ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

15 September 2002

NGIN ATTACKED ON BBC'S 'TALKING POLITICS'

BBC Radio 4's 'Talking Politics' yesterday contained a curious attack on NGIN:

"There's a certain element of instant power [to NGOs]. If you are involved with an NGO that's driving policy then you're going to have more of an effect, much more of an effect than you would have done historically, politically, because if you're engaged in politics you'd have to argue your case in the Commons or to your local constituents. Now you get on your fax machine, you send out your press release to a number of journalists and with any luck they'll be calling you up and you'll be on the TV and you've got instant recognition, instant power and fame. A good example of this is the Norfolk Genetic Information Network which is run by one individual who enthusiastically promotes an anti-GM message on a very vigorous daily basis and has together with some larger NGOs actually created an antipathetic environment towards what could be a very beneficial technology. He has, I think, poisoned the waters."
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/news/talkingpolitics.shtml
(about 24-25 mins in to an otherwise dull programme)

These comments came from Julian Morris, described on the programme as the director of the International Policy Network (co-director Roger Bate), but he could just as easily have been described as the director of the Environment and Technology Programme of the Institute of Economic Affairs (co-director Roger Bate). He's also been involved in the European Science and Environment Forum (director Roger Bate).

Though Julian Morris claims NGIN has "poisoned the waters" for GMOs, our intention has been to illuminate some of the effluent that is poisoning the waters of public and scientific discourse on this issue. As part of this we try and provide some of the more shameless propagandists amongst the biotech brigade with a little of the recognition they surely deserve.

Witness NGIN's Pants on Fire Award which was given in one instance as:

"An award to the organisers of "a non-partisan group of scientists" who turn out to be about as partisan as it gets! Connected to Big Tobacco, despite claims of "independence", "impartiality" and not accepting "outside funding", those in question are part of a world wide campaign to undermine industry-critical research in the name of "sound science". http://ngin.tripod.com/pants6.htm

If you're in any doubt, we're talking Julian Morris (and sidekick Roger Bate).

So much for the source. What about the content?

While it's flattering to have the dismal failure of GMOs put down to our online campaigning news and information service, Julian Morris's comments ludicrously distort the impact of a global movement of opposition that has been remarkable for its strength, endurance and above all diversity.

As Dale McDonald reported to US farmers just under a year ago:

"Early this week I worked my way through about 100 country reports from the USDA's Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS). These reports are written by attaches based in just about every country with which we have diplomatic relations, and they contain news and insights and report on trends that affect commerce in each country.

If you think that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) aren't on every country's hot list, think again. From Poland to Korea to Australia to Mexico, GMOs are getting hit with consumer demonstrations, academic studies, government food labeling orders and outright bans." [Anti-GMO sentiments thrive overseas Dale McDonald, Rooster News Network -- Friday, October 26, 2001]

In the UK alone the Five Year Freeze, which campaigns for a moratorium on genetic engineering and patents on life, involves an alliance of well over100 different organisations that are supported by 45 UK local authorities. As well as development NGOs like Oxfam, Christian Aid, and Action Aid, Freeze members also include consumer and farming groups, trade unions, as well as national women's organisations such as the National Federation of Women's Institutes. Even the most predictable NGO supporters of the Freeze such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Soil Assoiciation have a greater combined membership than all of Britain's political parties put together.

But of course the supporters of this technology have no interest in acknowledging such a breadth of concern so they seek to blame the unpopularity of their cause solely on "Greenpeace" or whatever other "NGO" they think will appear to command only a narrow range of support.

In this case it seems to be down to one man and a fax machine - as opposed to Morris and Bate, of course, who are two men with multiple hats in a series of rooms with a series of fax machines. Just how many rooms and just how many fax machines is rather a moot point. When they plugged the launch of their ESEF book 'Fearing Food', for instance, Morris and Bate did so with a press release slagging off organic food as dangerous. It was sent out to journalists on IEA letterhead and via the IEA's fax machine. However, Morris later claimed that the book had absolutely nothing to do with the IEA.

