many members of Genewatch are employed by industry of various kinds? No doubt Mr Antinou recieves government money most of which of course comes from industry.
Yes some industry can be corrupt because of excessive desires for profit and wealth but the other side that of Genewatch and others can be ideologically corrupt and this article is perhaps a good example of it.
Sam Mason 21 February, 2009
Jonathon Harrington says he is part of CropGen and that it does not, as far as he's aware, receive any industry funding. This is from CropGen's home page: "CropGen receives limited support from the biotechnology industry..."
It continues "but acts entirely independently." However, the 2001 version of its website stated that "while ultimately funded by industry, CropGen's panel members are free to express such views as they consider appropriate. The funding companies cannot veto the panel's position on any issue." That's good to know.
There is no indication that it is now funded by anyone other than the biotech industry, and other members of the CropGen panel have in the past admitted being paid an "honorarium" for their services by the industry.
The domain name for the group's website was registered by the PR company Countrywide Porter Novelli. The behind the scenes running of CropGen is now undertaken by Lexington Communications who perform the same task for the biotech industry's official lobby group the Agricultural Biotechnology Council.
Curious that Mr Harrington knows so little about who he's working for.
Peter Brown 23 February, 2009
Sense About Science gets off lightly in the article. It is referred to simply as a "charity". A quick glance at the last accounts it lodged with the charity commissioners shows all the substantial sums from named donors come from life science, pharma, big oil and mobile phone companies, ie pretty much the industries whose interests it defends against their critics.
As for Prof Trewavas's comments about people being "ideologically corrupt" - has he looked into the backgrounds of the director and managing director of Sense About Science? As mentioned by others, they're part of the LM group which promotes climate change scepticism, euologises GMOs, human cloning, nuclear power and the like, while vilifying their critics as Nazis. George Monbiot's article 'Invasion of the Entryists' is a good starting point for anyone wanting to understand what they're about.
It is no coincidence that the one time that SAS, which claims to be all about defending science, did anything on climate change, it lead to headlines about the danger of exaggerating the problems! Its chair Lord Taverne has also commended the report on climate change by the House of Lords - the one authored by people like Nigel Lawson to promote a sceptical viewpoint.
Joop bakker 23 February, 2009
Jonathon Harrington - again you expose yourself as a fake and a fibber (to put it politely). You are well aware that CropGen is funded by the biotech industries. In fact, according to the companies involved it is owned by them (specifically, by ABC- a consortium of biotech players)...
Peter 24 February, 2009
Prof Trewavas says critics of SAS's failure to disclose conflicts of interest have been reduced to "slur and innuendo".
Is this the same Prof Trewavas who has described Greenpeace as "controlled by extremists/nihilists and other subversives... whose only interest is in destroying business/damaging trade and who have no solution to world population problems except to let people die"?
He's also described critics of GM as "bloody minded, anarchist and frankly merely destructive", and advised pro-GM scientists to alert the likes of racist US congressman Jesse Helms, "that a subversive organisation directed from europe is attempting to destroy US agriculture and US farming."
Now who was it who said resorting to slurs indicates "a total paucity of thought, argument and sense"?
Pierre 25 February, 2009
Also worth noting that Moses, as well as heading up the biotech industry lobby group CropGen, is also part of the Scientific Alliance, as are Trewavas and one or two of the other contributors to this GM booklet.
The Scientific Alliance openly campaigns against the acceptance of man-made climate change. It was set up and funded by an industrialist with an agenda so far to the right that even the Tories labelled his political faction "fascist".
The Director of the Scientific Alliance is Martin Livermore. He used to be the PR man for GM for Dupont. He's also been listed as a funder by Sense About Science. There also seems to be quite a bit of overlap between those on the boards of Sense About Science and the Scientific Alliance.
[These are selected comments edited for format. The full comments can be found at http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=405427 ]