Welcome to Review 549, which covers corporate greenwashing, lobbying, and the latest news on the origin of COVID-19.
The big (and bad) news of the moment is the European Commission’s proposal to remove regulatory safeguards from many GMOs. This is such an important topic that we will soon put out a separate Review summarising the outraged responses from civil society groups, scientists, and governments. If you don’t want to wait, you can read the responses on our website.
Meanwhile in this Review, among the many items to watch out for is one on the huge rebranding exercise that Bayer has just launched, involving greenwashing its toxic industrial farming systems by hijacking regenerative agriculture. Bayer’s newly declared goal is to make itself the leading player in regenerative agriculture and, by (re)shaping it, drive massive future growth for the corporation (see CORPORATE GREENWASHING). Needless to say, “carbon farming” is part of Bayer’s “regenerative” package and so too are Bayer’s GMO seeds, with all their associated pesticides.
Another disturbing item is the one on Gates’s GMO regulatory capture in Nigeria and how it is serving as a model for the rest of Africa. If the extent of Gates’s influence is eye-opening, so too is the longstanding alliance that Gates turns out to have with the notorious climate skeptic Bjørn Lomborg (see LOBBYWATCH).
And if you ever thought we should just stick to our lane and stop delving into the possibility of a research-related origin to the pandemic, please do check out our latest COVID-19 section. There are so many newsworthy items and developments that make clear that this is not just a major biosafety issue but one that exposes how scientists with big vested interests, government officials, and the mainstream media can collude in pushing an agenda that is absolutely not in the public interest. We also have some great recommended resources for you, whether you’re new or old to this issue.
The iconic monarch butterfly is feared to be increasingly at risk of extinction and the heavy use of Bayer’s Roundup on GMO crops is considered responsible for destroying a significant portion of the monarch’s breeding habitat. But no worries: Bayer Hawaii’s “Monarch Butterfly Kit” giveaway and “Monarch Butterfly Sweepstakes” are raising awareness about the importance of such pollinators. Monarchs, of course, aren’t the only pollinator Bayer have been doing their best to wipe out. In fact, Bayer’s latest greenwashing exercise is reminiscent of their offering “FREE SEEDS for Bees” with their Provado Ultimate Bug Killer, containing the bee-harming neonicotinoid thiacloprid!
The agroecologist Jonathan Lundgren began researching regenerative agriculture when beekeepers asked for his help because pesticides were killing their bees. Lundgren and his research team quickly established that there was zero need for pesticides in regenerative agriculture. But now Bayer – the makers of some of the worst of those pesticides – says one of its new strategic priorities is to “shape regenerative agriculture” in a way that promotes its products. That was the main theme of Bayer’s first Crop Science Innovation Summit – held on 20 June in New York – where the company spelt out how they plan to exploit the current looseness of the term “regenerative” in order to more “clearly define” it in a way that will make them not just part of regenerative agriculture, but its leader. This, Bayer says, is what “is going to drive our growth” and its press release for the event emphasised the plan’s money-making potential: “Bayer sees more than doubling of accessible markets and potential to shape regenerative agriculture on more than 400 million acres”.
Bill to ban states like California from putting warning labels on pesticides is backed by usual suspects
With US EPA regulators charged with rubber-stamping the agrichemical industry’s dangerous products and decisions, some states have attached their own warning labels to pesticides. But now a bill has been introduced into Congress that seeks to ban such warnings. Unsurprisingly, it is backed by such Big Ag front groups and pesticide pushers as CropLife America, the Farm Bureau, and the (#GMO) corn and soy lobbies.