According to Morris on Talking Politics, "you can see wildly unrepresentative views actually taken as seriously as the views that do genuinely represent millions of people."  So just how many millions of people do the various campaigning NGOs Morris connects to genuinely represent?

Jonathan Matthews, editor of the NGIN list

1. Talking pots and kettles - Claire Robinson, editor of NGIN's GMWATCH
2. NGIN article on Morris and the "Network"

***

1.  Talking pots and kettles

The item on BBC Radio 4's Talking Politics programme (broadcast 14 September) was all about slagging off NGOs. The angle is that according to a recent poll, NGOs are the most trusted organisations by the public (more than politicans, the media and corporations) - but should we really trust them? How accountable are they? Aren't they unelected, untransparent and unaccountable?

One interviewee is Julian Morris of the IEA, though that is not mentioned and nor is its record and history (founded on a fortune made from intensively farmed broiler chickens).

Another interviewee for the prosecution is John Micklethwait of the Economist. Micklethwait says on the BBC programme, "A lot of [NGOs] have no real mandate... And whatever you think about elected politicians, they at least come with a mandate."

Micklethwait himself famously took time out from the1999 Bilderberg conference to pen his support for GMOs.  Bilderberg, of course, is a gathering of the most influential (and almost entirely unelected) bods in the world and Micklethwait is regularly one of only a few hand-picked media persons invited to keep company with Monsanto/oil company CEOs, media magnates and Henry Kissinger.

When in '99 the furore against GM foods hit the fan in Europe, Micklethwait rushed to write an op-ed piece in the New York Times (Jun 7) suggesting that Europe's "Profound fear of food" (ie GM food) was unrealistic. Sample quote: "Most arguments against the technique are more sentimental than logical. Genetic modification, albeit of a more gradual sort, has taken place in fields for centuries without any harm to human beings." Micklethwait is also author of a pro-globalisation book called Future Perfect.

In terms of the need for a mandate, Micklethwait and his fellow Bilderbergers have a mandate of... zilch.

Claire Robinson, editor GMWATCH

***

2. NGIN article on Morris and the "Network"

An edited version of the following article appeared in the magazine of the Genetics Forum, 'SPLICE', Vol 7, Issue 6

Part of the Network: Creating free societies around the world

When Sri Lanka recently postponed indefinitely its proposed ban on all GE food imports, one Australian minister was candid in his appreciation. Food that was good enough to go down Aussie throats was good enough for Sri Lankans, he suggested, and, besides, the ban might have disrupted some $50+ million a year of Australia's agribiz exports to Lanka.[1]

The global trade implications for US agribiz were still more worrisome, and American diplomatic pressure on Sri Lanka was joined by a motley supporting cast that included the WTO and part of the "Network".[2]

According to the International Policy Network (IPN), the Network is all about "helping to create free societies around the world". It is no surprise, therefore, to discover that it's constituted by an often unsavoury collection of rightwing libertarian "think tanks" and industry front organisations keen to support every ugly corporate excess.[3]

One of the IPN's prime movers is Julian Morris of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) which has advocated, amongst other interesting ideas, that African countries should be sold off to multinational corporations in the interests of "good government"[4]. Another Network member, India‚s Liberty Institute has opposed restrictions on the tobacco industry which it promotes as a driver for economic growth.

Big Tobacco‚s popularity amongst the Network is hardly surprising given its financial input into some of the groups. Australia‚s Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) has actually had Philip Morris on its board, while another organisation in which Julian Morris has had a hand, the European Scienceand Environment Foundation, has claimed to be "a non-aligned group of scientists" which does "not accept outside funding", despite well-documented evidence that it was set up primarily with Big Tobacco money as a front organisation to help the likes of Philip Morris undermine industry critical research, and attack restrictions on smoking, biotechnology etc.[5]

In the attack on Sri Lanka for its „reckless‰ and „immoral‰ attempt to regulate GE food imports, the part of the Network leading the charge was the AgBioWorld Foundation headed by CS Prakash[6]. According to Prakash, he and AgBioWorld are taking on „extremist groups‰ who oppose genetic engineering because of their „broader agenda‰[7]. Prakash has shown a talent for pursuing this crusade through the mass media and by addressing audiences around the world, courtesy of the US State Dept.

