GM Ending?




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"Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food," said Phil Angell, Monsanto's director of corporate communications. "Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA's job." 
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The Institute of Science in Society

Science Society Sustainability

General Enquiries Website/Mailing List ISIS Director m.w.ho@i-

From The Editor

GM Ending?

Jubilation swept through the green and pleasant land like a sunburst after the storm as Bayer CropScience abandoned growing GM maize in Britain, just weeks after the government gave it the go-ahead, aided and abetted by pro-GM scientists shamelessly bending science and scientific evidence. Bayer said the conditions imposed by environment secretary Margaret Beckett made growing GM maize "economically non- viable".

Bayer is not alone. Novartis has also told the government that no GM crops will be grown this year. In fact, all GM trials in the UK have been abandoned except for one, a herbicide-resistant pea tested for drought resistance at John Innes Centre, Norwich. This reflects a precipitous fall in applications for GM field trials from a peak of 159 in 2000-01, 140 in 2001-02 and 42 in 2002-03.

Developments elsewhere have been equally dramatic.

In just over a week at the end of March, 4 States in Australia ruled out large-scale planting of GM crops: Western Australia, the nation's biggest crop producer, took the lead by announcing an outright ban. The next day Tasmania, too, voted for a ban. Victoria followed two days later by extending its moratorium on GM crops for four years. A few days later, New South Wales ruled out a 3 000 hectare trial of GM oilseed rape. And South Australia passed a bill that prevents GM crops from being grown for three years, except under strict conditions. This effectively puts Australia's plans to grow GM crops "on hold indefinitely".

Simultaneously, a grassroots uprising has been gathering momentum in the United States, top grower and exporter of GM crops. In March, Mendocino County of California passed 'Measure H', which bans growing GM crops. A month later, the California Department of Food and Agriculture stalled the planting of a transgenic rice that produces dangerous pharmaceuticals. Then Vermont made history by becoming the first state in the country to require the labelling of GM seeds, and North Dakota drafted a ballot measure that could block Monsanto's GM wheat.

On 21 April, President Chavez of Venezuela announced a ban on cultivation of GM soya in favour of the indigenous yucca. This followed on the heels of Angola's rejection of GM maize aid from the US. Angola has aligned itself with four southern African nations - Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi - which have already banned imports of GM maize grain. Zambia made world headlines in rejecting US GM maize aid two years ago in the face of projected famine, opting instead for purchasing food surpluses from within the region (see SiS 16 and 17). Zambia has recovered so well that it is now exporting maize surpluses to Angola.

These are stunning victories for democracy and for science. ISIS and members of the Independent Science Panel (ISP) have been tireless in exposing the corrupt and corrupted science that has fed the GM bubble and brought financial and ecological ruin to family farmers in North America, Argentina and elsewhere.

The GM fight is by no means over. More GM crops are approved for growing in India, despite devastating counter-evidence. The Philippines, Indonesia, Kenya and other African countries are still under threat. The US lodged a complaint against the EU in the World Trade Organisation, and is demanding that the EU lifts its de facto moratorium on GM crop approvals and pay at least US$1.8 bn to the US in compensation for loss of exports over the past six years.

Further evidence of possible GM health hazards has surfaced: debilitating illnesses in villagers living near GM maize fields in the Philippines observed during the last growing season are repeated this year.

The French newspaper Le Monde has seen secret documents revealing health impacts of Monsanto's GM maize Mon 863, which has just received a positive assessment from the European Food Safety Authority. They include kidney malformations and increases in white blood cells in male rats and increase in blood sugar and decrease in reticulocytes (immature red blood cells) in female rats.

It is clear that major struggles remain. The ISP's two-hour briefing to the UK Parliament filled the 100-seater Grand Committee Room to near capacity. Former environment minister Michael Meacher joined the ISP to call for a comprehensive enquiry into GM food safety, for transparency and independence in scientific research, and an end to the victimisation of scientists whose research findings are 'inconvenient' for industry.

The GM-Free sustainable world is within our grasp. Don't let it slip out of reach.

This article can be found on the I-SIS website at
If you like this original article from the Institute of Science in Society, and would like to continue receiving articles of this calibre, please consider making a donation or purchase on our website. ISIS is an independent, not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing critical public information on cutting edge science, and to promoting social accountability and ecological sustainability in science.
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The Institute of Science in Society, PO Box 32097, London NW1 OXR
telephone: [44 20 8643 0681]   [44 20 7383 3376]   [44 20 7272 5636]

General Enquiries - Website/Mailing List - ISIS Director m.w.ho@i-



The Institute of Science in Society

Science Society Sustainability

General Enquiries Website/Mailing List ISIS Director m.w.ho@i-

ISIS Press Release 13/07/04

Biotech Investment Busy Going Nowhere

Claire Robinson exposes the financial woes of the biotech industry

The sources for this article are posted on ISIS Members' website. Details here.

