Welcome to Review 544, which covers our Lobbywatch news, as well as developments on human genetic engineering and fake meat.
Amid rising concerns about fake news and misinformation, the Gates-funded Alliance for Science has taken to promoting their long-time comms strategist Mark Lynas as an expert debunker of science-related conspiracy theories and disinformation campaigns. More recently, he has also been billed as their “research lead” into false claims about GMOs, COVID-19, vaccines and other controversies. This has led to Lynas being cited as an expert and quoted by journalists in fact-checking articles. The irony here is not just that he lacks any scientific expertise – his only qualification being an undergraduate degree in history and politics – but that Lynas himself has been repeatedly called out for making inaccurate and misleading claims. And his dubious record on factual accuracy has been thrown into the spotlight once again by new instances of his flagrantly false claims – this time of environmentalists trashing research laboratories and engaging in Maoist-style denunciations.
The Alliance for Science, the Gates-funded PR outfit for pushing GMOs in Africa, is trying to co-opt the legacy of the late Wangari Maathai (1940-2011), the celebrated Kenyan environmentalist who supported organic farming and regarded “the patenting of life forms and the genetic engineering which it stimulates” as a crime against humanity. The Alliance’s move has drawn a chorus of condemnation. The renowned Nigerian environmentalist and poet Nnimmo Bassey called it “truly shameless”. And the Kenyan Peasants League, which is fighting the lifting of Kenya’s ban on genetically modified crops, likened the move to the recent astroturf pro-GMO protests in Nairobi and Kampala that the Alliance for Science helped organise, as part of a desperate bid to bypass majority opposition to GMOs and to the lifting of Kenya’s GMO ban.
An intense lobbying battle is being waged by industry to try to make EU GMO rules on environment, health and freedom of choice obsolete. Dutch TV Zembla’s recently broadcast programme “Tinkering with Seed” (13 April 2023) assesses the reality behind the wild promises attributed to a new GMO technique, CRISPR/Cas, by the biotech industry. It also exposes the corporate interests promoted by a small group of biotechnology researchers, fulfilling multiple contradictory roles. The broadcast used more than a thousand pages of internal documents, emails and reports obtained by Corporate Europe Observatory from the Dutch government. These documents show that Dutch government officials are constantly informed and lobbied by biotech lobby organisations HollandBio and Plantum, and by a small group of biotechnology researchers from Wageningen University. They even held a retreat together in a luxury inn!
Food and agrichemical industry front group International Food Information Council (IFIC) has a new CEO, Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak. She is a former Monsanto staffer, and was Monsanto’s Global Lead for Food, Nutrition and Health Partnerships.
A popular narrative claims that India was incapable of feeding itself until Norman Borlaug saved the starving with his Green Revolution. He saved a billion lives, right? Wrong. According to the anthropologist Glenn Davis Stone, commenting on a body of new research, “The new histories lead us to revise the number of lives saved from a billion to a lower number. Like zero.” Why does the false narrative persist? Stone says, “Today the biotechnology industry and its allies zealously promote the legend as a flattering framing for the spread of genetically modified crops.”
The State University of New York at Albany has ended its investigation against researcher David Carpenter, determining there will be no discipline taken and he can resume teaching and researching. Carpenter — a public health physician who has spent his career researching the impacts of pollutants on the brain, particularly PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and their effect on IQ — was placed on “alternate assignment” about nine months ago by the university after public records requests were sent to the University at Albany from a law firm that has represented Monsanto in pollution cases. The records were regarding Carpenter’s service as an expert witness against Monsanto in cases involving PCB exposure. Thanks to everyone who signed the petition asking the university to reinstate Prof Carpenter!