Many of these activities are also assisted by parts of the Network and like-minded extremist groups. He has spoken in Britain from an IEA platform, in Australia from an IPA platform, and has even addressed a special conference involving leading members of industry-backed rightwing lobbies masquerading as an international consumers' coalition![8]

One of the founding members of "International Consumers for Civil Society"[9] is Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute (sponsors include Novartis, Cargill, DuPont, and Monsanto). Via such bogus claims as increased E-coli food poisoning risks, Avery has done more than anyone to smear organic agriculture[10] which, in its most developed form, is seen by many as an environmentally sustainable alternative to the use of GMOs. Prakash has been more than happy to circulate and repeat Avery's smears[11] despite a total lack of credible scientific evidence to support them.

Prakash also runs the AgBioView e-mailing list[12]. The tone of its daily bulletins often ranges from the scientistic to the techno-euphoric and leading members of the Network, and like-minded corporate lobbyists, are among its key contributors. AgBioView's more extreme material accuses GM  critics variously of fascism, communism, imperialism, nihilism, murder, corruption, terrorism, and even genocide; not to mention being worse than Hitler and on a par with the mass murderers who destroyed the World Trade Centre! When challenged over such attacks, Prakash invariably claims to be merely AgBioView's editor, as if that somehow absolved him of responsibility for the material he himself selects.

Prakash has drawn support from a large number of scientists for a petition calling for the judicious use of genetic engineering in the developing world[13], but there is little that is judicious about his naive techno-utopianism, nor his admiration for big business. Prakash eulogises the multinationals, expressing a preference for their control of food production and distribution in the developing world because of their „enormous skills, resources and investment‰.[14]

Though Prakash makes a big thing out of not actually taking corporate money, his total lack of distance from those who do is well illustrated by his longstanding collaboration with Julian Morris of ESEF fame. Prakash even lists Morris as one of the AgBioWorld experts available to guide the media on issues relating to biotechnology.[15]

Listed as a fellow AgBioWorld media contact on Prakash's press release attacking Sri Lanka was yet another AgBioWorld expert, Greg Conko of the Competitive Enterpise Institute. The CEI, like AgBioWorld, is part of the Network[16], and, according to its annual report, this corporate-funded lobby played "a key role in the creation" of Prakash's petition for scientists in support of genetic engineering[17].

The Prakash petition was AgBioWorld's launch pad and has always been presented as a Third World scientist's rallying point for fellow academics. According to the CEI, however, the Prakash petition formed part of its wider campaign against "death by regulation"[17] - the same CEI campaign that has been directed against government efforts to discourage smoking because, according to the CEI, "there are things more valuable than health"![18]

The Centre for Media and Democracy describes the CEI as a "well-funded front for corporations"[19]. Currently with a turnover of $3+ million a year and with another million in assets[20], the CEI has been built up with the help of the kind of corporate giants whom many would see as having a powerful vested interest in defending their ability to profit out of human misery and environmental destruction, not least in the developing world.

Among CEI's long list of known sponsors (including, inevitably, Philip Morris) is Dow Chemicals[21]. Any independent-minded journalist hearing Conko argue the AgBioWorld case against Sri Lanka might have been interested to know that the company that once made napalm a household word is soon to target the Asian market with its new GE corn.[22]

That's always providing, of course, that democratic governments like that of Sri Lanka, and the South's farmers and consumers, can continue to be prevented from getting in the way of the creation of "free societies around the world."