Biotechnology is the answer to problems ranging from hunger in Africa and Asia to obesity in the West. This was the upbeat message from the industry's promotional showcase, the BIO 2004 conference, which took place in San Francisco in June. In launching the conference, BIO (the Biotechnology Industry Organisation) trumpeted, "the biotechnology industry is performing well across a variety of financial and product development measures."

But not everyone was persuaded. This year's media coverage of the annual event was decidedly cynical. A report in the Asia Times commented, "For many in the scientific community, the smorgasbord of marketing claims merely adds to the credibility problems that are piling up against genetic engineering, especially as its base claims of boosting food output have not been realized."

Another jaded reporter, David Ewing, wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle, "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."

Falling investment

Disappointment at the biotech industry's unfulfilled promises is reflected in its falling bottom line. As the New Zealand Herald said, "Investment in genetically modified food is drying up in the world's biggest GM market, the United States, because consumers in the rest of the world are not willing to buy its products."

Roger Wyse of Burrill and Company, the biggest investment firm focused on life sciences, said the consumer backlash against GMOs had forced a lull in projects aimed at modifying food. "We are probably looking at three, four or five years before the GMO issue subsides sufficiently that we will feel comfortable investing in it," he said.

Lack of investment has led to massive losses. Back to Ewing: "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."

An article in the usually biotech-bullish Wall Street Journal drove home the point. Entitled "Biotech's dismal bottom line: More than $40 billion in losses", the article said, "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 Journal points out that this truth becomes lost in the periodic bursts of enthusiasm for biotech stocks, one of which is under way right now. After a three-year slump, biotech companies raised $1.5 billion from new stock offerings in the first quarter of 2004, almost three times the level of a year earlier. Thus BIO was able to boast that while major stock indexes have slipped this year, the Nasdaq Biotech Index had edged up about 6 percent at close of markets on 2 June.

In the absence of consumer take-up of its products, selling stocks has become a biotech industry lifeline. In 2003, US biotech firms raised almost $4 billion by selling new stock to investors, according to Burrill & Co. The same year, US biotechs as a group posted almost that much in losses. Only 12 of the 50 largest biotechs turned a profit in 2003.

Meltdown continues

In the UK, the biotech meltdown continues apace. Earlier this year, it emerged that two biotech firms linked to science minister and donor to the Labour Party, Lord Sainsbury, are facing serious financial difficulties. Diatech Ltd, which holds several patents for techniques designed for use in GM foods, has gone into liquidation, while biotechnology investment firm Innotech is making huge losses.

At the end of June, the British GM science lobby despaired at news that Anglo-Swiss biotech giant Syngenta was withdrawing from the UK and transferring to North Carolina in the US. Syngenta was the last biotech company to retain a significant GM research presence in the UK after decisions by Monsanto, Dupont and Bayer Cropscience to withdraw.

Whether Syngenta will face a more sustainable future in the US is open to question. Almost one-sixth of the more than 350 US biotechs that went public over the past two decades were bought out for pennies on the dollar, dissolved themselves or had filed for bankruptcy protection by the end of 2003. Examples include Escagenetics, Advanced Tissue Sciences, ImmuLogic and Gliatech.

In May, San Diego-based Epicyte Pharmaceutical, one of the last vestiges of the city's attempt to become an agricultural biotech stronghold, closed. The demise of Epicyte was lamented as "the latest casualty for the region's fledgling agricultural biotechnology industry, which just five years ago appeared to hold considerable commercial promise." In 1999, Stephen Briggs, the head of San Diego's Novartis Agricultural Discovery Institute, which was building a major research campus, predicted San Diego could become the "Silicon Valley of agricultural biotech."

Yet the industry didn't retain a stronghold there: a consumer backlash against GM food, along with high-profile industry blunders such as the StarLink contamination incident, nipped investor enthusiasm in the bud. In 2000, the Novartis Agricultural Discovery Institute was folded into Syngenta. Then in 2002, Syngenta closed the La Jolla, San Diego unit. Other San Diego agricultural biotechs also disappeared. Mycogen was purchased by Dow Chemical, and Akkadix Corp. faded from the scene. Dow retains a research unit in San Diego, but moved a second agbiotech unit out of the state.

Biotech medicines a refuge of hope

Biotech drugs have long provided a refuge of hope for investors wary about the prospects for agricultural biotech. The promise of lucrative magic bullets against intractable diseases attracted those who kept faith in the genetic determinist model of illness. Biotech pioneers stoked investor enthusiasm by arguing that since biotech drugs are often versions of human proteins, genetic engineering could cut short the long safety trials that traditional drugs go through. But that didn't turn out to be the case, and most genetically engineered medications take 10 to 15 years to win approval, much the same as other drugs.

