Tag Archive | "Monsanto"

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Vote Yes on California Prop 37

Posted on 30 October 2012 by Jerry

Several readers have asked if IAmAGuardian.com has taken a position on California Proposition 37 which requires labeling of genetically engineered foods.  Yes, below are two articles which have been posted in support of Proposition 37.

As previously identified, chemical and agricultural conglomerates opposing Prop 37 are grossly outspending supporters of the proposition (funds raised exceed $40 million at this point, still a 10 to 1 advantage).  Opponents have cited very large additional costs to the food industry from the labeling, increased costs to consumers as if prices will be forced up, and the supposed inconsistency of application of the labeling requirement to various products.

All products in California require labels.  There is no requirement to re-label products made before the law’s passage.  There is virtually no cost to redraft future product labels which have to be produced on packaging anyway.  There should be no change in pricing of products to consumers other than hypothesized price reductions to sell newly labeled genetically engineered products that consumers refuse to buy. 

The logic of what is included to be labeled as genetically engineered and what is not, is a function of what farms may be incidentally contaminated by plants from neighboring farms whose crops are genetically engineered.  This is because there is nothing to prevent GE crops from cross pollinating adjacent non GE crops. In addition, labeling a GE product is determined by whether it is eaten directly by a human being.  Meat from animals that have been fed GE products is exempt because the animal itself has not been genetically engineered.  In cases where the animal itself is genetically engineered, for example the proposed genetically modified salmon, there would be a requirement for GE labeling before human consumption.

Those of us who have read the proposed legislation and have studied genetic engineering find the arguments against this simple labeling requirement to be complete fabrications.  This type of product labeling already exists in over 60 countries around the world. These vociferous and wealthy opponents of Prop 37 are only concerned about their profits and being completely unregulated when they genetically engineer their products.  They want to remain completely unfettered by a simple labeling requirement that informs consumers who might care about what they feed themselves and their family.

A U.S. Domino for Genetically Engineered Foods

September 16, 2012 – San Francisco

California may be the last chance for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods in the U.S. or the first U.S. governmental entity to require labeling. Unfortunately there has been no progress in the U.S. with a number of labeling bills defeated around the country.  As the birth place of genetic engineering, the U.S. and Canada have the largest adoption of genetically modified foods in the world.

When the U.S. reversed its decades long opposition to allowing other nations to require labels on genetically engineered food (see iamaguardian.com August 2011 posting of “Speed/Slow/Stop….or Label Genetically Modified Foods”) it was clear it would cause labeling dominoes to fall around the world.  We have seen movement in a number of countries including lately the European Union and most recently a committee of the Indian Parliament and separately the Turkish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock. 

The reality is that when consumers get information, they read it and they act on it.  This is why the opposition to California’s Proposition 37 (Genetically Engineered Foods, Mandatory Labeling Initiative Statute) has put up over $25 million to defeat the proposition. This does not compare favorably to the $2.5 million raised in support of the measure.

If you are judged by the company you keep as a measure of how you should be viewed, the roles of the two sides of the debate are clear.  The proponents number many and have a long history of standing on the side of consumers and their health (see http://www.carighttoknow.org/endorsements/ ).  The antagonists include the largest chemical and food companies.  If you look at this list of opponents what is striking is that many producers on the list are either genetically modifying foods themselves, are the nation’s largest buyers of GE crops or produce products that are only sugar foods which contain nothing but empty calories and pander to the worst eating habits in our nation (http://www.noprop37.com/donors/ ).

Who do you believe has your best health interests at heart, Monsanto, Bayer Crop Science, Cargill, Clorox, and Dow Agro Sciences?  Maybe others have more credibility with you, like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo Inc., Hershey Company, Nestle USA, H.J Heinz, Sara Lee, and the J.M. Smucker Company.   These are the company’s paying the most to defeat a simple labeling requirement.

You should decide for yourself but not be swayed by the avalanche of negative ads that are about to launch in California.  This is simply a labeling requirement, not anything more.  When the antagonists say it is a conspiracy to have a deceptive labeling scheme or a plot to help organic businesses or will cost too much to change labels or will cause a rise in food prices or will be a windfall for trial lawyers or has loopholes for special interests, you should reject these claims. Some of us have read the legislation, are familiar with the genetic engineering of foods in the U.S. and have seen these scare tactics before.  We are only talking about your right to see a label that shows you what is in the food you intend to eat and feed to your family.

