Based in Washington DC, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) was established in July of 1993 under the leadership of Carl B. Feldbaum. By 2004 it had grown from 16 employees and a $2.1 million budget to almost a 100 member staff with a $40 million budget by 2004. Membership has increased from 350 to over 1,000.
As the industry's major trade association, BIO represents large and small companies, as well as academic and research centers which use biotechnology to develop medical, agricultural, industrial and environmental products. BIO's members are not only in the U.S. but in 33 other countries. Its members include AstraZeneca, Aventis, Bayer, DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta.
BIO says it aims to provide 'Biotechnology Information, Advocacy and Business Support'.It spent $14,166,000 on lobbying from 1998 to 2002. Biotech pharmaceutical companies and BIO have given more than $13 million in US election contributions since 1989.
BIO's 11th annual conference in June 2003 was addressed by President Bush, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Mark McClellan. Carl Feldbaum was succeeded as BIO's President in 2004 by Congressman James Greenwood.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 'The association has four major lobbying priorities: blocking government price controls of biotech drugs; promoting genetically modified foods; streamlining the regulatory process for biotech products; and supporting tax incentives for the industry. Threats of bioterrorism have also propelled the industry - and its trade association - onto the homeland security front.'
A major hurdle for BIO in its promotion of the industry is its financial record. The Wall Street Journal in may 2004 in a front page article, headed 'Biotech's dismal bottom line: More than $40 billion in losses', noted, 'Biotechnology may yet turn into an engine of economic growth and cure deadly diseases. But it's hard to argue that it's a good investment. Not only has the biotech industry yielded negative financial returns for decades, it generally digs its hole deeper every year.' The WSJ pointed out that this truth becomes lost in periodic bursts of enthusiasm for biotech stocks.
David Ewing, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle commented on BIO's annual conference of June 2004, 'As of yet, most of what I'm looking for here is in the 'promise' category - and has been each year I have come to this ever-larger industry fete... Last year, this industry lost $5.4 billion, and has lost a staggering $57.7 billion since BIO last held its annual conference in San Francisco in 1994, according to an Ernst and Young study. Only a few companies have been consistently profitable in the 30 years since biotech was born - a few, such as Amgen and Genentech, fantastically so. Remove them, and the losses and numbers are far worse for the rest of the industry.'
L. Val Giddings is BIO's Vice President, Food & Agriculture, with specific responsibility for GM crops.
BIO has been quick to condemn research that raise questions about the impact of GM crops. When the scientist Arpad Pusztai was effectively fired, his research halted and his research team broken up, after he had raised questions about the safety of GM foods, L Val Giddings, on behalf of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, applauded Pusztai's dismissal, adding 'This is a study that should never have seen the light of day.' ( No Small (Genetic) Potatoes, January 10, 2000)
In April 2002 an Associated Press article on 'corporate meddling in academia' pointed the finger at BIO for instigating a campaign of pressure on the journal Nature over a Mexican maize study it had published by UC Berkeley researchers Quist and Chapela, which pointed to the contamination of native Mexican maize varieties by GMOs. 'Nature's publication of the study in September,' according to the article, 'almost immediately galvanized the Biotechnology Industry Organization into action. Led by the lobbying group, sympathetic scientists inundated the journal with complaints that the study's science was sloppy. They also denounced Chapela and Quist as politically biased.' (Corn study spurs debate over corporate meddling in academia, Associated Press).
When Nature distanced itself from the research it had published, BIO's Vice President, L. Val Giddings, told the Washington Post, 'We believe that Nature erred in publishing the article to begin with, and it seems they came to the same unavoidable conclusion. The authors . . . commitment was not to data and science but to a religious commitment to an [anti-biotechnology] dogma.'
Giddings' denunciation of the Berkeley scientists, as ideologically driven, was identical to the attacks which launched the campaign against them - attacks which surfaced first on the listserv of AgBioWorld, in messages from a 'Mary Murphy' and an Go to a Printer Friendly Page