Based in Wellington, New Zealand, the Life Sciences Network (LSN) is a well-heeled pro-biotech PR group which lobbies aggressively for GM food and crops.
Founded in May 2000, LSN claims to have been instrumental in subsequently 'shifting the public and policy debate (on GM) onto a much sounder basis' and in achieving what it terms 'balanced' media coverage on GM in New Zealand.
The organisation appears highly secretive. Its website - www.lifesciencesnetwork.com/, until it was withdrawn in 2004, provided almost no information about itself - its members, staff, funding etc.
This may reflect its origins. Nicky Hager, author of a book on 'corn-gate' - New Zealand's GM sweetcorn scandal, has referred to a link between LSN and Communications Trumps, the PR company for Novartis that played such a leading role in 'corn-gate'.
Communications Trumps, now part of Four Winds Communications, was co-founded by Norrey Simmons in 1987. The company is no stranger to controversy. It was allegedly involved in telling New Zealand's King Salmon that in relation to its genetic engineering programme, 'issues such as deformities, lumps on heads etc should not be mentioned at any point to any outside' (from a leaked document written by Communications Trumps - see also, Seeds of Distrust, 2002, p.15)
At the same time Norrey Simmons' PR firm seems to have been behind New Zealand's orginal GM PR outfit, Gene Technology Information Trust, more commonly known as GenePool. GenePool claimed to be an independent educational trust while being funded by Monsanto and other pro-GM organisations. According to a parliamentary select committee report, this funding mostly went to Communications Trumps which shared office facilities and staff with GenePool. (Green Party issues details of report on GenePool, October 1999)
By 1999 Gene Pool was so embroiled in controversy over its funding that it had outlived its usefulness. When GenePool was being wound up, New Zealand's Green Party predicted a new 'front' would soon be set up in New Zealand by the likes of Monsanto (Taxpayer's money used in Monsanto's PR). According to Nicky Hager, 'Simmons was then involved in confidential meetings at the Wellington offices of the legal firm Russell McVeagh in which the successor lobby group, Life Sciences Network, was devised.' (Seeds of Distrust, 2002, p.34)
Up until early December 2003, the homepage of the LSN website at www.lifesciencesnetwork.com was attributed to Life Sciences Network (Inc), but this was then changed to BioScience Communications Ltd. The website title was also changed to ' BioScience News and Advocate' and the site could also be found via a new domain www.bioscinews.com. BioScience News appeared to have the same staff and to be run out of the same office as the Life Sciences Network.
However, in May 2004 the New Zealand Herald reported that the BioScience 'lobby institute' '...has closed down because of "insufficient support"'. According to the Herald, 'Lobbyist Francis Wevers set up the Bioscience Policy Institute last year... The institute was chaired by former Prime Minister Jim Bolger. Mr Wevers is now out of a job after working since January 2000 first for the Life Sciences Network, which campaigned for lifting the moratorium on genetic modification until the moratorium ended last October, and then for the institute and a daily bioscience email news service.'
Wevers, LSN's former executive director, was previously described by LSN as 'a former broadcaster, journalist, union official, PR consultant and businessman'. At one stage in his career Wevers moved from being a union official to assisting the corporations on the other side of the negotiating table via his own industrial relations consultancy. Among those Wevers helped in their battles with the unions was Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation . Wevers was assisted at LSN and the 'Institute' by Christine Ross.
According to the Herald, 'Life Sciences Network chairman William Rolleston said his organisation would continue' although without paid staff. Confusingly, however, it is the Life Sciences Network website which appears to have been pulled while, as of May 2004, the Bioscience website was still available.
Some of LSN's press releases in the past have been joint with Biotenz - a biotech trade lobby in New Zealand. LSN's chairman, William Rolleston, is an executive member and former president of Biotenz.
LSN was formed just 6 months before New Zealand's Royal Commission on Genetic Modification began its work. It hired offices in the same building as the Royal Commission from which to run its campaign. It was said to 'hav