A letter to the minister / CS Prakash and corporate propaganda (1/11/2001)

1. A letter to the minister

The following letter has been sent to the Scottish Minister of Education in support of the Scottish Genetix Action campaign on schools propaganda:
Please add your voice to the campaign to keep GE propaganda out of our schools.

[email protected]

Dear Mr McConnell

As a parent and a teacher with over 20 years experience in education, I fully understand the pressures schools are currently underwhen it comes to the availability of material. Even allowing for this, however, I have been most disturbed to hear about how Scottish Enterprise and your department are apparently allowing, and in Scottish Enterprise's case even encouraging, the introduction of highly questionable material into schools - material funded by the biotechnology industry for its propaganda value in relation to young minds.

As you will know, the UK Government's own Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission (AEBC) recently warned ministers that with genetic engineeering they needed to start taking far more account of democratic processes - accountability and consultation - in response to the depth and breadth of concerns held by the public. This seems another, and to my mind particularly unfortunate, instance of the failure to consult. Surely, there should be discussion amongst both educators and parents about this type of controversial material BEFORE we allow its introduction into our schools. This is particularly the case with the material dealing with GM crops - "Your World" Volume 10, Issue 1.

Having read this particular issue, in my view it fails to present a sufficiently balanced and non-partisan view of the arguments surrounding GM crops. And it's no wonder. The scientific advisor on this issue was CS Prakash, a notorious pro-GM propagandist who works closely with industry lobbyists and far right extremists in the United States who oppose any limitations on the way big business uses or abuses science and technology.

Prakash's pro-GM work is directly linked, for example, to the work of the Competitive Enterprise Institue (see below) which takes money from the tobacco industry and opposes restrictions on smoking, action on climate change etc etc. The carefully referenced article below, originally published by the Genetics Forum, gives more detail on Prakash's disturbing views and dubious connections. Surely, anyone who looks objectively at the evidence is bound to conclude that this is very far from being a source to inspire confidence!

I beg you to reconsider the introduction of this biotech industry funded propaganda. As a minimum, let's have the widest possible consultation and open debate before Volume 10, Issue 1 of "Your World" is used in our schools.

Yours sincerely
Jonathan Matthews


2. Part of the Network

[an edited version of an article originally published in SPLICE, the magazine of the Genetics Forum, http://www.geneticsforum.org.uk/]

The "Network"[1], supported by the International Policy Network (IPN), claims to be all about "helping to create free societies around the world"[2]. It is no surprise, therefore, to discover that it's actually constituted by an often unsavoury collection of rightwing libertarian "think tanks" and industry front organisations keen to support every ugly corporate excess.[3]

One of the IPN's prime movers is Julian Morris of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) which has advocated, amongst other interesting ideas, that African countries should be sold off to multinational corporations in the interests of "good government"[4]. Another Network member, India's Liberty Institute, has opposed restrictions on the tobacco industry which it promotes as a driver for economic growth.

Big Tobacco's popularity amongst the Network is hardly surprising given its financial input into some of the groups. Australia's Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) has actually had Philip Morris on its board, while another organisation in which Julian Morris has had a hand, the European Science and Environment Foundation, has claimed to be "a non-aligned group of scientists" which does "not accept outside funding", despite well-documented evidence that it was set up primarily with Big Tobacco money as a front organisation to help the likes of Philip Morris undermine industry critical research, and attack restrictions on smoking, biotechnology etc.[5]

Another part of the Network is the AgBioWorld Foundation headed by CS Prakash[6]. According to Prakash, he and AgBioWorld are taking on "extremist groups" who oppose genetic engineering because of their "broader agenda"[7]. Prakash has shown a talent for pursuing this crusade through the mass media and by addressing audiences around the world, courtesy of the US State Dept.

Many of these activities are also assisted by parts of the Network and like-minded extremist groups. He has spoken in Britain from an IEA platform, in Australia from an IPA platform, and has even addressed a special conference involving leading members of industry-backed rightwing lobbies masquerading as an international consumers' coalition![8]

One of the founding members of "International Consumers for Civil Society"[9] is Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute (sponsors include Novartis, Cargill, DuPont, and Monsanto). Via such bogus claims as increased E-coli food poisoning risks, Avery has done more than anyone to smear organic agriculture[10] which, in its most developed form, is seen by many as an environmentally sustainable alternative to the use of GMOs. Prakash has been more than happy to circulate and repeat Avery's smears[11] despite a total lack of credible scientific evidence to support them.

Prakash also runs the AgBioView e-mailing list[12]. The tone of its daily bulletins often ranges from the scientistic to the techno-euphoric and leading members of the Network, and like-minded corporate lobbyists, are among its key contributors. AgBioView's more extreme material accuses GM critics variously of fascism, communism, imperialism, nihilism, murder, corruption, terrorism, and even genocide; not to mention being worse than Hitler and on a par with the mass murderers who destroyed the World Trade Centre! When challenged over such attacks, Prakash invariably claims to be merely the list's moderator, as if that somehow absolved him of responsibility for the material he himself selects!

