Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Vatican GM event a “charade by vested interests”

Wednesday 13 May 2009

A meeting on genetic modification (GM) being held at the Vatican later this week[1] has been condemned as “a total farce” by Spinwatch, an independent non-profit making organisation which monitors the role of PR, propaganda and lobbying.

Starting 15 May, the “study week” has been organised on behalf of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences by the GM scientist, Ingo Potrykus, the co-inventor of Golden Rice. Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the Academy's chancellor, told the Catholic News Service that the aim was to gather “an objective group of experts” in a search for “scientific clarity” on the subject.[2]

But the 40 or so participants listed on the academy's website[3] are all GM supporters, with many well known for their extreme pro-GM views or having vested interests in GMO adoption.

“This event appears to have been hijacked by the GM lobby. Objectivity is the last thing anyone should expect from these ‘experts’,” said Prof. David Miller of SpinWatch, which has recently launched SpinProfiles, a new online database which tracks experts with vested interests and who spin for industry.

“One of the participants, Eric Sachs, is a Monsanto employee[4]. Another, Robert Paarlberg, is an advisor to Monsanto’s CEO, and Peter Raven and Roger Beachy head up institutions that have benefited from Monsanto’s corporate largesse to the tune of many millions of dollars. Yet another speaker, C.S. Prakash, runs the AgBioWorld campaign, which has been used as a vehicle by Monsanto and its PR people for propaganda attacks on the company’s critics.”

“This event is just the kind of charade by vested interests,” said Prof. Miller, “that SpinProfiles was set up to challenge.”

According to Claire Robinson, the managing editor of SpinProfiles, some of the participants are well known for their extreme views. She points, as an example, to Henry I. Miller from the right-wing Hoover Institution. Even though the US regulatory regime for GMO approvals is generally regarded as lax,[5] Miller has condemned the regulations as excessive.

Robinson said, “Like some of the other contributors to the Vatican event, Henry I. Miller is a free market fundamentalist. He has even described Corporate Social Responsibility, which encourages companies to take account of the social and environmental impact of their actions, as 'a 21st century Trojan horse designed to destroy free enterprise from within'. According to Hoover’s Miller, right-minded company executives, or 'corporate warriors’ as Miller terms them, ‘understand that businesses don't have social responsibilities’. Their ‘legal and moral responsibility’, Miller says, is ‘to pursue the best interests of their employers – interests that relate primarily to making as much money as possible’.”

Henry I. Miller is an example of how a number of the speakers at the Vatican event are linked to lobby groups. Miller is an adjunct scholar at the Monsanto-backed Competitive Enterprise Institute, which co-founded the AgBioWorld lobby. He’s also a member of the scientific advisory board of the climate-change denying George C. Marshall Institute, and a director of the Monsanto-backed American Council on Science and Health.

Another contributor who, according to Robinson, exemplifies the “farcical extremity of this event” is Andrew Apel, who has been invited to talk about the funding of organisations which are critical of GMOs.

“Not only is Andrew Apel not a scientist or an expert of any kind on the topic he’s speaking on, his only claims to fame seems to be a decade or so spent editing a newsletter aimed at the biotech industry, and making unfounded and inflammatory attacks on critics of GM crops. Apel has sought, for instance, to link scientists critical of GM crops to the 9/11 attackers, claiming soon after the New York attacks that two women scientists had “blood” on their hands!”

“Is this the Pontifical Academy’s idea of objectivity?“ asked Robinson, who says it is also noticeable how many of the speakers at an event about feeding the world are based in North America (the majority) and are male (all bar two).[6]

Robinson said, “The speakers at the Pontifical Academy event, with their obsession with GMOs, represent a narrow privileged clique that is firmly stuck in the past. Their vision is completely at odds with that of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), a process involving 400 scientific experts that was initiated by the World Bank with the co-sponsorship of the United Nations. The IAASTD, which has already been signed up to by 60 governments, sees no major role for GM crops in meeting the challenge of hunger and poverty. It also calls for inclusiveness in directing agricultural research and development, notably the inclusion of women, who grow most of the food in the developing world.”

The views of the speakers at the Pontifical Academy event are also seriously at odds with those of Catholic development organisations, as CIDSE - the international alliance of Catholic development agencies - has made clear in a letter to Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo. The concerns of many in the developing world, including local Churches in Asia, Latin America and Africa, are also reflected in the working document presented by Pope Benedict for this fall's Synod of Bishops for Africa. This points out that using GM crops risks “ruining small landholders, abolishing traditional methods of seeding and making farmers dependent on the production companies” selling their GMOs.

“The Vatican needs to listen to the voice of the Church in Africa,” commented Robinson, “not a narrow clique of hard-core GM extremists, many of whom have vested interests in the adoption of this dangerous technology.”


1. ↑ "Study Week: Transgenic Plants for Food Security in the Context of Development", 15-19 May 2009 - Casina Pio IV, The Pontifical Academy, Vatican City. Note: the Pontifical Academy of Sciences does not represent the views of the Vatican or the Pope but attempts have been made to create the impression that it does. See, for instance, the article: Anna Meldolesi, "Vatican Cheers GM", Nature Biotechnology 27, 214 (2009), Also available on the AgBioWorld website
2. ↑ Carol Glatz, "Pros and cons of genetic modification: Not your typical food fight", VATICAN LETTER, Catholic News Service, 1 May 2009, accessed 11 May 2009
3. ↑ "Study Week: Transgenic Plants for Food Security in the Context of Development", 15-19 May 2009 - Casina Pio IV, The Pontifical Academy, Vatican City, accessed 11 May 2009
4. ↑ Eric Sachs has worked for Monsanto for over 30 years. See "Study Week: Transgenic Plants for Food Security in the Context of Development", 15-19 May 2009 - Casina Pio IV, The Pontifical Academy, Vatican City, p.18, accessed 11 May 2009
5. ↑ “U.S. regulators rely almost exclusively on information provided by the biotech crop developer, and those data are not published in journals or subjected to peer review... The picture that emerges from our study of U.S. regulation of GM foods is a rubber-stamp 'approval process' designed to increase public confidence in, but not ensure the safety of, genetically engineered foods." - Dr David Schubert of the Salk Institute commenting on a comprehensive, peer-reviewed study of federal regulation of GMOs he co-conducted, quoted in Brian Tokar, "Deficiencies in federal regulatory oversight of genetically engineered crops", Institute for Social Ecology Biotechnology Project, June 2006. See also: Regulatory breakdown, website
6. ↑ The only female participants appear to be Nina Federoff and Martina Newell-McGloughlin, according to those listed in "Study Week: Transgenic Plants for Food Security in the Context of Development", 15-19 May 2009 - Casina Pio IV, The Pontifical Academy, Vatican City

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