Dr Shantharam's big tirade (20/5/2007)

1.An unreliable witness
2.Dr Shantharam's big tirade

1.An unreliable witness
By Jonathan Matthews of GM Watch

The following attack on the case brought by Aruna Rodrigues and her co-petitioners before the Supreme Court was posted onto a list for scientists and others in India by Dr Shanthu Shantharam. It's a masterpiece of misinformation.

According to Dr Shantharam, "The Supreme Court case that delayed GM crops so long had no basis at all". Inded, says Shantharam, the activists behind it are not even concerned with GM crops but simply with promoting their "anti-science, anti-MNC, anti-capitalist and anti-American agenda."

As Shantharam sees it, the opposition to GM is based upon "all sorts of nonsense that has been published by a lunatic called Dr, Mae Wan-Ho (sic)" who is guilty of "professional misconduct in science by repeatedly writing scientific nonsense about GM crops."

According to Shantharam, "Nobody takes Dr. Ho's claims seriously ... but Indian activists are now rediscovering her writings and coach their lawyers to represent such scientific nonsense and mislead the courts." Shantharam focuses particularly on concerns he attributes to Dr Ho about the viral-promoter CaMV commonly used in GM crops.

Dr Shantharam concludes his tirade with a call to arms: "All right minded scientists should unite and fight this menace. Science, truth and facts are there for everyone to see and read and inform the courts. Anybody listening?"

Indeed we are, Dr Shantharam, but we're not convinced what we're hearing bears much relation to the truth.

For instance, regardless of the merits of otherwise of Dr Shantharam's opinion of Mae-wan Ho, it is simply untrue that Dr Ho or her writings were at the heart of the Public Interest Litigation. In fact, not one of the depositions placed before the Court was from Dr Ho.

Of course, among the various scientists making depositions, such as Dr David Schubert - head of the Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute, Dr Doug Gurian-Sherman of UCS - formerly the US Environmental Protection Agency's biotech specialist, Dr Jack Heinemann - Director of the Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety, and Dr Arpad Pusztai - Scientific Consultant to the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology, there was Dr Joe Cummins, Emeritus Professor of Genetics at the University of Western Ontario, who commented on GM mustard. Although an eminent scientist, Prof Cummins has in other contexts collaborated and co-authored material with Dr Shantharam's bete noir - Dr Ho. So in Shantharam's mind there could be some guilt by association.

But guilt by association is as far as it goes. Aruna Rodrigues says that in all the depositions submitted to the Supreme Court, she can only remember a single citation of a paper by Dr Ho, and that was one Dr Ho had co-authored. Nor, for that matter, did the CaMV promoter loom large in the case. In fact, when - prior to the last hearing - the petitioners submitted a 17-page 'Written Statement' with appendices summarizing their case, there were only about two paragraphs in the entire document that made reference to CaMV.

Where it gets really interesting, though, is when you take a look at who the Government of India was putting up to make its case. How, for instance, did it counter the concerns about the food and feed safety of GM crops of the nutritional expert Dr Arpad Pusztai?

Answer: by submitting to the Court the criticism of Pusztai's research by Alan McHughen in his book 'Pandora's Picnic Basket'. In other words, the Government of India's critique came not from a peer reviewed source but from a book written for popular consumption by a GM plant scientist with no expertise in nutritional science but with a considerable vested interest in GM crop acceptance.

Interestingly, according to his c.v., at the time the Government of India made its submission, Dr McHughen had published in refereed journals just two scientific papers containing plant work and neither of these was on nutrition. By contrast, Dr Pusztai has published over 300 primary scientific papers of which over 100 were nutritional studies. Many of these were published in leading nutritional journals and most contained experimental work employing a similar methodology to the research Dr McHughen criticizes in 'Pandora's Picnic Basket'!

And McHughen wasn't the only questionable expert deployed by the Government of India. When it came to defending Bt brinjal, it turned to none other than Dr Shantharam and his sidekick at the Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education (FBAE), Dr C. Kameswara Rao.

As Dr Shantharam seems to be keen on guilt by association, it seems fair to note at this point that he is a former employee of Syngenta. Similarly, although the FBAE describes itself as "non-profit" and "grass-root" (sic), it seems to have remarkably close links to major biotech business interests.

And, ironically, while Dr Shantharam dismisses the scientific concerns about GM as "nonsense" got up by a "lunatic", the public statements in support of GM that he and Dr Rao make do not always bear careful scrutiny. Indeed, the following statement from Dr Rao actually won GM Watch's "BIGGEST PACK OF LIES - 2006" award:

"In the event of Golden Rice, research laboratories, trial fields and even scientific workers were attacked, striking such a fear that led to hiding a handful of prototype Golden Rice seed in a bombproof bunker in an unspecified place in Switzerland." [!!!]

And here's Dr Shantharam holding forth on how GM contamination was not the issue in the Percy Schmeiser case:

"Court records clearly establish that Schmeiser had planted gm canola which he had purchased illegally."

In fact, the trial court records establish the exact opposite. Aaron Mitchell, the lead investigator for Monsanto in the case, told the trial court under oath that, "We have no proof that anyone sold seed to Mr Schmeiser." (June 8 2000, p.87)

And when the case later came before Canada's Supreme Court, nobody attempted to claim the contamination was due to any illegal purchase of GM seed by Percy Schmeiser.
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