Jones backs down over Monsanto connection, etc.
2.Why so surprised, Prof. Jones?
3.Where's the GM beef?
1.Jones backs down over Monsanto connection
On Sunday (18 July) an article appeared in The Observer newspaper detailing Prof Jonathan Jones's failure to make clear his business 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-founderâˆ‘ 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: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/feb/07/haltinggrowth
"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: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=405427 "
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. âˆ‘
"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 Ë† 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
More information can be found at
2.Why so surprised, Prof. Jones?
Prof. Jonathan Jones has reacted with apparent bemusement to the row over his failure to make clear his links to the biotech industry when promoting GM. He writes, "with the 20:20 vision of hindsight it would have been better to present my affiliation [to Mendel/Monsanto]. This didnt occur to me..."
But this is not the first time this issue has arisen. A year ago the pro-GM lobby group Sense About Science published a controversial guide to GM which noted its authors' public affiliations, such as their positions in universities or research institutes primarily funded from the public purse, while omitting any mention of their links to the GM industry.
The failure to declare industry affiliations drew strong criticism, as can be seen from the Times Higher Education article below. For instance:
"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.'"
The introduction to the GM guide was written by none other than Jonathan Jones, together with Ellen Raphael of Sense About Science, who helped him edit the guide.
Jones is described in the guide simply as, "Head of Laboratory at The Sainsbury Laboratory and a member of the Royal Society working group on food security." Because Jones' founding of a company that had Monsanto as its principal collaborator was not widely known at the time, none of the criticism in the Times Higher Education article focused on him.
But he could hardly have been unaware of the controversy. It featured not only in the Times Higher Education piece, but in much online comment, plus an article in Private Eye. And one of the focuses of the criticism was the John Innes Centre where Jonathan Jones is based.
One might have thought the outraged reaction to the guide's lack of frankness would have left Prof. Jones in little doubt as to how a failure to declare industry affiliations might be seen.
Charity guide criticised for not declaring GM interests
Times Higher Education, 19 February 2009
*Sense About Science pamphlet failed to list contributors' links with industry
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.
3.Where's the GM beef?
EXTRACT: Unreferenced promotional pieces claiming mythical benefits for GM crops by persons with interests in the technology do not constitute science but do honest science a disservice.
NOTE: Prof. Jonathan Jones says affiliations aren't important. What really matters are all the benefits GM can deliver, but when asked to go beyond grandstandingâˆ‘ The following are extracts from the discussion of the article on the Guardian website about Prof. Jones' affiliations.
Scientist leading GM crop test defends links to US biotech giant Monsanto
I would prefer to see the discussion focus on the merits of specific arguments about GM, rather than the affiliations of the proponents.
âˆ‘ to return to the serious issue, which is whether GM crops have a role to play in addressing food security, I and the vast majority of practicing plant scientists take the view that it does, that it is safe, that it reduces pesticide (particularly insecticide) applications, that it reduces the environmental impact of agriculture and that it is a valuable way forward to increasing crop performance that it would be perverse to spurn.
Jones says GM crops "have a role to play in addressing food security" and that GM "is safe, that it reduces pesticide (particularly insecticide) applications, that it reduces the environmental impact of agriculture and that it is a valuable way forward to increasing crop performance".
Well, I am sorry, but as a scientist, you must know that you cannot just assert these things. You must show us the data. There is an awful lot of data out there showing the opposite: that GM is not safe; that (according to over 400 scientists who authored the IAASTD report) that it doesn't hold promise for increasing food security; that it increases the environmental impact of agriculture by increased chemical use and other factors; and that GM crops typically create yield drags, not yield improvements.
A few of these studies have been cited in this thread, but there are many, many more. It is time that a genuinely science-based debate was held on GM crops. Unreferenced promotional pieces claiming mythical benefits for GM crops by persons with interests in the technology do not constitute science but do honest science a disservice.
btw, in the interests of transparency and openness, how come i always identify myself as jonathandgjones, and i am debating cartoon characters called things like profb, Esa666, Trog1, TeaJunkie, ancientofdays, ikesolem etc etc who can express their opinions without being held to account?
On names, that's in accord with the Guardian's comment policy, I'm sure the cartoon characters would be only too happy to identify themselves and their affiliations if Comment is Free or the BBC were to offer them a Prof Jones type soap box. Up till now the BBC won't even publish their comments.
I can express my opinion without being held to account, because I am not claiming any particular expertise in relation to GM crops and biotechnology. However, when Professor Jones broadcasts public statements based on his academic and commercial expertise in this field, he is held to account.
Bit of a swerve there from Jonathan Jones: asked to "show us the data" to back up his assertions that GM is 'safe' or that GM 'reduces pesticide applications', he launches instead into a complaint about web identities.
Surprising though it must have been to discover, half way down a thread, that posters are using board names; I second 'Trog1''s balanced comments and ask again. Could you please, Professor Jones, show us the data for the seemingly unqualified and generalised claims you make?
technicolour; you could start by looking at this analysis from the US national research council
@ Professor Jones: Thank you: I've looked at the summary and so far found this:
"In this report, analysis of the U.S. experience with genetically engineered crops shows that they offer substantial net environmental and economic benefits compared to conventional crops; however, these benefits have not been universal, some may decline over time, and potential benefits and risks may become more numerous as the technology is applied to more crops."
So it's saying that what GM crops 'offer' is not necessarily what they deliver?
I was also surprised to read that "risks may become more numerous as the technology is applied to more crops". In what way, if one accepts this, can it be possible to call GM crops per se "safe"?
The 'key findings' listed seem vague on details - "similar to"; "many adopters"; "could help improve". Key finding no 5, however, states that "targeting specific insect pests with Bt toxins in corn and cotton has been successful, and insecticide use has decreased with the adoption of insect-resistant crops".
I've just read reports from China that the decrease in insecticide use on Bt cotton (designed with a built in insecticide against the boll weevil) has actually allowed the mirid bug to take over and infest crops of all kinds instead. Resulting in an increased use of insectides. Have you seen the reports and would you care to comment?
Otherwise am now reading the full report and so far note that in the USA two pest species (unnamed) have already become resistant to Bt crops; that nine weed species have become resistant to glyphosate, that use of glyphosate is increasing; and that "HR (herbicide resistant) crops have not substantially increased yields". And I'm only on page 9.
It's fascinating, but if you posted this to support your position, I'm a little puzzled.