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From genocide revisionists to biotech apologists pt 3 (7/4/2004)

In the week of the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, GM WATCH is looking at the genocide deniers who became biotech apologists, and how they have successfully applied to the GM debate the talent they showed over Rwanda and Bosnia, for articulating lies perpetuated by more powerful interests.

A decade on, the LM network operates not from the social and political fringes but with the open support of major multinational companies and from within the very heart of the science-media establishment. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3238

The following article looks at the remarkable success of their underhand tactics and how they now work shoulder to shoulder with establishment figures, such as Baronness Greenfield and Lord Taverne, who appoint them to positions of influence, make use of their rhetoric, and turn a blind eye to the group's background and tactics because of the current convenience of their agenda and a shared antipathy to those they target.

EXCERPT: 'there is an Orwellian irony about SAS chair Lord Taverne's fulminations against "eco-fundamentalists" supposedly adopting "the tactics of animal welfare terrorists", while his staff and co-members of the SAS Working Party [he serves on] are part of a network which has refused to condemn terrorist atrocities and sought to deny genocide and horrific war crimes.'

For part 1 of this series - Genocide? What genocide? - see: http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3164

For part 2 http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3238
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Rotten to the corp
Science in Society 21, Spring 2004
www.i-sis.org.uk
subscriptions +44 (0)20 7383 3376

An expose of biotech's new corporate warriors who promote their agenda by infiltrating the science-media establishment and by using smear tactics borrowed from America's far-right.  By Claire Robinson and Jonathan Matthews

Things looked bleak for biotech in Britain by the end of October 2003. The "GM Nation" public debate had ended with almost nobody wanting GM food, and the newly published GM crop trial results said they were generally bad for wildlife. Media reports on GM were overwhelmingly downbeat. Then something happened to shift the tone.

Prime Minister Tony Blair was sent a letter from 114 scientists, complaining about the lack of government support for GM during the debate. Initial media reports said the letter was the work of Professor Derek Burke, who once chaired the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes. But in later reports, it soon emerged that a lobby group called Sense About Science (SAS) was behind it.

The letter attracted considerable media coverage. The Times reported, "More than 100 leading scientists have made a once-in-a-generation appeal to Tony Blair to save British science." Questions demanding to know Blair's reply followed in both Houses of Parliament. Blair was at pains to emphasise that he had not ruled out GM crop commercialisation in Britain. He stressed his govemment's support for biotechnology and his recognition of its economic value.

Even before Blair's reassuring reply, one of the letter's signatories, Prof. Chris Leaver, noted the success of the strategy. He told the Times Higher Education Supplement that the letter had created "some unease about the state of the debate and whether we have the full picture." According to Leaver, "The letter seems to have succeeded in shaking the creeping view - especially in government - that 'we probably have to let the campaigners have this one' and hope that things might change in years to come."

The episode marked a victory for the biotech industry - and for SAS. The lobby group had distracted the media and the government from arguments the biotech industry cannot win - that GM is unpopular and risky - and had successfully equated support for GM with support for British science.

It was the latest move in a carefully crafted campaign to spearhead the commercialisation of GM from within the very heart of the UK's science establishment. And the strategies being used - some of them new to Britain - are as dishonest as they are dirty.

A fortnight earlier, on the eve of the publication of the govemment's GM crop trial results, an article appeared in The Times under the headline "GM vandals force science firms to reduce research". The article, based on an SAS survey, quoted SAS director Tracey Brown as saying, "The burden of trying to organise the research community to pre-empt and protect from vandalism is potentially disastrous."

Articles in the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) and elsewhere went further, suggesting that the GM public debate had been "hijacked" by "activists" - an idea repeated in the coverage of SAS's letter to Blair. They also claimed that scientists who support GM were being subjected to a campaign of physical and mental abuse, leading some to leave the country for jobs abroad. One THES article headlined, "Scientists quit UK amid GM attacks", named two scientists said to have suffered such intimidation. One was - again - Chris Leaver, a SAS trustee. The other was Mike Wilson, a SAS advisory panelist.

Another THES article - "GM debate cut down by threats and abuse" - sounded a still more sinister note. It spoke of "the increasingly violent anti-GM lobby", "growing levels of physical and mental intimidation", "hardcore tactics of protesters", "intimidation by anti-GM lobbyists... mirroring animal-rights activism", "increasingly vicious protests", "a baying mob of anti-GM activists", and "a string of personal threats". It called for "the government to intervene to protect researchers." However, this article, like the others, failed to cite a single instance of a researcher being assaulted or anything similar. Indeed, the only specific threat of any seriousness cited was a bomb hoax in 1998.

The irony is, of course, that victimisation is predominantly suffered by those scientists brave enough to publish findings unfavourable to the biotech industry or to criticize it (see "Biotech critic denied tenure", for the latest punishment meted out by the pro-biotech scientific establishment). What better way to deflect attention from these shameful events than to reverse the roles of victim and attacker in the public mind?

The same tactic was used again a month later in an article in The Times, by SAS chairman Lord Taveme, headlined, "When crops burn, the truth goes up in smoke". Taverne spoke of farmers and researchers being "terrorised" and of "anti-GM campaigners" adopting "the tactics of animal welfare terrorists". Again, no examples were given, other than the bomb hoax five years earlier. Taverne wrote, "The anti-GM campaign has become a crusade. Its champions... have become ecofundamentalists, followers of a new kind of religion... But when campaigns become crusades, crusaders are more likely to turn to violence." <

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