Use the following links to obtain more information:

http://www.nature.com/news/companies-set-to-fight-food-label-plan-1.11240

http://www.carighttoknow.org/endorsements/

http://www.noprop37.com/donors/

http://blogs.nature.com/news/2012/08/indian-parliamentary-panel-slams-gm-crops.html

http://www,todayszaman.com/newsDetail_openPrintPage.action?newsld=289724/

 

CA Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act

March 27, 2012 – San Francisco

Since the July 5, 2011 reversal of the U.S. position opposing labeling of genetically modified foods internationally (see August 5, 2011 post “Speed/Slow/Stop…or LABEL Genetically Modified Foods), pressure for mandatory labeling of GM foods in the U.S. has been building.

While there are efforts nationally to produce petitions (see www.justlabelit.org ) and to pass laws to require mandatory labeling, many are not optimistic these efforts will be successful in the near term.  The situation in the State of California may be dramatically different however (see www.carighttoknow.org ).

As you probably know California has a history of leading and pioneering in forward looking health and safety issues.  California also has a well developed voter initiative process in which citizens groups can qualify proposed laws for inclusion on the state election ballot once a specific number of voter signatures have been secured.  In the November elections of 2012 California voters will have a unique opportunity to pass ground breaking legislation that requires mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods offered for sale in California.

Called the “California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act” the proposed legislation requires mandatory labeling when a food is:

  • “any genetically engineered raw agricultural commodity”
  • a “processed food that is made with or derived from any genetically engineered ingredient” or
  • any “processed food that is made with or is derived from any ingredient that may be genetically engineered” shall include a conspicuous statement which says “MAY CONTAIN GENETICALLY ENGINEERED INGREDIENT(S)”

While this legislation has elements which do not go far enough, it does represent a landmark step.  An example of an area that could be strengthened is its failure to call for labeling of food from any animal that has not itself been genetically engineered but has been fed or injected with genetically engineered food or any drug that has been produced though means of genetic engineering.  The proposed law also excludes labeling of food solely because it includes one or more genetically engineered processing aids or enzymes.

In any case, this is a ballot initiative you should support with your contributions and votes. Quoting Beyond Animal, Ego and Time, “Successful activists take the progress that is offered and demand more.”  Let us pass this law as written as a beachhead for the rest of the nation.  For voters from other states, use this draft as a template for your own local initiatives.

Remember, this legislation does not change the food choices you are given in your local store.  It also does not limit the genetic engineering the industry performs.  It merely gives you more information about what you may consume yourself or serve to your family.  It only equips you to make a more informed choice.

Use the following links to review the actual wording of the voter initiative and visit the websites of organizations driving this issue:

http://carighttoknow.org (Select “About”, then select “The Initiative”)

http://carighttoknow.org

http://justlabelit.org

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GM Corn Shortens Lives of Study Rats

Posted on 10 October 2012 by Jerry

[Update: Two French scientific organizations have criticized this study as reported in the October 26, 2012 issue of Science magazine.  The French High Council of Biotechnology and the Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety have both labelled the study referenced in this post as “inconclusive due to methodological, statistical, and interpretative limitations.”  The French government has nevertheless has said it will suggest new European procedures for evaluation, approval, and control of GM organisms.  The government stated this decision was independent of the study findings.]

As could be expected, a new study linking higher numbers of cancers, bigger tumors and earlier deaths of research rats fed Monsanto’s genetically modified corn (NK603) for most of their lives, has created considerable controversy.  The corn, NK603, is widely sold for human and animal consumption in the United States and Canada. A research study published in the peer reviewed journal of Food and Toxicology is the first study to look at the effects of longer term consumption of corn modified to resist the effects of Monsanto’s Roundup, the herbicide glyphosate.

The study rats were fed the GM corn for two years or almost their entire lifetimes.  All earlier studies were no longer than the 90 days required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory bodies.  Once again we see the money and power of the chemical industry as it marshals its resources and the research community it supports to immediately attack the validity of the research findings. We also see the embarrassment of regulatory bodies seeking to defend their earlier superficial studies.