A single lobby group, Copa-Cogeca, has dominated the European Union’s agricultural policy for more than half a century as the self-proclaimed voice of European farmers and agri-cooperatives in Brussels. On the strength of its history and its claim to represent all European farmers, it enjoys privileged access to the EU at all levels of its policy making and it has used that access to actively push for deregulation of GMOs, old and new, and to oppose the environmental reforms proposed by the EU’s Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy, including successfully postponing a law to slash pesticide use and attempting to derail a law that would restore European ecosystems. But a Lighthouse Reports investigation into the group found that smaller scale and younger farmers in particular do not feel represented by Copa-Cogeca and that it is pushing the interests of just the biggest farms. In fact, in Romania, Copa-Cogeca represents just 0.1% of the total number of the country’s farms, although these are, needless to say, by far the biggest. When pressed on its claim to represent 22 million EU farmers, Copa-Cogeca admitted this was “more an aspiration than an actual representation of our figures”.
Former director general of Nigeria’s National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Dr Rufus Ebegba, says his appointment as the country’s chief GMO regulator was due to opportunities facilitated by the African Agricultural Technology FoundationAATF. AATF is Gates-funded to promote not just the public acceptance of GMOs in Africa but also their regulatory approval and commercialisation. AATF’s executive director expressed gratitude from AATF’s board and management for Ebegba’s leadership in biosafety matters in Africa and particularly Nigeria. He noted that Ebegba built a biosafety system for Nigeria that serves as a model for other African countries. As Nigeria’s chief biosafety regulator, the AATF-trained Ebegba oversaw the approval of a GMO maize licensed by AATF as part of a project funded by the Gates Foundation and USAID, both of which also fund AATF to promote the regulatory approval of GMOs. The Gates Foundation’s funding of AATF is substantial. For instance, AATF got $32 million to promote awareness of the benefits of GMOs and legislation enabling approvals in African countries, plus another $27 million to fund the approval and commercialisation of GMO maize. Although the AATF-trained Ebegba has just stepped down as Nigeria’s chief biosafety regulator at the NBMA, AATF already has the ear of Agnes Asagbra, Ebegba's replacement as NBMA’s director-general.
The Gates Foundation is now pouring money into investigative journalism in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa. Investigative journalist Tim Schwab, who is currently working on a biography of Bill Gates, commented, “I guarantee that no recipients will investigate the Gates Foundation.”
Bill Gates’s multiple meetings with known sex offender Jeffrey Epstein turn out not to be his only dubious relationship. The billionaire who portrays himself as a thought leader on climate change recently posted an article on his blog that he’d co-authored with the controversial climate skeptic Bjørn Lomborg. In the introduction, Gates says he’s been following Lomborg’s work “for many years”. But, as Gates biographer Tim Schwab points out, their relationship goes well beyond that. According to Schwab, “the Gates Foundation has for years given millions of dollars to the think tank that Lomborg runs”. Schwab adds, “Gates funds Lomborg’s think tank which – surprise! – publishes studies showing how smart Gates is. This kind of relationship is pretty definitional for Gates, using science to advance his agenda/brand, not to advance knowledge/debate.”
An intense lobbying battle is being waged by industry 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 the 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!
You can watch the English language version of Zembla’s programme (see news item above) here. It’s well worth watching to the end and is a welcome reminder that real investigative journalism on GMOs and their associated pesticides is still alive and well, at least in the Netherlands and at Zembla.
How does the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which should be an independent scientific source of advice, information and risk communication, apply the principles of transparency and independence enshrined in the European regulation establishing it? At the request of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee, a report on EFSA was produced by three law professors. Overall, the report positively assesses EFSA’s policies of transparency and independence. However, issues requiring improvement are identified, including a lack of transparency in the granting of waivers for experts with a conflict of interest.
An analysis of internal corporate documents, reported in US Right to Know’s Merchants of Poison case study, details how companies like Bayer, and the pesticide industry broadly, spend tens of millions of dollars every year on tactics to mislead the public about its products and the sector. Like the tactics of the tobacco and fossil fuel industries, the methods Monsanto and Bayer used to protect glyphosate are designed to thwart independent scientific examination and regulatory oversight. These tactics are also used to distract the public and policymakers from grappling with the systemic changes needed to address the impacts of glyphosate, and pesticides more generally, on ecosystems and public health. This excerpt from Merchants of Poison offers six suggestions for policy makers, media outlets, academics, and public health advocates to counteract industry spin tactics.
