|Reuters falls for Biotech spin (12/11/2005)|
To see the article Prof Miller says reflects clear PR manipulation of Reuters: http://za.today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-10-18T150106Z_01_BAN854044_RTRIDST_0_OZATP-FOOD-GMO-AFRICA-20051018.XML
Reuters falls for Biotech spin
I would like to raise a concern I have about the Reuters article, 'Africa seen accepting GMO crops more in future', which was published in October out of Johannesburg. My concern is with the superficial coverage the article provides and what I would see as clear PR manipulation of your journalist(s).
The article is based overwhelmingly around the views and comments of Florence Wambugu who is described in the article simply as "a Kenyan biotech expert". The article reports her view that "homegrown projects" will win acceptance for GM crops in Africa where she says "resistance has been against foreign companies". The example given of a "homegrown" project is that of a consortium headed by Wambugu's 'Africa Harvest' group, which is developing "a GMO strain of sorghum with higher nutritional content."
My concern is that the article fails to place any of Wambugu's claims in context. For instance, the following press release (July 1, 2005) from Pioneer Hibred, a subsidiary of DuPont headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, makes it clear that it is a major player in Wambugu's consortium.
While the Reuters article does make reference to "two U.S. groups" being involved in the project, it does not mention that one of these "groups" is the seed division of a major GM corporation. This information seems important in the context of claims made in the Reuters article that this is "absolutely an African driven project" and that it is not driven by foreign companies.
Florence Wambugu's own background is also relevant to this issue of the role of foriegn companies in promoting GM in Africa. Wambugu was previously a Post-Doctoral fellow in Monsanto. (http://www.ahbfi.org/collab_potato.htm ). She has also partnered with DuPont on a previous biotechnology project which is still ongoing.
In addition, her group Africa Harvest's communication activities have been supported by CropLife International, a global federation 'representing the plant science industry' and led by companies like BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont , Monsanto and Syngenta. Whether Florence Wambugu's current communication activities are similarly supported is hard to say as I could not find funding information on Africa Harvest's website. However, the site's previous funding information page is still accessible via an Internet archive and this confirms the funding by CropLife International.
It is also worth noting that Florence Wambugu's projects have come in for considerable critisism for the way in which they have been promoted. It is not only "anti-GM activists" who have noted the inaccuracy of many of her claims and of their coverage in the media, but academic researchers. For instance Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex takes apart Wambugu's claims for the GM sweet potato project she worked on with Monsanto, concluding her claims have more to do with PR than science
Two other recent reports have taken apart her claims for the biotech banana project Africa Harvest has run with the help of DuPont. These researchers found her claims to be largely unsupported by the available data or by peer reviewed study, and in some cases they found the available evidence directly contradicted her claims. (see 'The Anti-politics Gene - Biotechnology, Ideology and Innovation Systems in Kenya', http://assets.innogen.ac.uk/assets_innogen/dynamic/1127824457271/Innogen-Working-Paper-36-Final.doc
To help deal with the issue of manipulation by lobbyists, SpinWatch - the organisation I helped to found - is developing a database that may be of interest to your journalists and may help them to pose pertinent questions - http://www.spinwatch.org. The US-based Center for Media and Democracy operates a similar database: SouceWatch - http://www.sourcewatch.org