Giles-Eric Séralini, a molecular biologist at University of Caen, France and Joël Spiroux de Vendômois, president of CRIIGEN, co-authors of the study were reportedly “Surprised by the ‘violence’ and immediacy of scientists’ criticisms.  They argue that most of the critics are not toxicologists, and suggest that some may have competing interests, including working to develop transgenic crops.” José Domingo stated the study passed the peer review and raised no red flags at the journal of Food and Toxicology.  Dr Domingo is a toxicologist at Rovira I Vigili University in Reus, Spain, and managing editor of the journal.

Giles-Eric Séralini has been subjected to much criticism from the genetic engineering and chemical communities.  In 2011, in response to public insults, Seralini sued Marc Fellows, president of the French Association of Plant Biotechnology, for defamation and won.  He continues to be quite controversial because of his open stand against genetically modified foods.  Detractors argue it is he that has ulterior motives for releasing this study.

Even with all the immediate criticism of the study, its results cannot be ignored.  Fortunately for the French, their Prime Minister Jean-Mark Ayrault, said that, if the results are confirmed, the government will press for a Europe-wide ban on the genetically modified crop.  U. S. citizens should not look for the U.S. government to call for additional, longer term studies of the negative effects of this GM corn.  

As reported earlier in this blog, see the June 13, 2012 article “Genetic Engineering Influence Peddling and Profit”, support for genetic engineering is explicitly sponsored by the U.S. government. The post states, “Among the many WikiLeaks disclosed cables from within the State Department are a number of cables that reveal the full and explicit U.S. government support for the U.S. chemical and agriculture business’ genetically modified foods.  It is particularly instructive to learn that the strategic policy of the United States is to support and promulgate genetically modified foods.

It is no coincidence that there is significant resistance to genetically modified foods in the French government.  The French government was under assault at many levels by the U.S. government and chemical companies attempting to force them to change their negative position on GM crops.  As shown by WikiLeaks cables reported on in the Atlantic Monthly (see last link below), the U.S. government threatened a “trade war” in retaliation if France didn’t reverse its anti-GM stance.

See additional blog posts, the April 27, 2012 article “Roundup (Glyphosate) and Infertility” and the October 27, 2011 article “Where there’s toxins, there’s….WHAT?” Each article documents different studies pointing to the potential negative effects of human and animal consumption of Monsanto’s genetically modified, Roundup Ready crops (including the GM corn referenced above).

The question posed is when will citizens of the world say enough is enough?  The war over genetically modified, Roundup Ready, crops is reminiscent of the “stonewall” techniques of the tobacco industry in the U.S.  Just consider the decades of debate and hidden studies and documents in the tobacco company’s files that only became public in the last decade, and still cigarettes are sold around the world and in the U.S.  Let us hope that at least a small step of mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods is passed in California in the upcoming election.  This may be the last, best chance the U.S. citizen has to make progress on this issue.

Use the following links to obtain more information:

http://www.nature.com/news/rat-study-sparks-gm-furore-1.11471

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=hyped-genetically-modified-maize-study-faces-growing-scrutiny

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/sep/28/study-gm-maize-cancer

http://inforrm.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/libel-science-and-gmos-a-french-criminal-case/  

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/print/2011/01/us-presses-europe-to-worship-genetically-modified-foods/69633/

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A U.S. Domino for Genetically Engineered Foods

Posted on 17 September 2012 by Jerry

California may be the last chance for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods in the U.S. or the first U.S. governmental entity to require labeling. Unfortunately there has been no progress in the U.S. with a number of labeling bills defeated around the country.  As the birth place of genetic engineering, the U.S. and Canada have the largest adoption of genetically modified foods in the world.

When the U.S. reversed its decades long opposition to allowing other nations to require labels on genetically engineered food (see iamaguardian.com August 2011 posting of “Speed/Slow/Stop….or Label Genetically Modified Foods”) it was clear it would cause labeling dominoes to fall around the world.  We have seen movement in a number of countries including lately the European Union and most recently a committee of the Indian Parliament and separately the Turkish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock. 

The reality is that when consumers get information, they read it and they act on it.  This is why the opposition to California’s Proposition 37 (Genetically Engineered Foods, Mandatory Labeling Initiative Statute) has put up over $25 million to defeat the proposition. This does not compare favorably to the $2.5 million raised in support of the measure.

