26 November 2002
SAINSBURY BIOTECH CASH CONFLICT OF INTEREST
The distance claimed by Lord Sainsbury's supporters from The Gatsby Trust and Government decisions is not credible. Sainsbury appointed the people who run the blind trust and he can fire them and everybody knows his interests, enthusiasms and wishes. And how can one have a Science Minister in charge of the public funding of the bio-sciences and their strategic direction who is supposed to have no influence on issues to do with GM?
CONFLICT OF INTEREST CLAIMS OVER SAINSBURY BIOTECH CASH
November 24, 2002
The Sunday Times (London)
A government department has given hundreds of thousands of pounds in awards to a private company set up by one of its own ministers to promote the technology behind genetically modified (GM) foods.
Since Labour came to power in 1997, the Department of Trade and Industry has given £743,000 to Plant Biosciences Ltd (PBL), a company created by Lord Sainsbury of Turville's multi-million-pound charity, the Gatsby Foundation, in 1994. Sainsbury, the supermarket billionaire, was head of the charity at the time the company was created. He has since become minister for science at the trade department, a position he has held for more than four years.
Sainsbury, the supermarket billionaire, was head of the charity at the time the company was created. He has since become minister for science at the trade department, a position he has held for more than four years.
PBL is half-owned by the Gatsby Foundation, which is named after the playboy millionaire in F Scott Fitzgerald's book The Great Gatsby. Its aim is to exploit commercially scientific breakthroughs in plant science produced by the Sainsbury Laboratory and the John Innes Centre, both in Norwich. The latter organisation - also linked to Sainsbury through Gatsby Foundation grants - owns the other half of PBL.
The disclosure that the trade department is funding PBL immediately led to claims by Sainsbury's critics that the minister faces an untenable conflict of interest. Although he does not stand to gain personally from the grants, his opponents claim the web of GM businesses he set up before entering government make him unsuitable to be minister for science.
Peter Riley, food and farming campaigner for Friends of the Earth said, "His conflict of interest is clear and whether or not he is making money out of it is neither here nor there."
David Lidington, the shadow environment secretary, said, "However strong the government denial there's still an apparent conflict of interest. Lord Sainsbury's commitment to GM technology is well-known and long-established. It cannot be right for him to still be involved in a department which is taking important decisions about the future of GM research."
Sainsbury, who has donated £9m to the Labour party since 1997, has consistently denied any conflict of interest. Advisers say he does not get involved in any discussions on GM issues in government, leaving the room if they are raised, and all his commercial and charitable interests are run through a blind trust.
The government payments to PBL were awarded in three tranches by an independent panel, but at least two were signed off by Sainsbury in his capacity as the minister responsible for the awards.
Sainsbury formally launched the £6.5m awards scheme, which is aimed at encouraging scientists to exploit their innovations in various biotechnology fields, in 1999. PBL received its first award of £164,000 in 1997 when the scheme was still being trialled. It subsequently won a further £182,000 in 1999 and £397,000 in 2001.
Sainsbury's advisers said that the awards stipulated the money PBL received could not go towards helping the Sainsbury Laboratory exploit any of its patents or innovations.
Sainsbury's spokesman said last week: "Lord Sainsbury (now) has nothing to do with the Gatsby Foundation, all his commercial interests are in a blind trust and he has nothing to do with GM food policy. What more can he do?"