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GMO Safety, GMO Compass and biotech PR

NOTE: You may have come across GM-related websites or social media projects that claim to be all about publicly funded science communication, without realising they were being run by a biotech PR firm with a client base that's included the likes of BASF, Bayer, DuPont and Syngenta, not to mention the American Soybean Association and the biotech industry lobby group EuropaBio. The company is even a member of the Biotechnology Industry Organisation.
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Profile of the biotech PR firm Genius
http://www.powerbase.info/index.php/Genius

Genius GmbH (Ltd) is a PR firm based in Germany[1]. The company is described on its website as "a communicator between the field of science and the society"[2] but its critics describe it as an operator that interconnects public authorities and private industry in an often non-transparent way [3] and that engages in propaganda.[4]

Genius was founded in 1998.[5] It was a spin-off of the Technical University Darmstadt (Technische Universität Darmstadt). Shareholders are Kristina Sinemus, Klaus Minol, and Hans Günter Gassen. Kristina Sinemus is CEO, Klaus Minol Scientific Head.

According to its co-owner and CEO, "The question is not whether societies want new technologies - there is simply an economic requirement for them." Consequently, in order to overcome any economically-counterproductive hostility to a particular technology, "public understanding" needs to be "methodically enforced."[6]

Genius claims to provide "marketing, communication and scientific consulting services for its customers from companies, associations and public institutions." It claims to have "many years of experience in communicating controversial aspects of technology" and makes particular reference to nanotechnology and biotechnology. It is said to be "active at the European level through a closely-knitted network of EU agencies. It also has a cooperation partner in the USA."[7]

Projects

Genius not only conceptualizes and designs print and online publications, but also provides content for them and develops some of this content through the active participation in German and EU projects. Genius describes itself as a “facilitator of transparency and communication” (Vermittler von Transparenz und Kommunikation), but the PR and consultancy company has a clear position in favour of genetic engineering. Much of its biotech work is for private industry clients but the following projects involve public funding.

GMO Safety

The GMO Safety website is sponsored by the German Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF)[8] and it emphasises this public funding by prominently displaying the Ministry's logo on the site. Indeed, superficially the site closely resembles an official medium of the Ministry, as can be seen by a comparison with the Ministry's own website[9]. It is only at the foot of the GMO Safety site in much smaller lettering that there is a link for copyright to the websites of the private PR companies, i-bio Information Biowissenschaften (Transgen) and Genius.[10]

A legal disclaimer, accessible via an equally small link at the foot of the GMO Safety site, distances the German ministry BMBF from the information put out on the GMO Safety site, saying: "The BMBF is not responsible for the information presented on GMO-Safety.eu."[11]

The legal disclaimer page goes on to say that, "The GMO-Safety.eu editorial team is independent and is not bound by any instructions"; but lists the GMO Safety Project Leader as:[12] Genius GmbH.

It lists the editorial staff as:
Dr. Kristina Sinemus (Head of Project Network)[13] - she is also the CEO of Genius.[14]
Dr. Klaus Minol (Assistant Project Management)[15] - he is also the Scientific Manager of Genius.[16]
Gabriele Völcker, Dr. Barbara Löchte, Dr. Alexander Stein - all listed as employees of Genius.[17] Stein did his PhD at the University of Hohenheim. His thesis title was "Micronutrient malnutrition and the impact of modern plant breeding on public health in India: How cost-effective is biofortification?" His supervisor was the controversial pro-GM scientist Matin Qaim.[18] [19]

GMO Safety publishes the results of BMBF projects and additional information on genetic engineering. It is very also active on Twitter where its Profile states that it is "managed by independent editors", without any reference being made to Genius. [20]

GMO Safety is supported by the EU project BIOSAFENET, which in turn is headed by Joachim Schiemann. BIOSAFENET announced in one of its conference advertising leaflets that it had given its "Active cooperation in the development and editing of GMO”Safety, a comprehensive information platform for political representatives, stakeholders and the general public. GMO”Safety, a project sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), offers multimedia material prepared by journalists on the goals and results of biosafety research."[21]

GMO Safety is also supported by International Society for Biosafety Research (ISBR). Klaus Minol of Genius is the contact person for BIOSAFENET and the results of this project are published on gmosafety.eu.