References

[1]Australia Welcomes Sri Lanka Suspending GM Food Ban, Reuters, Sydney,
Sept 6 2001

[2]http://www.policynetwork.net/network.htm
[Interestingly since this article was originally published AgBioWorld and CEI have both been removed from the "list of our partner organisations" which can now be found at
http://www.policynetwork.net/network.php]

[3]http://www.policynetwork.net/network.htm
[Interestingly since this article was originally published AgBioWorld and CEI have both been removed from the "list of our partner organisations" which can now be found at http://www.policynetwork.net/network.php]

[4]For a copy of Nick Hildyard's article detailing this IEA proposal, an edited version of which originally appeared in the Guardian, contact The

Corner House, cornerhouse@gn.apc.org

[5]Tobacco industry efforts subverting International Agency for Research on Cancer's second-hand smoke study, Elisa K Ong, Stanton A Glantz, Lancet 2000, Volume 355, Issue 9211, Page 1253
http://www.electric-words.com/junk/glantz/glantz.html
-How Big Tobacco Helped Create "the Junkman", PR Watch, Vol 7, No.3, Third Quarter 2000,
http://www.prwatch.org/prwissues/2000Q3/junkman.html
-The Philip Morris Documents website, http://www.pmdocs.com/

[6]SCIENCE GROUP PROTESTS SRI LANKAN BIOTECH BAN, AgBioWorld Foundation
Calls For Support of Beneficial Technology,
AgBioWorld press release, August 17, 2001,
http://www.agbioworld.org/listarchive/view.php?id=1232

[7]Expert lashes poor's new enemy, Herald Sun, July 9 2000
http://news.com.au/common/story_page/0,4057,912898^421,00.html

[8]"The ICCS conference also presented an opportunity to garner information for proponents of the free market. Speakers like C.S. Prakash, Professor and Director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at the Tuskegee Institute, helped provide myself and other policy wonks in the crowd with scientific support for our arguments".
http://www.atlasusa.org/highlights/archives/1999/H1999-02-NGO.html

[9]http://www.icfcs.org/members.htm

[10]Warning: organic and natural foods may be hazardous to your health, Dennis T. Avery, Bridge News Service, October 1, 2000
http://www.guestchoice.com/article_detail.cfm?ARTICLE_ID=70
-Saving the Planet With Pestilent Statistics by Karen Charman
http://www.prwatch.org/prwissues/1999Q4/avery.html

[11]CS Prakash: "Organic farming is not productive, organic farming is not very healthy..."; "... if you are so paranoid about food safety then you should really be banning organic food by using the precautionary principles because there is far more greater risk of E-coli contamination in your food using organic food than the GM food." from Transcript, The Rise and Fall of GM, Channel 4's Equinox TV programme, March 20 2000
http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech_info/articles/interviews/channel4.html

[12]http://www.agbioworld.org/listarchive/list.php

[13]http://www.agbioworld.org/declaration/petition/petition.phtml

[14]Expert lashes poor's new enemy, Herald Sun, July 9 2000
http://news.com.au/common/story_page/0,4057,912898^421,00.html

[15]http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech_info/experts/experts.html

[16]http://www.policynetwork.net/network.htm
[Interestingly since this article was originally published AgBioWorld and CEI have both been removed from the "list of our partner organisations" which can now be found at
http://www.policynetwork.net/network.php]

[17]"CEI also took an active part in the fight against what we call „death by regulation‰... Foremost has been the battle over biotechnology.. Among other things, we played a key role in the creation of a „Declaration of Scientists in Support of Agricultural Biotechnology,‰ which has been signed by more than 2,900 scientists at last count, among them three Nobel Prize winners." CEI Annual Report 2000
http://www.cei.org/PDFs/2K_annual_report.pdf

[18]http://www.prwatch.org/improp/cei.html

[19]http://www.prwatch.org/improp/cei.html

[20]CEI Annual Report 2000  http://www.cei.org/PDFs/2K_annual_report.pdf

[21]http://www.prwatch.org/improp/cei.html

[22]US DOW AGRO SEEKS TO MARKET GM CORN TO ASIA, Dow Jones Newswires, Prime Sarmiento, September 5 2001
 


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