SYNGENTA QUITS GENOME CENTRE/DEAR PROF LAMB...
"The frustration for us is this was a new kind of relationship that looked like setting an exciting precedent," said Ray Mathias, head of JIC's science communication and education. (item 1)
"The work of biotechnicians at John Innes is clearly aligned with the biotech industry and increasingly not independent in any meaningful sense. One result is that a number of John Innes scientists appear heavily overcommitted to this technology and to be promoting it through often biased and even grossly misleading "science communication" activities." (item 2)
Many thanks to all who wrote to the JIC (and others) asking them not to go in this direction (see item 2). In the end it was Syngenta that pulled the plug.
1. Syngenta quits Genome Centre
2. NGIN's letter to the JIC on its Syngenta alliance
1. Syngenta quits Genome Centre
Source: FWi 19 September 2002
By Tom Allen-Stevens
BIOTECH giant Syngenta has pulled out of one of the world's leading plant genetics research centres.
In a statement, the company said it is to end a three year collaboration with the John Innes Centre, near Norwich.
This will include abandoning the Syngenta laboratory, part of a new Genome Centre complex on the site completed just eight months ago.
The company is also ending its involvement with the Sainsbury laboratory, which has a worldwide reputation for its research in molecular plant pathology and genetics.
The decision brings to an end what was seen as a new model for getting public-funded research into the private sector.
"The frustration for us is this was a new kind of relationship that looked like setting an exciting precedent," said Ray Mathias, head of JIC's science communication and education.
"This does mean that some funding we had lined up for the next eight years will now be wound up after three, but this was in addition to normal research funding."
Syngenta, which had sales in 2001 of around US $6.3 billion (£4 billion) and employs more than 20,000 people in over 50 countries, also have a staff of 14 at JIC.
The mortar is barely dry in the new Syngenta laboratory in the Genome Centre, which the company leases from JIC and moved into in January 2002.
But the company said it was still "strongly committed" to its investment in new technologies, stressing the need to "rationalise" its research and development base.
And it is keen to quell suggestions it is moving away from the controversial research area of plant genetics.
"We will continue to work to use the knowledge gained from our mapping of the rice genome to generate commercially-viable products in the cereals sector," said the statement, which was released on Wednesday (18 September).
The company was formed by the merger in 2000 of Novartis Astra Zeneca, which set up the JIC collaboration in 1999.
"It is the need to simplify our R&D organisation, to rationalise a global network of R&D sites, and to remove overlap in research capabilities that has led to this decision," said Syngenta.
2. NGIN's open letter to the JIC
Dear Prof Lamb
I write to express my concern at the involvement of the John Innes Centre (JIC) in the genetic engineering of food crops which could pose significant risks to the environment, to health, and to the developing world.
I am particularly concerned at the extent of industrial alignment of the biotechnology research at the John Innes Centre, a supposedly independent research institution. In particular, I find deeply disturbing the JIC's multi-million pound link up with DuPont and AstraZeneca [Syngenta] and the extent to which the JIC's public funding body, the BBSRC, is aligned to industry both in terms of its strategic direction and through the number of industry associated figures on its boards.
Biotechnicians at John Innes present themselves as independent experts and so receive favourable access and treatment in the media, as well as by educators, and in regulatory and advisory circles. There is, of course, a great need for such independent expertise, not least at the cutting edge of new technologies, and it's obviously important for this purpose that a scientist's livelihood, career development or research direction is not dependent on commercial intererests and investment. Only then can we be secure that the public interest stands a chance of being properly represented and that our legislators are enabled to make fairly and fully informed decisions.
The work of biotechnicians at John Innes is clearly aligned with the biotech industry and increasingly not independent in any meaningful sense. One result is that a number of John Innes scientists appear heavily overcommitted to this technology and to be promoting it through often biased and even grossly misleading "science communication" activities.
I ask you to please reconsider the role of your institution in the corporate alliance which is imposing an unwanted and unnecessary technology onto people around the world. Ample alternatives exist and it is high time for the John Innes Centre to begin promoting research directions that enjoy a public mandate.
"The problem is that research at public institutions increasingly reflects the interests of private funders at the expense of public good research such as biological control, organic production systems and general agroecological techniques (Busch et al., 1990). Civil society must demand a response of who the university and other public organizations are to serve and request more research on alternatives to biotechnology." - Miguel A. Altieri of the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at the University of California
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