25 May

The Money Behind the GMO Debate, Part 1

by GMO Skeptic


GMO proponents often proclaim that science is highly united in vociferous support for including genetically manipulated ingredients in the human food supply. Some go so far as to claim that the unanimity equals that of climate science, where more than 97% of scientists believe that mankind’s activities contribute to changes affecting the only known livable planet in our solar system.

But is that really true? Are scientists really in near total agreement? And, unlike climate scientists, where few if any on the “yes, climate change is real” side are bankrolled by or employed by or associated with the fossil fuel industry, how many participants in the Great GMO War are connected to or funded by the GMO industry?

In addition, where does all that money come from for the fancy pro-GMO websites, TV and print advertisements, and the various marketing and public relations campaigns? (For example, look at the adorable new Frank N. Foode™! plushie. Wouldn’t your child love one of these benign GMO corn critters to sleep and play with?)

The Pro-GMO Scientists

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) bills itself as an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of all people. They also claim to be the world’s largest general scientific society.

Here is their 2013 statement on GMO labeling, which was, coincidentally, we’re sure, issued less than 10 days after Connecticut passed a GMO labeling law:

There are several current efforts to require labeling of foods containing products derived from genetically modified crop plants, commonly known as GM crops or GMOs. These efforts are not driven by evidence that GM foods are actually dangerous. Indeed, the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe. Rather, these initiatives are driven by a variety of factors, ranging from the persistent perception that such foods are somehow “unnatural” and potentially dangerous to the desire to gain competitive advantage by legislating attachment of a label meant to alarm. Another misconception used as a rationale for labeling is that GM crops are untested. — Full statement available here

But who are these folks? Where do they come from? Why do their policy statements coincide with state votes on GMO label laws? (October 2012 — one week before California vote; June 2013 — coincident with the Connecticut vote.) And perhaps most importantly, who or what is funding them?

President and Board of Directors

Current AAAS President Gerald R. Fink was a founding member of the Whitehead Institute and Professor of Genetics at MIT in 1982 and served as Director of Whitehead from 1990 to 2001. Dr. Fink is currently Margaret and Herman Sokol Professor at MIT and American Cancer Society Professor of Genetics.

An Aside About the Man Who Founded the Whitehead Institute

From a Washington Post article: Jack Whitehead was an entrepreneur who revolutionized blood testing. The family company, Technicon, had been in the polio respirator business. When polio was cured in the 1950s, the business evaporated.

The resourceful Whitehead transformed Technicon, hooking up with an inventor to develop machines capable of widespread blood testing for such things as cholesterol and blood glucose. Whitehead saw the potential in the “blood analyzer, and commercialized it on a global scale.

He took Technicon public in the 1960s and sold it to the cosmetics firm Revlon for $250 million in the 1970s. The company is now part of Bayer, the German pharmaceutical giant. Blood analysis is a $30 billion global business and is fundamental to modern medicine.

The AAAS Board of Directors consists of five officers (inclusive of Dr. Fink) plus eight other members, such as:

Chairman Phillip A. Sharp was director of MIT’s Center for Cancer Research (now the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research) from 1985 to 1991; head of the Biology department from 1991 to 1999; and director of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research from 2000 to 2004. He is currently a professor of Biology. Sharp co-founded Biogen (now part of Biogen Idec), Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, and Magen Biosciences, and serves on the boards of all three companies. (Source: Wikipedia — Phillip Allen Sharp)

Other board members include CEO Alan I. Leshner (received his PhD in physiological psychology from Rutgers in 1969. Was appointed to the National Science Board in 2004 by George W. Bush then reappointed to the NSB by President Obama in 2011);  Treasurer David E. Shaw (managing partner of private equity firm Black Point Group, founder/CEO of Idexx Laboratories, and held roles in Ikaria Phama, Ironwood Pharmaceuticals, and others); Elizabeth Loftus (a psychologist known in a good way for her role in the “repressed memory” wars); and Raymond L. Orbach (Under-Secretary for Science in the Department of Energy from 2006 until 2009 under President Bush and was Director of the Energy Institute at the UT-Austin until his resignation in December 2012 in the wake of a conflict-of-interest controversy).

AAAS Funding

money_shootsAAAS reportedly had 126,995 members as of 2008, which was the last year we could find data for. We suspect membership has decreased since then, as their 2013 Financial Summary shows declining revenue from member dues year over year. Total revenue for 2013 was $97.6 million dollars, down slightly from 2012. About half of total revenue was from publishing.

Although organized as a non-profit, AAAS generates taxable income from product and service advertisements (such as the BioJapan 2014 World Business Forum) in Science magazine. Additional revenue comes from member dues, grants, and investments.

Corporate donors who may have a stake in the Great GMO War include Amgen and Monsanto, but they are just two corporations among many well-known pharmaceutical, food, technology,and energy companies having Corporate Matching Gift and other affiliations with AAAS.

Official Position on Political Action

Although issuing policy statements on the eve of state votes on GMO labeling laws may seem like active participation in political activity, the AAAS charter holds that:

No substantial part of the activities of said corporation shall be the carrying on of propaganda or otherwise attempting to influence legislation, and said corporation shall not participate or intervene in, including the publication or distribution of statements, political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office, whether by publishing or distributing statements or otherwise. — Articles of Incorporation

Conclusion of Part 1

In the next part of this diary series on the money behind GMO, we’ll examine GMO skeptic The Union of Concerned Scientists, a group that pro-GMO hero Jon Entine has dubbed “charlatans”. Of course, Jon is a Visiting Fellow at conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute and, as we pointed out in a previous post, AEI is well-known for being pro-GMO Climate Change Deniers.

3 thoughts on “The Money Behind the GMO Debate, Part 1

  1. You linked to our article on biofortified.org about the Frank N. Foode plushie, which is our blog mascot. You insinuate some sort of bizarre, hidden industry scheme – which is the main thrust of your article. But the funding that produced our plushie was actually a very public Kickstarter project, and our support came from our readers and fans. Biology Fortified does not accept funding from industry.

    1. We simply mentioned your plushie as an example of a public relations campaign of the sort being run by GMO supporters. It troubles us that billions of dollars are spent to push GMO foods and suppress dissent. Although your blog doesn’t appear to be industry funded, many similar pro-GMO sites are.

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