If you are judged by the company you keep as a measure of how you should be viewed, the roles of the two sides of the debate are clear.  The proponents number many and have a long history of standing on the side of consumers and their health (see http://www.carighttoknow.org/endorsements/ ).  The antagonists include the largest chemical and food companies.  If you look at this list of opponents what is striking is that many producers on the list are either genetically modifying foods themselves, are the nation’s largest buyers of GE crops or produce products that are only sugar foods which contain nothing but empty calories and pander to the worst eating habits in our nation (http://www.noprop37.com/donors/ ).

Who do you believe has your best health interests at heart, Monsanto, Bayer Crop Science, Cargill, Clorox, and Dow Agro Sciences?  Maybe others have more credibility with you, like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo Inc., Hershey Company, Nestle USA, H.J Heinz, Sara Lee, and the J.M. Smucker Company.   These are the company’s paying the most to defeat a simple labeling requirement.

You should decide for yourself but not be swayed by the avalanche of negative ads that are about to launch in California.  This is simply a labeling requirement, not anything more.  When the antagonists say it is a conspiracy to have a deceptive labeling scheme or a plot to help organic businesses or will cost too much to change labels or will cause a rise in food prices or will be a windfall for trial lawyers or has loopholes for special interests, you should reject these claims. Some of us have read the legislation, are familiar with the genetic engineering of foods in the U.S. and have seen these scare tactics before.  We are only talking about your right to see a label that shows you what is in the food you intend to eat and feed to your family.

Use the following links to obtain more information:

http://www.nature.com/news/companies-set-to-fight-food-label-plan-1.11240

http://www.carighttoknow.org/endorsements/

http://www.noprop37.com/donors/

http://blogs.nature.com/news/2012/08/indian-parliamentary-panel-slams-gm-crops.html

http://mobile.foodnavigator.com/legislation/u-turn-on-gm-in-turkey

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Climate Change Creativity

Posted on 14 August 2012 by Jerry

While there is still no clear roadmap for dealing with climate change, we should have optimism about all the effort being invested in ways to reverse or adapt to it.  Proposed solutions include technologies that range from how to remove and store CO2 from the environment and from emissions at conventional power plants, to chemical or material alterations of the atmosphere, to changing the soft technologies of how and where we live and farm.

Examples of experimental technologies currently being trialed are efforts underway at The Technology Centre at Mongstad (TCM) Norway.  A collaboration between the Norwegian government, the state owned oil company Gassnova, Statoil, Shell and the South African company, Sasol, the TCM will test CO2 capture on two types of common power plant and refinery emissions.  The plant’s description states that it will test the technologies on emissions from “the existing catalytic cracker facility at the Mongstad Refinery and the other is emissions from the gas-fired combined heat and power plant (CHP), which is under construction.”

The plant will test an amine technology from Aker Solutions and a chilled ammonia technology from Alstom.  Both technologies focus on taking exhaust emissions and filtering them through a chemical solvent that separates the CO2 and provides for future storage.  Both processes work on emissions from a variety of existing plants and energy sources such as coal, gas, etc.  Both technologies are explained in more depth at sites that are linked below.

The planning, which was begun in 2006, has finally culminated in actual construction of the facility.  A link below leads to a film that depicts what is being built.  The Norwegian government has opened the facility to the world and invited all companies to use it to test their alternative technologies to clean up emissions of existing refineries and power plants.  While initial results of both technologies are positive, the question will be whether either or both are proven to be economic as well.  If these technologies work and are economic, they will significantly extend the useful life of conventional plants.

In another development reported in Nature Materials on June 3, 2012, scientists in the UK announced creation of an “interpenetrated metal-organic framework” which represents “a new class of dynamic material that undergoes pronounced framework phase transition on desolvation.” The material, referred to as NOTT-202, works like a sponge which absorbs gases when under high pressure.   Essentially, “These complex molecules (of NOTT-202) can be made to join together in frameworks that leave gaps suitable for capturing gases.”  As the pressure is reduced, CO2 remains captured while other gases are released.  The breakthrough of this new material is its selectivity for CO2 and its potential suitability for long term storage.