With global birth rates in free fall, Silicon Valley’s “pronatalists” aim to halt the decline by telling people to have as many babies as possible, reports The Telegraph. Pronatalism, or pro-birth, holds that our future depends on having enough children, and yet life in developed countries has become hostile to this basic biological imperative. Linked to the subcultures of rationalism and “effective altruism” (EA), and bolstered by declining birth rates globally, it has been gaining currency in Silicon Valley and the wider tech industry – especially its more conservative corners. GMWatch comments that this trend should officially mark the death of the lie that “we need GMOs and pesticides to feed the booming population of 10 billion by 2050”. However, it’s very likely to be replaced by another lie – that “we need GMOs and pesticides to enable farming without farmers”, on the claimed grounds that there will be too few people to grow the food we need. In reality, of course, just as previous centuries and decades have seen mass migration into cities, there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be an equivalent migration back to the land.
The order the US Congress gave the Biden administration couldn’t have been clearer. The COVID-19 Origin Act of 2023, signed into law on March 30 after being passed unanimously by Congress, required the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) “to declassify any and all information” relating to links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) and the origins of COVID-19 and to do so “not later than 90 days”. But, as the New York Post puts it, Avril Haines, the Director of National Intelligence, responded to this direct order from Congress by thumbing her nose at it: “Haines missed the statutory deadline of June 18 for releasing the report by a full five days. The sham ‘report’ she finally produced after business hours on a Friday afternoon contained a mere five pages of text. In it, Haines regurgitated the same tired talking points that the Biden administration has been using for two years now: The intelligence community is divided on COVID’s origins … It’s a toss-up between the Wuhan lab and nature … Blah, blah, blah. She told us nothing we didn’t already know.” And instead of declassifying “any and all information”, as Congress ordered, Gaines presented a new batch of classified material in an appendix, claiming declassification would compromise “sources and methods”. This means that the evidence remains unknown that informed the Department of Energy’s change of opinion to favouring a lab origin for COVID-19 and that led the FBI director to publicly confirm his agency had “moderate” confidence in a lab origin.
The molecular geneticist Roland Baker was not surprised by the failure of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to properly comply with the COVID-19 Origin Act. He tweeted, “Considering that the director of national intelligence Avril Haines was involved in the CIA project of redacting the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture and that in the end, only 525 pages of the 6,700 page CIA torture report were released I wouldn’t get my hopes up. The CIA’s Inspector General’s office told Congress in May 2016 that it had accidentally deleted its only copy of the full report, both in electronic and hard disk forms. The acting Inspector General reportedly uploaded the report to the CIA’s internal computer network, ‘followed protocol’ and destroyed the hard copy. Another CIA staff member then apparently misinterpreted instructions from the Justice Department not to open the file and deleted it from the server. This was after Avril Haines determined that CIA personnel should not be disciplined for illegally hacking into the computers of Senate staffers authoring the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture in order to spy on them. John Brennen and James Clapper’s prodigy DNI Avril Haines can be counted on to ‘comply with the law’ per S.619 - COVID-19 Origin Act of 2023 only in the most restricted and selective sense possible.”
An article in Newsweek notes that for all its brevity and lack of specifics, the ODNI report does confirm plenty of alarming information, such as that scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) “genetically engineered coronaviruses” using “techniques that could make it difficult to detect intentional changes,” and “some WIV researchers probably did not use adequate biosafety precautions at least some of the time prior to the pandemic in handling SARS-like coronaviruses”. One of the leading investigators of the lab leak theory, Yuri Deigin, says the ODNI report confirmed a number of other important points. For instance, it “reiterated that the FBI and DOE (Dept of Energy) both think COVID most likely resulted from a lab leak, albeit for different reasons, and that the CIA and another agency are still on the fence. Moreover, at least one agency thinks that SARS-CoV-2 was engineered (e.g. the furin cleavage site was added?), and several think it might have been lab-adapted.”
