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The Guardian, Marc Gunther and some NGOs can’t be trusted on GMOs

The Guardian is said to have received money from the Gates Foundation, promoters of industrial agriculture, from biotech company Syngenta, for a supplement on food security. Several years ago announced at an editorial meeting that it was now pro GMO – a potentially lucrative stance which appears to persist.

marc guntherSan Francisco based author Marc Gunther, writes on business and sustainability for the Fortune Magazine (Fortune 500 & Fortune 100 companies) – like his father before him – and for Guardian Sustainable Business US, launched two years ago.

In a recent Guardian article, Gunther notes that NGOs are trusted, far more than corporations or the government, but adds that when it comes to genetically modified foods, they don’t always stick to the truth.

Despite the public relations and political pressure to accept genetically modified foods, he rues the fact that 48%, according to Gallup or more according to ABC NEWS poll and others – would prefer not to eat foods produced using genetic engineering:

“Some fear that they pose a serious health hazard, despite assurances from corporations, government regulators and mainstream scientists that the genetically modified organisms (GMOs) now on the market are safe”.

Ironically however, he admits that the US “does not require genetically engineered plants to be proven safe” and further – that “it’s impossible to prove that GMOs or, for that matter, conventional foods are safe”.

Antoniou and Robinson elucidate:

Research on GM foods commissioned by the European Union (EU) is often claimed to conclude that GM foods are safe. This is a misrepresentation of this research project, most of which was not designed to examine the safety of specific GM foods.

Three animal feeding studies from the project that did examine the safety of a GM food raise concerns, including differences in organ weights and immune responses in the GM-fed animals. These findings should be followed up in long-term studies.

Gunther: “Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years” – but we note that there are serious misgivings about America’s health record.

dr christopher walker global healthThe Economist reports new research by Dr Christopher Murray (right) and his team from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (University of Washington). This was published in Journal of the American Medical Association and presented to government officials at a White House event hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama. The research published data showing that both sexes have longer periods of illness in later life and a lower life expectancy than their peers in the OECD – parts of West Virginia and Mississippi faring worse than Bangladesh and Algeria. Alzheimer’s disease, liver cancer, Parkinson’s and kidney cancer were on the upswing, accounting for a significant increase in premature deaths in the U.S.

Gunther notes legitimate reasons to oppose GMOs:

  • On at least two occasions, biotech crops – corn in one case and rice in another – not approved for human consumption, found their way into the food system.
  • GMOS haven’t, so far, done much to feed the hungry.

But he fails to mention the very real problems being posed by ‘superweeds’ and pest resistance

Gunther compares NGOs with companies: both are self-interested, both seek attention in a noisy marketplace and a financial return, but he fails to compare the scale of these returns and the massive fortunes at stake in the corporate world. As an NGO affiliated correspondent says: “Corporates have all the resources … we manage to do what we do with such limited resources because we do have public trust/sympathy”.

The writer agrees that the public should be selective when reading NGO reports, giving credence to those who give links to authoritative sources – in English or with translation facilities.

Finally, Lawrence Woodward reflects:

lawrence text.


Media 19: Why is John Innes Centre ‘winning’ £6m for GM research headline news – but not Government’s £445m?

A month after the event, the BBC has announced Gates Foundation funding for John Innes’ GM research – but fails to mention that this is minute compared with the British government’s contribution:

A team of British plant scientists has won a $10m (£6.4m) grant from the Gates Foundation to develop GM cereal crops. It is one of the largest single investments into GM in the UK and will be used to cultivate corn, wheat and rice that need little or no fertiliser. It comes at a time when bio-tech researchers are trying to allay public fears over genetic modification. The work at the John Innes Centre in Norwich is hoped to benefit African farmers who cannot afford fertiliser.

News? With no reference to genetic modification, this funding was first tactfully announced a month ago on the Gates Foundation website:

“Purpose: to test the feasibility of developing cereal crops capable of fixing nitrogen as an environmentally-sustainable approach for small farmers in sub-Saharan Africa to increase maize yields – Date: June 2012”

To date it is not mentioned in the online news section of the John Innes Centre, which describes itself as ‘an independent, international centre of excellence in plant science and microbiology’. 

Why does John Innes describe itself as ‘independent’?

Its website clearly says that more than 50% of its income is from UK government sources, with the majority – for ‘strategic funding’ – from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council [BBSRC.]  It is now the Norwich base of the Sainsbury Laboratory.

Its total income was not found online, but in May this year the Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, announced substantial funding for the UK’s bioscience research base: John Innes Centre (JIC), Norwich – £42M   

BBSRC background 

BBRC’s website informs us that it is one of 7 Research Councils that work together as Research Councils UK (RCUK) – funded by the Government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Its budget for 2011-12 is around £445M, and it supports around 1600 scientists and 2000 research students in universities and institutes across the UK. 

Taking lessons from Goebbels?

PCU deplores media manipulation, designed to downplay the governmental support and funding for a technology while it repeatedly claims that the public is gradually finding the growing and consumption of GM crops more acceptable.


For those new to the subject we recommend the GMO Myths and Truths report

Published by Earth Open Source, a not-for-profit organization, it was researched and written by Dr Michael Antoniou, reader in molecular genetics and head, Gene Expression and Therapy Group, King’s College London School of Medicine, London, UK,  Dr John Fagan, founder and chief scientific officer of one of the world’s first GMO testing and certification companies who earlier conducted cancer research at the US National Institutes of Health and Claire Robinson, MPhil, who has a background in investigative reporting and the communication of topics relating to public health, science and policy, and the environment.

Their summarised points are listed on a sister website.