GMO Compass

GMO Compass is a pro-GM website that makes claims to neutrality: "GMO Compass is not decidedly 'for' or 'against' genetic engineering. The website does not seek to discourage the use of genetic engineering in food and agriculture, nor does it seek to promote it."[22]

GMO Compass is run by Genius and the web PR firm i-bio Information Biowissenschaften (Transgen).[23]

GMO Compass's CEO is Dr. Kristina Sinemus.[24] She is also the CEO of Genius.[25]

The setting-up of the GMO Compass website was financially supported by the European Union within the European Commission’s Sixth Framework Programme from 1 January 2005 until 28 February 2007[26] and later it was supported by the biotechnology industry lobby group Europabio. [27]

The European Commission and other EU agencies say they "are not responsible for the content".[28]

Other projects

Klaus Minol and Kristina Sinemus, in their positions with Genius, are editorial officers and on the editorial board of CO-EXTRA, an EU Commission project on GM crop "co-existence" with non-GM crops. The CO-EXTRA website is created "with the financial support of the European Union within the European Commission’s Sixth Framework Programme".[29]
Kristina Sinemus represents Genius in the EU project, Technology Platform Plants for the Future.

Participation in lobby organisations

Kristina Sinemus is member of the website committee of International Society for Biosafety Research (ISBR).

The company Genius is member of BIO (Biotechnology Industry Organisation) Germany and of the pan-European biotech lobby group EFB.

Kristina Sinemus has participated in negotiations on the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety as a representative of the the Global Industry Coalition, which brings together industry groups such as EuropaBio, BIO (Biotechnology Industry Organisation) and the BioIndustry Association.[30]

Funding and clients

Genius has a wide range of clients from the German and European business sector and governments.[31]

Clients as at January 2011 include among other biotechnology and agrochemical companies BASF AG, BASF Plant Science, Bayer AG, DuPont, and Syngenta; pharma firms Novartis and Pfizer Animal Health; the public-private plant breeding organisation InnoPlanta e.V.; and the public-private partnership Science4Life, as well as the German Ministry for education and research (BMBF), the German Ministry for food, agriculture and consumer protection (BVL), the European Commission, and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).[32]

An older website of Genius (last updated 2006) lists the American Soybean Association and EuropaBio as clients.[33]

Genius has edited EFSA's publications, including its annual report 2006.

Staff

Genius has a staff of about 20. This list is from the older Genius website, last updated 2006:[34]

Dr Kristina Sinemus - CEO. Also Head of Project Network at GMO Safety
Dr. Klaus Minol - Scientific Manager
Patrick Schmidt-Kühnle - Public Relations Director, October 1999””April 2008.[35] As of Sept 21, 2010, he is social media manager for agrochemical and GM giant BASF[36]
Dr. Elisabeth Schulte - Agricultural Science
Linda Hartenberger - Executive Assistant to the Management

As at January 2011 the English version of the new Genius website does not have a list of staff [37] but a list can be found on the German version.[38]

On the GMO Compass website, Dr. Alexander Stein is listed as one of the GMO Compass editorial team based at Genius.[39]

Website
www.genius.de

Contact
Darmstadt
Robert-Bosch-Str. 7 * 64293 Darmstadt
Phone: +49 (0)6151 872 40 40
Telefax: +49 (0)6151 872 40 41
Berlin
Am Weidendamm 1a * 10117 Berlin
Phone: +49 (0)30 72 62 59 72
Telefax: +49 (0)30 72 62 59 70
info[AT]genius.de
http://www.genius.de

Resources

Notes
All references at http://www.powerbase.info/index.php/Genius