Peter Raven is the Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden and a past President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has been a recipient of numerous awards and honours. Time magazine honoured him for his tireless championing of conservation and biodiversity as a 'Hero for the Planet'.
Although Raven is passionately concerned about the extinction of living organisms - warning that two-thirds of the world's species may be gone by the middle of the next century, his solution to a problem brought on by carelessness and commerce, is simple - the mastery of biology allied to the power and efficiency of corporations. 'Major companies will be, are, a major factor if we are going to win world sustainability,' he told a journalist, and the commercial development and acceptance of GM crops is something he's convinced sustainable agriculture requires.
It's an issue on which he comes out fighting. In May 2003, speaking at the Natural History Museum in London, Raven attacked Greenpeace over its opposition to GMOs, telling his audience, 'Last month, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), one of America's most venerable and respected civil rights groups, confronted Greenpeace at a public event and accused it of "eco-manslaughter" through its support of international policies limiting development and the expansion of technology to the developing world's poor'. In fact, the once respected CORE was hi-jacked during the 1970s by elements that have since used it as a Republican right pro-corporate lobby.
If Raven is hard on Greenpeace, he's less critical when it comes to Monsanto. 'There is nothing I'm condemning Monsanto for,' he says. And he's praised the company's efforts to win public acceptance for GMOs, 'The company has . . . won many more believers around the world in what they're doing and attempting to do.'
An old friend of Raven's, geneticist Wes Jackson, says of him, 'I just wish Peter was more reflective... The fact that living substance, germplasm, can become the property of a corporation is going to come at a cost. I think the boundaries of consideration need to be broader than Peter's willing to make them. In a certain sense he's a paid traveling salesman for Monsanto .'
Raven has good reason to smile on the company. According to Time magazine, 'When Raven first came to the garden in 1971, he had 85 employees and a budget of $650,000. Today there are 354 people on staff, and the budget is $20 million.' That expansion has been assisted by millions from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and substantial corporate support, not least from Monsanto.
The Garden, in fact, is based in Monsanto's home town of St. Louis. According to Raven there are other reasons for the strength of Monsanto's support. Although, 'we don't do biotech work other than bioprospecting', he says, 'The basic research we do here at the Garden makes us a major resource for the biotechnology industry'. Raven, together with Monsanto, was also the driving force behind a nearby plant biotech research institute on whose board he sits.
The Raven-Monsanto equation includes the Garden's multimillion-dollar research centre - The Monsanto Center. And it doesn't stop there as the St Louis' paper, The Riverside Times, noted in 1999, 'The Garden received $3 million from Monsanto in their last fundraising campaign... Monsanto also contributed land and a large chunk of the $146 million startup money for the Danforth Plant Science Center [a project Raven was instrumental in getting off the ground]. Monsanto matches its employees' contributions to the Garden ($225,000 last year) and contributes to the operating fund ($25,000 last year). Trustees give privately, too, and in past years the Garden has had Monsanto CEO Robert Shapiro, Monsanto vice president Tom K. Smith and Monsanto research-and-development director Howard Schneiderman on its governing board. Now the Garden is collaborating with Monsanto's nutrition sector on a food library, collecting samples of all plants used worldwide as foods and medicines. (The World Resources Institute lists Monsanto as a bioprospector since 1989 and lists its collector, as of 1993, as the Missouri Botanical Garden.) When Confluence, an environmental quarterly, criticized Monsanto, the Garden's PR woman pulled it from their literature table.'
At the time that was written, Raven's wife was Monsanto's Director of Public Policy, Kate Fish, leading to jokes that even Raven's sex life came corporate-sponsored.
Raven played a key role in getting the Golden Rice publicity bandwagon rolling, after its inventor Potrykus had his paper publicising the project rejected by the journal Nature.
Raven is a Member of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of
Sciences and was among the invited speakers at a special Vatican study seminar held in November 2003 entitled GMO: THREAT OR HOPE?. The seminar came under attack for bias. (