CropGen is a biotech industry-funded lobby group led by a scientific panel whose aim is to 'make a case for GM crops' worldwide. Cropgen describes itself as, 'An education and information initiative for consumers and the media on the subject of crop biotechnology'. Until the end of 2003CropGen was run by PR company Countrywide Porter Novelli. Since then it has been run by Lexington Communications which also represents the UK biotechnology industry funded lobby group the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC), as well as Monsanto, BASF, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, Syngenta, and the Crop Protection Association.
Although the 'public should be allowed to make their own informed choice about GM foods', says its Chairman Prof Vivian Moses, 'it is essential that the biotechnology industry takes the lead in helping educate people on this issue.' CropGen was established to assist this process with nearly £500,000 from a consortium which included Aventis CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto and Novartis Seeds. The money was to cover the group's first year of operations.
Although funded by the industry, CropGen's panel members say they 'are free to express such views as they consider appropriate. The funding companies cannot veto the panel's position on any issue.' Panel members include Vivian Moses, Nigel Halford, Peter Lutman, David Cove, Helen Millar, Guy Poppy, Howard Slater, Guy Smith, Jonathan Harrington, Bill Macfarlane Smith and Conrad Lichtenstein.
The BBC quoted a public relations source as saying that the initiative came from the biotech companies who approached the panel members. The PR firm in question was Porter Novelli, which was responsible for the day to day running of CropGen prior to Lexington Communications . Porter Novelli's website used to feature a quote from CropGen thanking the PR firm for providing invaluable support in taking its arguments to the general public and via the media amid 'all the hype and misinformation' spread by the opponents of GM.CropGen
However, CropGen has itself faced criticism for spreading hype and misinformation.
In a press release issued by Cropgen to welcome the publication of the UK's official 'science review' in July 2003, CropGen's chairman, Prof Moses, was quoted as saying of GM food safety, 'We can readily test for acute conditions: is the new food toxic, is it likely to provoke allergic responses and might it result in nutritional deficiencies? All these tests can be done in the laboratory using animals or with a relatively small number of human volunteers. Such tests are, indeed, routinely done as part of the approvals process.' But this is not the case. Human volunteers have never been involved in the testing for the approvals process for GM foods. The nutritionist Dr Arpad Pusztai describes the Moses' claim as 'a grave travesty of the truth', concluding,'Within the bounds of civilised discussion I cannot comment on this because I do not want to be personal!'
Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies similarly takes issue with the claims made by CropGen in order to promote the image of GM crops improving the lives of poor Third World farmers. He notes that in Growing GM Cotton in South Africa: A Small-Hold Farmer's Experience , published by CropGen in GM Viewpoint, October 2002, CropGen states that the South African farmers growing Monsanto's GM cotton are gaining $113 per hectare. DeGrassi points out, however, that this figure is substantially at variance with claims made by others, including by those connected to the biotech industry.
In fact, even Monsanto only claims the farmers in question gain an extra $90. Others place the figure substantially lower. The industry-funded ISAAA argues that switching to GM cotton allows the farmers to make an extra $50 per hectare. University researchers, reports deGrassi, put the figure at $35, ie less than a third of the Cropgen claim.&