This approach of seeking technologies to remove CO2 from the atmosphere or emissions is, in the opinion of many scientists, the best way to immediately fight climate change.  It is one of seven ideas (Air Capture of CO2) which were described in a 2009 report to the UK’s Royal Society and which have been cited in reports by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 2010 and by the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center in 2011.

The report included other ideas such as Cloud Seeding (seeding clouds with a spray of salty ocean water or a water attracting powder) to create small micro-droplets of moisture that reflect sunlight away from the planet’s surface, Aerosols in the Atmosphere which involves releasing tiny particles in the stratosphere to reflect sunlight back into space, and a proposal to create Sun Space Shields which reflect the sun’s radiation away from Earth.  Speeding up Weathering suggests we try to take advantage of silicate rocks which degrade in the weather leaving their silicate free to react chemically with CO2, storing it as carbonate rock.   Making the Desert Shiny is a plan to cover deserts with reflective polyethylene-aluminum sheets to boost the Earth’s reflection of radiation.  The final proposal was for Ocean Fertilization or seeding ocean waters with nutrients to encourage the growth of algae which represents a natural sponge to soak up CO2.  As the algae dies its dead organic matter sinks to the ocean bottom, effectively storing more carbon dioxide in the ocean.

When these proposals are rated against their impact, affordability, timeliness, and safety, Air Capture of CO2 received lower marks on affordability and timeliness than putting Aerosols in the Atmosphere but was given the highest rating as a safe option.  Atmospheric Aerosols was given the most risky rating.  Presumably, it is on this basis that Air Capture of CO2 has received the most attention.

Finally, from those looking at the softer technologies of how and where we live and farm come suggestions of inevitable steps we must anticipate over the next several decades.  These thoughts include building new “Waterworld” Homes that are floating structures, constructing Underground Cities to shelter populations from the harsher extremes of climate, and creating Floating Farms to help feed the world’s burgeoning population.  Other thoughts are of Smart Energy power grids that are flexible enough to juggle the mix of old and new energy sources but still capable of sending energy where it is needed.  Some have considered the creation of Vertical Farms with many levels of planted crops reaching skyward or even underground.  Finally, there is much interest in Climate Adapted Crops or genetically engineering crops that can resist droughts, floods, heat, cold, and salt.  This is an area that big chemical companies see for future profit and where they are seeking patent protection (a reported 1,633 patents as of 2010 as reported by the ETC Group).

All of these efforts reinforce our underlying optimism that humanity will react to that which threatens us, will respond and adapt.  Our only hope is that our efforts are soon enough and comprehensive enough to avoid the more wrenching changes and threats many fear as a result of runaway climate change.

Use the following links to access more information:

For a video on the Mongstad facility use: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBnvd_omYXM

http://www.zero.no/ccs/projects/european-co2-technology-centre-mongstad

http://www.tcmda.com/en/Technology/Amine-technology/

http://www.tcmda.com/en/Technology/Chilled-ammonia-technology/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-18396655

http://www.nature.com/nmat/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nmat3343.html

http://www.innovationnewsdaily.com/1165-changing-earth-7-ideas-geoengineer-planet.html

http://news.yahoo.com/sink-swim-6-ways-adapt-climate-change-211214009.html

 

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Genetic Engineering Influence Peddling and Profit

Posted on 13 June 2012 by Jerry

The world is full of influence peddlers with countless people on both sides of the transaction. There are the influencers with money, power, and prestige who tempt people around them to take actions which benefit the influencers to the exclusion of everyone else.  There are also those who are waiting to be influenced and act compliantly or at minimum turn a blind eye toward someone else taking advantage of a situation. They view their personal corruption by others as the most direct way for them to progress and prosper.  In their world every issue is a shade of gray rather than black and white.  There is always an argument to justify the most self serving answer of the moment.  These groups view the world as dog-eat-dog and view their personal prosperity and that of their interest group as all that matters.

There are an infinite number of angles that can be worked for personal profit and/or to facilitate influence peddling, too many angles to list and explain.  There are however, notable examples that garner public attention, outcry and deserve further elaboration.  This is certainly true in the areas of greatest opportunity where large amounts of money are being paid and where the corporate and venture capital consensus sees a future bonanza.  This is specifically true in genetic engineering of modified foods and in the field of synthetic biology.