Some of the information the US government seems reluctant to disclose has been emerging via other routes. A major investigation by The Sunday Times into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic revealed that scientists in Wuhan were working alongside the Chinese military to combine the world’s most deadly coronaviruses just before the outbreak. The work created a mutant virus that US investigators are convinced was the cause of the pandemic. The team reviewed hundreds of documents, including previously confidential reports, internal memos, scientific papers and email correspondence that had been obtained through sources or freedom of information requests. They found that the Wuhan Institute of Virology engaged in increasingly risky experiments on coronaviruses it had gathered from bat caves in southern China. Initially, its findings were made public, but this changed after researchers discovered a new type of coronavirus closely related to COVID-19 in a mineshaft in Mojiang, where people had died from coronavirus symptoms. The Chinese authorities did not warn the world about the discovery. Instead, the viruses were transported back to Wuhan and a veil was drawn over this research. The team spoke to US investigators who were given access to top-secret intelligence on events in Wuhan before the outbreak. They say the Chinese military embarked on a classified programme in 2016 to make the mineshaft viruses more infectious to humans. They believe this led to the creation of the COVID-19 virus which leaked into Wuhan after a laboratory accident.
The Sunday Times has made two podcasts on this topic (parts 1 and 2). Dr Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist and laboratory director at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology, called the first of these “outstanding”, adding, “If you can listen to just one podcast on the origin of COVID-19, make it this one.” Ebright also “highly recommended” the second part.
Leading scientific commentator on covid origins, Dr Alina Chan highly recommends this eight-part BBC Radio 4 series made by the BBC’s former China correspondent John Sudworth. Sudworth was one of the earliest mainstream news reporters to start probing this issue and it was one of the reasons he had to flee the country after his reporting, which included trying to get to the caves housing SARS-CoV-2-like viruses in Yunnan, triggered a Chinese government backlash. Like the Sunday Times podcasts, Sudworth’s series, as Alina Chan says, is of interest “whether you’re new or old to the origin of COVID debate”.
In 2021 the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) first reported that US intelligence reports had identified several staff at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) who had sought hospital care in November 2019, around the time evidence suggests SARS-CoV-2 may have begun to circulate in Wuhan. This was obviously before the mid-December cluster of cases around the Wuhan seafood market, which critics of the lab leak theory have claimed as the source of the outbreak. What was not previously publicly known was that the sick WIV scientists had been experimenting with SARS-like coronaviruses. Now the WSJ has named the three researchers in question – Ben Hu, Yu Ping, and Yan Zhu. All three are coronavirus experts from the lab of the top coronavirus researcher at the WIV, Shi Zhengli. Ben Hu has done extensive laboratory research on how coronaviruses infect humans. Yu Ping wrote a thesis in 2019 about work at the WIV on bat coronaviruses related to SARS that confirmed that work on these dangerous viruses was being done in labs with the second-lowest level of biosafety, BSL-2. Their boss, Shi Zhengli, maintains that all WIV staff tested negative for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.
Writing in the New York Times, the sociologist Zeynep Tufekci points out that “almost all of the most significant information we’ve had about COVID’s possible relationship to scientific research in Wuhan has come out in dribs and drabs from the hard work of independent researchers, journalists, open records advocates and others, not directly from our government choosing to act with transparency”. Among the most important disclosures obtained in this way was a funding proposal that the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s US collaborator, EcoHealth Alliance, submitted to the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 2018. This proposal called for the use of genetic engineering to perform experiments with bat SARS-like coronaviruses to modify them by inserting features that can increase their ability to infect humans. One of the things that the scientists were proposing to do was to insert into these SARS-like viruses a furin cleavage site (FCS) – a feature of the COVID-19 virus, but of no other known member of its subgenus. The proposal was turned down by DARPA but that doesn’t mean that the work wasn’t carried out at the WIV.