Prakash has drawn support from a large number of scientists for a petition calling for the judicious use of genetic engineering in the developing world[13], but there is little that is judicious about his naive techno-utopianism, nor his admiration for big business. Prakash eulogises the multinationals, expressing a preference for their control of food production and distribution in the developing world because of their "enormous skills, resources and investment".[14]

Though Prakash makes a big thing out of not actually taking corporate money, his total lack of distance from those who do is well illustrated by his longstanding collaboration with Julian Morris of ESEF fame. Prakash even lists Morris as one of the AgBioWorld experts available to guide the media on issues relating to biotechnology.[15]

Listed as a fellow AgBioWorld media contact on Prakash's press release attacking Sri Lanka over a proposed GM food import ban was yet another AgBioWorld expert, Greg Conko of the Competitive Enterpise Institute. The CEI, like AgBioWorld, is part of the Network[16], and, according to
its annual report, this corporate-funded lobby played "a key role in the creation" of Prakash's petition for scientists in support of genetic engineering[17].

The Prakash petition was AgBioWorld's launch pad and has always been presented as a Third World scientist's rallying point for fellow academics. According to the CEI, however, the Prakash petition formed part of its wider campaign against "death by regulation"[17] - the same CEI campaign that has been directed against government efforts to discourage smoking because, according to the CEI, "there are things more valuable than health"![18]

The Centre for Media and Democracy describes the CEI as a "well-funded front for corporations"[19]. Currently with a turnover of $3+ million a year and with another million in assets[20], the CEI has been built up with the help of the kind of corporate giants whom many would see as having a powerful vested interest in defending their ability to profit out of human misery and environmental destruction, not least in the developing world.

Among CEI's long list of known sponsors (including, inevitably, Philip Morris) is Dow Chemicals[21]. Any independent-minded journalist hearing Conko argue the AgBioWorld case against Sri Lanka might have been interested to know that the company that once made napalm a household word is soon to target the Asian market with its new GE corn.[22]

That's always providing, of course, that democratic governments like that of Sri Lanka, and the South's farmers and consumers, can continue to be prevented from getting in the way of the creation of "free societies around the world."

[4]For a copy of Nick Hildyard's article detailing this IEA proposal, an edited version of which originally appeared in the Guardian, contact The Corner House, [email protected]
[5]Tobacco industry efforts subverting International Agency for Research on Cancer's second-hand smoke study, Elisa K Ong, Stanton A Glantz, Lancet 2000, Volume 355, Issue 9211, Page 1253
- How Big Tobacco Helped Create "the Junkman", PR Watch, Vol 7, No.3, Third Quarter 2000, http://www.prwatch.org/prwissues/2000Q3/junkman.html
-The Philip Morris Documents website, http://www.pmdocs.com/
[6]SCIENCE GROUP PROTESTS SRI LANKAN BIOTECH BAN, AgBioWorld Foundation Calls For Support of Beneficial Technology, AgBioWorld press release, August 17, 2001, http://www.agbioworld.org/listarchive/view.php?id=1232
[7]Expert lashes poor's new enemy, Herald Sun, July 9 2000
[8]"The ICCS conference also presented an opportunity to garner information for proponents of the free market. Speakers like C.S. Prakash, Professor and Director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at the Tuskegee Institute, helped provide myself and other policy wonks in the crowd with scientific support for our arguments".
[10]Warning: organic and natural foods may be hazardous to your health, Dennis T. Avery, Bridge News Service, October 1, 2000
-Saving the Planet With Pestilent Statistics by Karen Charman
[11]CS Prakash: "Organic farming is not productive, organic farming is not very healthy..."; "... if you are so paranoid about food safety then you should really be banning organic food by using the precautionary principles because there is far more greater risk of E-coli contamination in your food using organic food than the GM food." Transcript, The Rise and Fall of GM, Channel 4's Equinox TV programme, March 20 2000
[14]Expert lashes poor's new enemy, Herald Sun, July 9 2000
[17]"CEI also took an active part in the fight against what we call 'death by regulation'... Foremost has been the battle over biotechnology.. Among other things, we played a key role in the creation of a 'Declaration of Scientists in Support of Agricultural Biotechnology,' which has been signed by more than 2,900 scientists at last count, among them three Nobel Prize winners." CEI Annual Report 2000
[20]CEI Annual Report 2000
[22]US DOW AGRO SEEKS TO MARKET GM CORN TO ASIA, Dow Jones Newswires, Prime Sarmiento, September 5 2001

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