The first example is of a very straight forward phenomenon, the movement of people back and forth between government and the corporations who wish to control government’s actions.  The case in point is that of Michael R. Taylor who was appointed by the Obama administration to be the Deputy Commissioner of Foods at the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in 2010.  In this capacity, Mr. Taylor, an attorney by trade, is in charge of food safety in the United States.

To illustrate how influence peddlers groom their collaborators we look first at Wikipedia that gives a fairly straight forward description of Mr. Taylor’s background.  The Wikipedia article describes that after law school he went to the FDA as a staff attorney, then to a law firm where he led the firm’s “food and drug law” practice and represented Monsanto for many years.  Then he was appointed as Administrator of Food Safety and Inspection in the Department of Agriculture.  From there he went back to his prior legal practice where he was shortly named at Monsanto as the Vice President for Public Policy.  Then he went into academia as a Research Professor of Health Policy before returning to the government to become a “senior advisor” to the FDA Commissioner.  He held this position for a few years before Obama promoted him to his present position.

Compare this background description with the two press releases issued by the FDA announcing his appointment as senior advisor to the FDA Commissioner in 2009 and the announcement of his appointment as Deputy Commissioner for Foods in 2010.  In the 2009 announcement there is no mention whatsoever of his past affiliation with Monsanto.  In the 2010 document from the FDA there is one mention of Monsanto in the next to last sentence of the press release.

Lest you think these two press releases go out of their way to downplay, if not completely omit, description of Mr. Taylor’s Monsanto connections, you would be completely right.  Among the many WikiLeaks disclosed cables from within the State Department are a number of cables that reveal the full and explicit U.S. government support for U.S. chemical and agriculture business’ genetically modified foods.  It is particularly instructive to learn that the strategic policy of the United States is to support and promulgate genetically modified foods around the world as one of our most important exports.

In addition, we have two examples of descriptions of Mr. Taylor’s appointment to his latest position.  The article in the New York Times mentions his past affiliation with Monsanto only once in passing.  The corresponding article in the Washington Post is much more balanced and provides full disclosure of Mr. Taylor’s past affiliations with Monsanto and his support, while in government, for controversial Monsanto issues like not needing to label milk from cows that were given growth hormones.

Our next example received more public attention but unfortunately it was largely confined to the European Union.  Such is the case of Diána Bánáti who was the unpaid chairwoman of the management board of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the European Union’s top risk assessment body.  She concurrently held the salaried food safety commissioner and chief scientific advisor positions at the Hungarian Ministry of Rural Development.  As reported in the cited article, Ms. Bánáti was asked to resign from both positions when she announced she was being appointed as the executive and scientific director of the Brussels based International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI). 

Previous controversy surrounded Ms. Bânâti when it was discovered that she had not disclosed an earlier appointment to the ILSI’s Board of Directors before her last re-election to the EFSA Board.  After her ILSI Director appointment was disclosed she was forced to give it up so as not to jeopardize her position as EFSA chair.

Her new position was possibly recognition for a job well done at the EFSA.  Within a few weeks of her resignation, the European Food Safety Authority rejected a French Government attempt to ban a genetically modified strain of corn developed by the U.S. based Monsanto Corporation.  The rejection is now slated to go for decision to the European Commission for ratification or rejection.

While not going to work directly for a chemical or agriculture business, her move is a variation of the revolving door that Michael Taylor is using.  The ILSI is an industry funded think tank. Its membership list is a who’s who of the agriculture, food and chemical industries world-wide. 

Our final two examples are in the area of synthetic biology and represent a different gambit to achieve personal profit.  This involves concurrent leadership of non-profit research institutes and venture capital backed private businesses.  One can suspect that this puts a scientist entrepreneur in the position to use government grants and nonprofit status to conduct research in a promising area and then redirect the research into their own startup when they think a scientific breakthrough is eminent.  In at least one of these situations, we see the entrepreneur hedge his bets by having his private company fund the research in his own research institute.  This would appear to be a way to limit argument about who owns the science that is developed.  The entrepreneur sits at the key pivot point and is in a position to choose where, how and with whose money to conduct ongoing breakthrough research.