Dr Richard Ebright told The Intercept that the significance of WIV researcher Ben Hu being named as one of the scientists sick with SARS-CoV-2 type symptoms (loss of smell/taste and pneumonia with ground glass opacities) was not only that Hu had received US funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and USAID in 2018-2019, but also that “NIH and USAID support to Hu potentially directly funded the insertion of FCS (furin cleavage site) sequences into SARS-like coronaviruses”. Yuri Deigin points out that Ben Hu and Shi Zhengli were both named as co-investigators on the 2018 DEFUSE grant proposal to DARPA (see item above) that suggested engineering novel furin cleavage sites (FCS) into SARS-like coronaviruses. In 2015, together with University of North Carolina researcher Ralph Baric, Shi had already engineered an FCS into a MERS-like bat virus HKU4 to demonstrate that an FCS enabled it to infect humans. Deigin has an excellent Twitter thread on how Ben Hu connects not just to the genetic engineering of SARS-like coronaviruses but also to the sampling by the WIV and its collaborators of the bat ecosystem likely to house the bat progenitor virus of SARS-CoV-2. Deigin also has more on this progenitor issue here.
The case against a research-related origin for COVID-19 rests almost entirely on unverified denials by Ben Hu and Zhengli Shi of the WIV and Peter Daszak of EcoHealth, and so it is highly significant that Hu, Shi, and Daszak are suspected of being involved in falsifying research. According to Richard Ebright, there is no doubt about this: “The 2017 research fraud involved the same reckless coronavirus gain-of-function research project that likely caused the pandemic.” There's more on this here. Back in 2020 GMWatch published a detailed article demonstrating the extraordinary level of dishonesty contained in many of Peter Daszak’s public claims.
This April and May the virologist Dr Jonathan Latham set off on a European tour of virology conferences that are once more being held in person. He had important questions about the origin of SARS-CoV-2 and the COVID-19 pandemic that could only be asked live and in person. He also planned to find out more about the latest research, assess the future of the origin controversy, and test the opinions of ordinary virologists about the origin itself. Is there, indeed, a scientific consensus? It would be a tour of the COVID origin frontline. He returned with a rich haul of insights and answers. But what he didn't expect was that the mere act of asking questions would set off a chain of events and revelations that saw him spied on, stolen from, and censored, by the scientific organisers of the third and final conference. This reaction helped validate the case that there is a fatal flaw in the Huanan market SARS-CoV-2 origin theory and a campaign to cover it up by scientists previously not known to be involved. In GMWatch's view this is a very important article that will open people's eyes to the sinister practices of prominent people promoting the market origin theory of SARS-CoV-2.
David Morens, a senior scientific advisor at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which Dr Tony Fauci headed until the end of last year, intentionally used his personal email account to evade transparency. His concern about Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests was revealed in a series of email exchanges where he did use his work account because of concerns his gmail account had been hacked. In these emails he reassured some of the leading scientists opposed to the lab leak theory that “I try to always communicate on gmail because my NIH email is FOIA’d constantly” and “I will delete anything I don’t want to see in the New York Times”. Other of Dr Morens’ email comments suggest Dr Fauci had asked Morens to publicly suppress the lab leak theory, while attempting to conceal his own (Fauci’s) involvement in managing public discussion about it: “my boss Tony actually ASKED me to speak to the National Geographic on the record about origins” and “Tony doesn’t want his fingerprints on origin stories”. In another email, this government official actively encouraged EcoHealth’s Peter Daszak to sue The Intercept over its articles taking seriously the possibility that the virus emerged from a research accident in Wuhan, China: “Do not rule out suing those assholes for slander.” He also made plain what he thought of scientists who thought a lab leak was plausible, referring to them being interviewed by the media in order to provide balance as like giving “equal time and space to a Nazi murderer” just because they had “interviewed a Holocaust survivor”. As a result of the revelations about his efforts to evade public scrutiny, the US House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic is now requesting all of Dr Morens’ personal email and mobile phone records related to COVID-19 origins. Their view is that “public health officials are not above the law, especially in times of crisis”. Alina Chan comments on what the emails reveal here and here.
