|Monsanto gives $15 million to help "fuel work in Africa" (6/9/2006)|
1.Fuelling PR at the expense of Africa - GM Watch
1.Fuelling PR at the expense of Africa
The article below not only makes clear the umbilical cord that exists between Monsanto and its PR baby: the Danforth Plant Science Center, but is a perfect illustration of the triumph of public relations over reality when it comes to the Danforth Center's "mission of bringing biotechnology to the developing world."
The Danforth Center was originally established by Monsanto and academic partners with a $70-million pledge from Monsanto, which also donated the Center's 40-acre tract of land, valued at the time at over $11 million.
Now Monsanto has donated another $15 million, half of which is to "fuel work in Africa."
The only example of such work that's given in the article is the Danforth Center's work on cassava - "the most important food security crop in Africa, one that keeps farmers from starvation when the main crop fails."
The article goes on: "But in the last decade, a plant virus has swept across eastern Africa and decimated the cassava crop. Danforth Center scientists have engineered a virus-resistant cassava, but have not yet surmounted political hurdles that have kept them from field testing the engineered cassava."
The conclusion could not be clearer - Danforth Center scientists have genetically engineered resistance to a virus that devastates a crop vital to Africa's food security, and only misplaced political hurdles are standing in its way. Let's overcome the barriers and deliver food security to Africa.
But this is completely misleading. As Mariam Mayet of the Africa Centre for Biosafety recently revealed, the Danforth Center's GM cassava unexpectedly lost any resistance it had to the virus some time ago. In other words, the Center's flagship project for Africa had come to a grindinmg halt not because of any political obstacles but because it's turned out to be a dud. That, however, hasn't stpped its continuing use for public relations purposes! (see GM cassava fails in Africa) http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=6979
Talking up the need to pour yet more money into such projects is the plant biotechnologist Joel Cohen. Cohen was previously with USAID where he collaborated with Monsanto on a GM sweet potato project for Africa. That also failed, though only after consuming millions of dollars in funding. (How to Wambuzle the world) http://www.lobbywatch.org/p2temp2.asp?aid=59&page=1&op=2
But while these GM showcase projects are massively expensive, they more than pay out in PR terms - Cohen's GM sweet potato project single-handedly generated hundreds of column inches of hype in the world's media, and the cassava project shows that even technological failure does not derail the PR bandwagon.
And Cohen would like not just Monsanto but the public sector to throw its money at these projects, complaining, "Public-sector biotechnology has been tremendously underfunded."
Cohen is part of the biotech industry backed Public Research and Regulation Initiative, that lobbies to minimise "political hurdles" and maximise public resources for the biotech sector. (PRRI profile) http://www.lobbywatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=316
Meanwhile, as New Scientist reported at the time of the failure of Cohen's project to produce a productive GM sweet potato, "Embarrassingly, in Uganda conventional breeding has produced a high-yielding variety more quickly and more cheaply." (Monsanto's showcase project in Africa fails) http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2561
Biotech lobbyists and the industry's PR needs must no longer be allowed to divert public funding from where it is so badly needed.
2.Monsanto gives $15 million to Danforth Plant Science Center
The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center today announced it received a $15 million gift from Monsanto Co., one intended to boost the non-profit center's mission of bringing biotechnology to the developing world.
Half the money will bolster the center's endowment, while the other half will fuel work in Africa.
Monsanto and the Danforth Center, headquartered across the street from each other in Creve Coeur, often share expertise and technology. Monsanto was also a primary donor in establishing the center, which opened its doors in 2001. But they have different goals.
For-profit Monsanto sells genetically-engineered seeds to farmers that can pay for them. Similar to a university, the not-for-profit Danforth Center performs research on crops that may not have a market.
For instance, the center has for seven years worked on cassava. This tropical crop - a tall, leafy plant with a potato-like root - is the most important food security crop in Africa, one that keeps farmers from starvation when the main crop fails.
But in the last decade, a plant virus has swept across eastern Africa and decimated the cassava crop. Danforth Center scientists have engineered a virus-resistant cassava, but have not yet surmounted political hurdles that have kept them from field testing the engineered cassava.
Plant biotechnologist Joel Cohen said that non-profit plant science centers, also referred to as "public-sector" institutes, have been good at doing research but less adept at turning that research into humanitarian products for poor people.
"Public-sector biotechnology has been tremendously underfunded," said Cohen, a Potomac, Md.-based private consultant with a career in the public sector. "They've had a very hard time." Cohen said that the gift could help pay for