While this is happening, selected individuals in the scientific community, governmental departments or grant making nonprofit organizations at a minimum turn a blind eye to what may be happening.  This is because they can argue that the research needs to be done no matter how it is accomplished or who benefits.  A cynical assessment is that these people are hoping for future positions in one of the organizations, stock options of the private companies or the favors of the scientist entrepreneur helping them pursue their own future opportunities. 

To see this organizational structure consider J. Craig Venter who on the nonprofit side heads the J. Craig Venter Institute “with more than 300 scientists and staff”.  This Institute was assembled by the merger of several of Craig Venter’s earlier organizations, specifically The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), The Center for Advancement of Genomics, The J. Craig Venter Science Foundation, The Joint Technology Center, and the Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives.  On the for profit side, Craig Venter leads Synthetic Genomics, a high tech synthetic biology private startup funded in part by Draper Fisher Jurvetson, BP, the Meteor Group, Biotechonomy LLC and Plenus, S.A. de C.V.

Another example of this dual nonprofit and for profit structure is that assembled by Steven A. Benner.  On the non-profit side, Benner heads The Westheimer Institute of Science and the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution (FAME).  On the profit side, he leads private startup Firebird BioMolecular SCiences LLC.  He sold another private company, EraGen Biosciences, to Luminex.

As a side note, synthetic biology as expressed in earlier posts creates significant risks if you assume there is a potential for release of a synthetically created organism outside the laboratory.  Apparently Firebird Biomolecular Sciences, LLC, agrees.  It posts a disclaimer that reads “All products sold by Firebird Biomolecular Sciences LLC., are for research and development purposes only, and are not for use in humans.  It is the responsibility of the buyer to determine the suitability of the product for any given purpose.  Products should be handled by trained personnel who understand the potential hazards of working with such materials.  Responsibility for accidents arising from the handling and use of Firebird products rests solely with the buyer.”  While approving of the warning, it would be great if it was this easy to insulate one’s company and one’s self from future lawsuits and responsibility.  

As has been observed in previous posts, the world’s largest chemical and agricultural businesses are pushing, with the U.S. government’s help, the adoption of genetically modified foods throughout the world.  At the same time, scientist entrepreneurs looking to benefit from synthetic biology are arguing aggressively and successfully there should be no government oversight or intervention in synthetic biology. 

Citizens around the world must be cynical as they consider what is happening in their governments.  They must examine every appointment to high government position and identify the biases these individuals bring with them.  They must be vigilant about the present positions their governments are taking on issues surrounding our ozone, climate change, nuclear weapons and genetic engineering and synthetic biology.  They must identify influence peddling for what it is and marshal public opinion against it.

Use the following links to obtain more information on these topics:

Michael R. Taylor:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_R._Taylor (Select “search for Michael R. Taylor in Wikipedia.”  You will see a message saying there is no listing for Michael R. Taylor.  Select the first Taylor option offered and you will go to the page)

http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/2009/ucm170842.htm?utm  

http://www.fda.gov/food/newsevents/constituentupdates/ucm197828.htm?utm

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/print/2011/01/us-presses-europe-to-worship-genetically-modified-foods/69633

http://www.rodale.com/genetically-modified-organisms-foods-0

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/14/health/policy/14fda.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/13/AR2010011304402.html

Diána Bánáti:

http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2012/05/european-food-safety-official-re.html

http://www.europeanvoice.com/article/2012/may/eu-rejects-french-gm-ban/74415.aspx

http://phys.org/news/2012-05-eu-food-agency-france-monsanto.html

J. Craig Venter:

http://dnalc.org/view/16830-Biography-39-John-Craig-Venter-1946-.html

http://edge.org/memberbio/j_craig_venter

http://www.syntheticgenomics.com/about/

http://www.syntheticgenomics.com/about/genesis.html

Steven Benner:

http://www.westheimerinstitute.org/about.php

http://www.gtecflorida.com/tech_industry-GTEC_start-ups.aspx

http://www.ffame.org/sbenner.php

http://www.firebirdbio.com/index.html

http://www.firebirdbio.com/AboutUs.html

Presidential Bioethics Panel:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/17/health/17synthetic.html

To see the text of the report from the Presidential Bioethics Panel, select “the report” in the first line of the second paragraph of the NY Times article listed above.

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