As reported in this week’s UK Guardian, Nina Federoff spoke about threats to science at a meeting of 8,000 professional scientists. The former Bush Administration official (and former adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) and GMO proponent described her “profound depression” at how difficult it is to “get a realistic conversation started on issues such as climate change or genetically modified organisms.” I too have agonized over our inability to talk seriously about climate change.
However—and this is no small matter—by conflating fringe climate-deniers with established scientists raising valid concerns about the effects of GMOs, Federoff undermines the scientific integrity that she purports to uphold. The hypocrisy is astonishing.
The reason we cannot get a reality-based conversation started on GMOs is because we have precious little independent science on their effectiveness or safety. We know so little about GMOs’ safety or efficacy because global ag biotech firms like Monsanto, Dow and DuPont actively suppress science under the heading of protecting “confidential business information.” Companies routinely deny scientists’ research requests and suppress publication of research by threatening legal action, a practice one scientist describes as “chilling.”
In February 2009, 26 corn-pest scientists anonymously submitted a statement to U.S. EPA decrying industry’s prohibitive restrictions on independent research, especially as concerns ag biotech. They submitted the following statement anonymously for fear of being blacklisted:
“Technology/stewardship agreements required for the purchase of genetically modified seed explicitly prohibit research. These agreements inhibit public scientists from pursuing their mandated role on behalf of the public good unless the research is approved by industry. As a result of restricted access, no truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions regarding the technology, its performance, its management implications, IRM, and its interactions with insect biology. Consequently, data flowing to an EPA Scientific Advisory Panel from the public sector is unduly limited.”
The same year, the editors of Scientific American warned of the debilitating effects of the ag biotech industry’s attacks on science:
“Unfortunately, it is impossible to verify that genetically modified crops perform as advertised. That is because agritech companies have given themselves veto power over the work of independent researchers.”