HUMAN GENETIC ENGINEERING
The Third International Summit on Human Genome Editing, held last month at the Francis Crick Institute in London, closed with a statement that “heritable human genome editing remains unacceptable at this time”. The statement said, “Public discussions and policy debates continue and are important for resolving whether this technology should be used. Governance frameworks and ethical principles for the responsible use of heritable human genome editing are not in place.” Pointing to “risks and unintended effects” of gene editing, the statement warned that “necessary safety and efficacy standards have not been met.” The statement may have prompted sighs of relief from those who were concerned that the summit’s participants would exploit the event to immediately push for changing the law banning human germline (heritable) genetic modification (HGM) in the UK. But the statement failed to meaningfully engage with the biggest ethical question around HGM. It focused on how to make the technology acceptable by improving “safety and efficacy”, while failing to lay to rest the spectre of eugenics that loomed over the summit. (See also this article, published at the start of the summit: “Stop Designer Babies protests irresponsible summit plans to legalise human genetic modification”.)
When the first baby resulting from a controversial procedure that meant he had three genetic parents was born back in 2016, it made headlines. The baby boy inherited most of his DNA from his mother and father, but he also had a tiny amount from a third person. The idea was to avoid having the baby inherit a fatal illness. His mother carried genes for a disease in her mitochondria. Swapping these with genes from a donor — a third genetic parent — could prevent the baby from developing it. The strategy seemed to work. Now clinics in other countries are offering the same treatment. But it might not be successful. In two cases, babies conceived with the procedure have shown what scientists call “reversion”: The proportion of mitochondrial genes from the child’s mother has increased over time, from less than 1% in both embryos to around 50% in one baby and 72% in another. Fortunately, both babies were born to parents without genes for mitochondrial disease; the technique was used to treat infertility. But the scientists behind the work believe that around one in five babies born using the three-parent technique could eventually inherit high levels of their mothers’ mitochondrial genes. For babies born to people with disease-causing mutations, this could spell disaster — leaving them with devastating and potentially fatal illnesses.
It was going to happen eventually, writes public health attorney and food writer Michele Simon. Even with what seems like endless piles of cash floating around, a “cell-cultured meat” company finally ran out of money: New Age Eats is officially dead. Founder and CEO Brian Spears has lamented his “painful decision” to shut the company doors. But Simon comments, “In fact, it’s not a decision when cash runs out, it’s simple math.” Simon reviews several signs that Spears didn’t know what he was doing and yet somehow raised $32 million from “dumb and gullible” investors.
A historic financial explosion has happened in California’s Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley Bank, America’s 16th largest bank, collapsed into federal government receivership following a run on the bank. For anyone ‘watching tech’, this collapse is a spectacular moment, writes Jim Thomas. Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) boasted that almost half of all US venture-backed technology and life science companies banked with them (holding a total of $342 billion in client funds and $74 billion in total loans). Given SVB’s penchant for risky bets, it’s likely that some of the corporate bodies under the rubble may turn out to be from the most grotesquely over-hyped of the foodtech sectors: Alt-proteins. That is the Silicon Valley manufactured industry where biotech and big data companies try to promote highly engineered and processed fake meats under shaky ‘green’ claims. Indeed, the two biggest names in alt-protein – Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat – both turn out to be connected with Silicon Valley Bank. UPDATE: After Jim Thomas published this article, the Biden administration bailed out the collapsed bank’s customers. Jim commented, “This isn’t a bailout of a bank – this is a bailout of Silicon Valley itself… the venture capital firms and tech bros who are gambling with our environmental and food systems using risky technologies have now demonstrated their political clout in a moment of threat.”
Italy’s government has backed a bill that would ban laboratory-produced meat and other synthetic foods, highlighting Italian food heritage and health protection. If the proposals go through, breaking the ban would attract fines of up to €60,000 (£53,000). Francesco Lollobrigida, who runs the rebranded ministry for agriculture and food sovereignty, spoke of the importance of Italy's food tradition. Coldiretti and other agriculture lobbies have collected half a million signatures in recent months calling for protection of “natural food vs synthetic food”, and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is among those who have signed.
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