AgBioView co-founder takes money from Monsanto (4/4/2004)

Last week Greg Conko of the U.S. "think tank", the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), was in Australia on a U.S.-government funded tour, lobbying unsuccessfully for GM. The tour was also backed by the US's National Center for Food and Agriculture Policy, which pumps out scientific studies showing remarkable benefits from GM farming (see the profile below).

While in Australia Conko admitted to journalist Bob Burton that CEI takes funding from Monsanto. Conko and CEI, it may be remembered, co-founded CS Prakash's AgBioWorld campaign. Indeed, the CEI describe Conko as "the Vice President and a member of the Board of Directors of the AgBioWorld Foundation, [which] he co-founded with Tuskegee University plant genetics professor C.S. Prakash". CEI also says that it played "a key role in the creation" of Prakash's petition for "agbiotech" as part of its wider campaign against "death by regulation" - a campaign that also takes in attacking restrictions on smoking. Philip Morris is another of the CEI's sponsors.

GM WATCH research has also shown that AgBioworld has intimate links to Monsanto's Internet PR firm, The Bivings Group, and that AgBioWorld and its listserv AgBioView have been used as a conduit for Monsanto/Bivings-inspired dirty tricks campaigns involving poison pen attacks on Monsanto's scientific and environmental critics - most infamously, a campaign of smears and attacks on the Berkeley researchers Quist and Chapela.

1.Conko down-under
2.CEI - GM WATCH profile
3.Greg Conko - GM WATCH profile
4.National Center for Food and Agriculture Policy - GM WATCH profile

[see links for sources in the profiles]

For a profile of CS Prakash and AgBioWorld see: http://www.lobbywatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=106

1.Conko down-under
By Bob Burton
IPS-Inter Press Service April 1, 2004,

CANBERRA: For the last week, Gregory Conko from the conservative U.S. think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), has faced an uphill battle in selling the benefits of genetic engineering (GE) to Australian governments and farmers.

That is because a string of decisions in the last two weeks by Australian state governments -- banning or placing a moratorium on the planting of genetically modified (GM) canola in order to prevent the loss of markets for wheat as well as non-GE canola -- has made Conko's U.S.-government funded tour appear obsolete.

"My understanding from some of the state officials in Tasmania and Western Australia is that they would prefer not to allow any GM crops so the entire state can have a reputation of being GM-free," Conko said. "In the short term this may be a rational marketing decision but in the long term I don't see that that is necessarily going to hold up."

While the U.S. Embassy organized Conko's tour in an attempt to shore up fading support among farmers for genetically engineered crops, the cost is being covered the National Centre for Food and Agricultural Policy, which in turn is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Asked whether companies with genetic engineering interests fund the CEI, Conko said: "We do get a small amount of money from one biotech firm and a couple of food companies." While saying that less than a quarter of the CEI's agriculture programme funding comes from corporations, Conko confirmed that Monsanto is the biotechnology sponsor of the institute.

A genetic engineering campaigner with Greenpeace Australia, Jeremy Tager, believes Conko's tour is another signal of how desperate the U.S. government and companies like Monsanto have become.

"They have effectively lost the debate in the bulk of Australia and this is a desperate attempt to shore up their fading support," he said.

The Australian government's Federal Gene Technology Regulator has licensed for both Bayer and Monsanto the unconditional release of genetically engineered canola varieties. But strong opposition from farmers, agricultural marketing agencies and environmentalists has blocked the commercial release of the crops.

The last week has seen a stunning series of setbacks in the determination of the pro-genetic engineering proponents to press ahead with the commercial release of GE canola in Australia. Last week, Victoria decided to legislate for a four-year ban on the crop, and the Western Australian government legislated to keep the whole state free of genetically engineered crops indefinitely. This week the South Australian parliament is debating legislation to impose a moratorium on genetically engineered canola, and a similar bill is before the Australian Capital Territory parliament.

Colleen Ross, the National Farmers Union of Canada spokeswoman on genetically engineered crops, is also touring Australia, but with the support of environmental and anti-GE farmers groups. Ross, who farmed in Australia for many years before moving to Canada, has a word of warning for Australian farmers and governments considering the use of genetically engineered crops.

"I don't want Australian farmers to go through what we have gone through six or seven years down the track. We have Monsanto taking our farmers to court, we have complicated intellectual property rights and trade disputes. Far better just to say no," she said.

When Victorian Agriculture Minister Bob Cameron announced the state government's four-year ban last week on genetically engineered canola, he cited a market survey undertaken by the Australian Wheat Board. This, he said, "found that 30 percent of its wheat markets would have concerns if GM grain of any type was commercially grown in Victoria".

Tager of Greenpeace welcomes the decisions by the state governments, but sees as the next critical decision the imminent decision by the New South Wales government on whether it approves a massive 3,500-hectare 'trial' of GE canola.

"Unless there is intervention by the Premier or at Cabinet level, I don't think there is much doubt that the Minister for Agriculture will say yes to the planting," he said.

The implications of a go-ahead, he argues, are potentially massive.

"The estimate we have is that 3,500 hectares would contaminate 250,000 hectares of land at risk of contamination, that is a pretty conservative estimate based on fairly short distances of contamination occurring.

If you took the UK figure of contamination across 26 kilometers -- they can't explain it, but they found that there is nothing in NSW at all left GE-free," he said.

Conko argues that while there is often opposition to the introd

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