At the turn of the millennium, hopes rose with the hype when the deciphering of the human genome appeared to herald a new age of treatments tailored for individual genetic differences. This sparked an incredible 170% rise in biotech stock prices in just four months - followed by a steep crash over the next year. By 2002, disillusionment had set in. Canadian magazine Maclean's reported, in an article called "Biotech hope and hype: The genetics revolution has failed to deliver", "Federal and provincial governments have long had a love affair with genetics, pumping billions into the biotech biz. 20 years later and how many breakthrough products has biotech produced? Gene therapy may actually have harmed more people than it's helped. . The few drugs derived from GE such as insulin simply replace existing products while creating new risks."

Bad-idea virus

We've seen how one lifeline for a largely unprofitable industry is selling stocks. Another is public money. The BIO conference, reported Associated Press, was packed with mayors and governors from across the US desperate to lure biotech companies to their area with promises of tax breaks, government grants, even help with parking. Yet biotech, wrote the AP, "remains a money-losing, niche industry firmly rooted in three small regions of the country: `This notion that you lure biotech to your community to save its economy is laughable,' said Joseph Cortright, a Portland, Ore. economist who co-wrote a report on the subject. `This is a bad-idea virus that has swept through governors, mayors and economic development officials.'"

A case in point is Florida governor Jeb Bush, brother of president George W. Bush. Jeb Bush spearheaded an initiative to hand over $510 million of Florida and Palm Beach County taxpayers' money to build a new biotech centre for the Scripps Research Institute, based in San Diego. Land, buildings, labs, offices, equipment, even employees' salaries for seven years: Scripps got it all for free, putting in no money of its own. The company will eventually repay Florida up to $155 million, half of the state's investment. But the payback provision will not kick in until 2011. Bush and other Florida officials hope that Scripps will make Florida a biotech hub - like San Diego.

The wisdom of using San Diego as a model is questionable, given the industry's record of failure there. But Bush seems blind to the risks. "It's always good to have sceptics, but I like to be on the dreaming side," he told the press. "It's a lot more fun on the dreaming side of the road."

According to a report prepared for BIO and released at its annual convention in San Francisco, at least 29 states have formal plans to woo the biotech industry. Many, like Pennsylvania, are using money gained from the global tobacco settlement to fund biotech development projects.

How does this "bad-idea virus" gain such a hold over so many? In an article in Nature Biotechnology, medical bioethicist Leigh Turner of McGill University, Quebec, suggests that biotech fulfils many of the same needs as religious fanaticism: "Biotech, in a similar manner to many religious movements, has its charismatic prophets, enthusiastic evangelists and enrapt audiences. Like religions, it offers a comforting message of salvation. Instead of imagining a day of rapture when the dead rise from their graves to begin eternal life, biotech enthusiasts imagine the era when medical technologies provide a renewable, largely imperishable body. . Biotech is not just an assemblage of research programs and techniques. In a scientific and technological era, biotech also offers a surrogate religious framework for many individuals."

Within this framework, it is a small step to the type of language found in the Nuffield Council report and repeated by biotech `evangelists' such as Derek Burke, which insists on the "moral imperative for investment into GM crop research in developing countries". And once that article of faith is swallowed, it is but another small step to appropriating public money to promote and export biotech to the third world under the guise of aid and development programmes.

As private finance for biotech dries up, the industry is increasingly turning to government to provide investment to force the crops the West doesn't want into Africa and Asia. The British government has already quietly sunk over 13m of public money into such projects via the Department for International Development during a period of intense domestic disquiet over GM. It has also sunk further money, along with USAID, into the Nairobi- based African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) project to push GM crops into Africa.

What is so insidious about this, as Dr Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, the head of Ethiopia's Environmental Protection Authority, has noted, is that "the moral imperative is in fact the opposite. The policy of drawing funds away from low-cost sustainable agriculture research, towards hi-tech, exclusive, expensive and unsafe technology is itself ethically questionable. There is a strong moral argument that the funding of GM technology in agriculture is harming the long-term sustainability of agriculture in the developing world."

Nobody should be in any doubt that the GM lobby's real aim has little to do with feeding the hungry. It is to shore up GM research in the UK in the face of industry's current retreat, to associate the technology in the official mind with the public interest, and to give GM's public relations campaigns a charitable face.

This article can be found on the I-SIS website at http://www.i-
If you like this original article from the Institute of Science in Society, and would like to continue receiving articles of this calibre, please consider making a donation or purchase on our website. ISIS is an independent, not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing critical public information on cutting edge science, and to promoting social accountability and ecological sustainability in science.
  • If you would prefer to receive future mailings as plain text please let us know.

The Institute of Science in Society, PO Box 32097, London NW1 OXR
telephone: [44 20 8643 0681]   [44 20 7383 3376]   [44 20 7272 5636]

General Enquiries - Website/Mailing List - ISIS Director m.w.ho@i-








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