On July 11 2023 the US House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic is due to hold a hearing titled, Investigating the Proximal Origin of a Cover Up. The cover-up being referred to was put into place by a small group of scientists in collusion with government officials to quash any public discussion of the possibility that COVID-19 resulted from a lab leak. A research paper, The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2, was used to rule out a lab leak as completely implausible, even though we now know from various FOIA disclosures that that is not what the authors of the paper actually believed when they wrote it. Their misleading narrative was then promoted from the White House. One stated purpose of misrepresenting the possibility of a lab leak was protecting “science” from the scrutiny that might result if serious consideration was given to such a possibility. Roger Pielke Jr has provided a very clearly explained summary of the evidence for the cover-up based on the detailed timeline created by US Right to Know – one of the open records advocates that Zeynep Tufekci rightly praises in her recent New York Times article for their important investigative work on COVID origins.
In episode 3 of John Sudworth’s current BBC podcast series on the origin of COVID, the BBC’s former Beijing correspondent prods Dr Robert Garry, one of the five co-authors of The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2, into admitting the paper went “too far”. Dr Garry now claims the paper was only meant to dismiss some lab leaks but not all. Yet earlier this year Garry said, “It is time to nail the coffin containing all the lab leak conspiracy theories shut and give this long dead corpse a proper burial”. Another co-author, Ian Lipkin, has also subsequently sought to distance himself from the paper that did so much to brand any suggestion of a lab leak a “conspiracy theory”.
Ashley Rindsberg has written an insightful article on how USAID’s interconnections with America’s defence establishment and involvement in its biodefense strategy led to USAID’s funding of coronavirus hunting expeditions and gain-of-function research in China. As part of this, USAID funnelled $1.1 million to the WIV through the EcoHealth Alliance to cover such work as a 2015 study, jointly conducted by Shi Zhengli and Ralph Baric, which used reverse genetics in what has been characterised as a “prototype” for making SARS-CoV-2 in a lab, and which was considered so dangerous that its authors did not upload the resulting sequence to GenBank, the NIH’s genetic research repository, for fear it might “fall into the wrong hands”. There’s an excellent interview on YouTube with Ashley Rindsberg where he discusses the reasons behind USAID’s involvement in this risky area of research.
Ashley Rindsberg has said how odd he finds it that people are raising the alarm about the still-abstract doomsday scenarios of Artificial Intelligence (AI), while “saying nothing about the threat of extinction-level bioengineered viruses” that are already being manufactured in labs and in some cases even specified in the public domain.
Sign the Biosafety Now petition calling for a ban on “gain-of-function” research that creates enhanced potential pandemic pathogens
Despite the major risks to the public, “gain-of-function” research that enhances potential pandemic pathogens’ transmissibility and/or virulence in humans is subject to almost no national or international oversight. Biosafety Now believes this research is scientifically unethical, as it places the public at risk without the public’s consent and does so without meaningfully contributing to the development of any vaccines or disease treatments. If you agree, please sign their new petition.
A handful of scientists and pundits have created an online racket, alleging that US intelligence agencies unanimously agree that if the pandemic started from a lab leak, it was nonetheless a virus found in nature and not one that researchers genetically manipulated. But, writes David Robertson, these claims are false – semantic sorcery deployed to distract over the origins of the pandemic, and build off claims by Anthony Fauci who attempted to redefine a lab accident as a “natural occurrence”. “All of the intelligence groups agree that this was not an engineered virus,” Anthony Fauci told journalist David Wallace-Wells, in an interview with the Fauci-friendly New York Times. “If it wasn’t an engineered virus,” Fauci continued, “somebody went out into the field, got infected, came back to the lab and then spread it out to other people. That ain’t a lab leak, strictly speaking. That’s a natural occurrence.” To his credit, Wallace-Wells pushed back, pointing out that it is not true that all agencies have dismissed the possibility that scientists genetically engineered the virus.
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