The string is big but the vast majority of the press and international observers pretended not to see it. It must be said that the headlines are raucous: 108 eminent Nobel Prize winners have taken up the pen to condemn Greenpeace's anti-GMO campaigns for "crime against humanity"! The entire international press makes it its headline. Indeed, impressed by so many sciences gathered under the same text, one can indeed doubt the relevance of the actions of the NGO against GMOs in general and the genetic modification of golden rice in particular. The words are strong and forceful. Perhaps a little too strong to be honest. So, is this a cleverly orchestrated manipulation or a subtle game of dupes? Investigation in a world of intriguing interests.
RLet's look at the origins of this story. Last Thursday, in Washington, a conference is being held in the very prestigious National Press Club. This is the venue chosen to unveil an open letter signed by 108 Nobel Prize winners. The letter demands that Greenpeace stop its campaigns against golden rice, asks that governments intervene to convince the NGO and denounces the unconsciousness of the latter which endangers the lives of millions of human beings.
The words are violent, highly emotionally charged, powerful enough to ensure consistent press coverage and a buzz on social networks.
The content of the letter is a plea for the use of agriculture open to biotechnology. In urging Greenpeace to end its opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the letter demands, among other things, that the NGO stop its efforts to block the introduction of a genetically modified strain of rice, Golden Rice, which signatories claim could reduce vitamin A deficiency and thus reduce blindness and death among children in developing countries, mainly in Africa and Southwest Asia.
The signatories call on governments to reject Greenpeace's campaigns against the use of biotechnology, and to allow farmers access to all the tools of modern biology, especially biotech-improved seeds.
The letter ends with a fiery question: " How many poor people in the world have to die before we consider it a crime against humanity?"
The text uses rhetoric that is unusual among scientists. Moreover, curiously for a letter signed by Nobel Prize winners, the scientific dimension is reduced to the small, singularly anecdotal portion. The missive does not go into detail about the benefits or harms of genetically modified golden rice. It has been the subject of heated disputes between experts for many years. The letter is positioned on a different register from that of expertise: it affirms the register of authority.
It is therefore not surprising to see in the list of signatories only a very limited number of personalities specialised in the field concerned. There is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, 8 economists, 24 physicists, 33 chemists, 41 doctors. The number of specialists in agricultural matters is barely counted on the fingers of one hand. The endorsement of the Nobel Prize is enough to impress and make the content of the text credible.
Devon G. Peña is a world-renowned anthropologist from the University of Washington in Seattle. This expert in indigenous agriculture says that this letter is " shameful ». He states, addressing the signatories: " You should all be stripped of your Nobels! "
Arnaud Apoteker, a well-known French GMO specialist, who was a member of Greenpeace a few years ago, wonders how these personalities were able to "get their hands on the GMOs". sign a text that is not at all scientific, that plays on emotion and that does not contribute to the debate. ». He asks us: " did they even read the text? ». Nobel Prize winners who would have brought a signature of complacency to a petition, one among many others for which they are daily solicited?
Who's behind this operation?
Maybe. But we need to go further and find out who's behind this operation.
The first source is official. The campaign against Greenpeace is conducted by Sir Richard J. Roberts, 1993 Nobel Prize in Medicine with Phillip Allen Sharp for their work on alternative splicing and intron discovery.
Richard Roberts is currently the Scientific Director of New England Biolabs. This organization is a collective of scientists committed to developing innovative products for the life sciences industry. It is a globally recognized leader in the discovery, development and commercialization of recombinant and native enzymes for genomics research. Nonetheless, Richard Roberts says have " no financial interest in GMO research ".
Phillip Sharp, his co-Nobel Laureate, also nominated by the Washington Post as one of the organizers of this operation, is also an entrepreneur and has founded and manages several biotech companies, including Biogen and Alnylam Parmaceuticals.
Suspicion of a conflict of interest aside, it is unlikely that these scientists could, on their own, have convinced the hundred or so Nobel Prize winners who signed the letter. A media campaign of this magnitude requires a superior strike force.
An expression draws attention to the content of the letter. It is that of " crime against humanity ». This formula is not new since already in 2014, it appears in the messages of an anti-GMO slayer, the sulphurous Patrick Moore. This character is one of the thirteen co-founders of Greenpeace who, after spending several years fighting GMOs within the NGO, finally turned professional in pro-GMO activism. A sort of defrocked monk-soldier. His obsession? Attacking Greenpeace campaigns against golden rice. His main support is a propaganda website." Allow Golden Rice Now " which displays on its home page the slogan: " Preventing is a crime against humanity ». Patrick Moore's proximity to Monsanto is well known. He is indeed one of the firm's ardent defenders, going so far as to affirm that one can drink a glass of Roundup, as this product is so harmless to human health. Only when a journalist from Special investigation de Canal + takes him at his word and offers him to drink a cup of this pesticide, the evasion is a fun moment of television:
Monsanto? So this controversial firm is behind the Nobel letter? It's hard to prove, but some facts are troubling. At the press conference to launch the letter, the public was carefully screened. Not just anyone could enter the prestigious PressClub from Washington. Carefully accredited journalists and guests; others being turned away. Tim Schwab of the NGO Food & Water Watch and a representative member of Greenpeace, has been bar entry. So was Charlie cray, a researcher at Geenpeace.
And who was "bouncer"? A guy named Jay Byrne, who was for a long time one of Monsanto's public relations officers... Monsanto. He now runs a public relations agency that advises biotech companies, the GM and seed industries, v-Fluence.
So the operation would be carried out by communicators from the GMO industry? We suspected a little, but why now? Why June 30th? Why play so skillfully on the emotional rope by recruiting an army of Nobel Prize winners?
Because the date is highly strategic.
On June 21, U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts and Debbie Stabenow released a draft bill to require the mandatory labelling of most foods containing genetically modified ingredients. This bill comes to a vote in the Senate the first week of July.
An intense lobbying campaign is therefore being conducted under the banner of supportprecisionagriculture.org . This site is, it is useful to specify it, the support of the Nobel Prize petition. The financing of this site is unknown but its executive director Jon Entine uses it as a platform to regularly attack journalists and scientists who raise concerns about the health and environmental risks of GMOs. An organization that would thus be the promotion weapon of the GMO industry and that does not hide its links with... Monsanto, again.
Entine is, in addition, the Executive Director of the Genetic Literacy Project (GLP) which promotes GMOs and pesticides. This organization claims to be " funded by grants from non-partisan foundations "without ever specifying which ones, or whether any associations or firms with agrochemical interests support it. However, this organization has set up an operation aimed at training scientists in "debates on GMOs with a sceptical public". Training operation funded by... Monsanto. Again. (Chuckles)
The hand of the market
By publishing the letter signed by 108 Nobel laureates, the communication campaign of the GMO defenders aims to convey the idea of a "humanitarian exception": GMOs and biotechnologies, especially agricultural ones, may bring dangers, but they save human lives. To oppose them is a crime against humanity. An argument that has already been used many times, but which is now gaining unprecedented media attention. The blow is strong and it goes beyond simple GMOs. Indeed, biotechnologies have weapons such as the CRISPR allowing the modification of living organisms without traces, without external additions. Simply by editing the genetic heritage. In the line of sight of this operation, these " new GMOs These "represent a considerable market for the agricultural, agrochemical and biotechnology industries.
The Nobel letter is a stroke of genius, but above all it is extremely revealing of the confusion that is stirring up opinions when it comes to biotechnology in general and to biotechnology as it relates to agriculture and our food in particular. It is astonishing that scientific progress is accepted without much difficulty when it comes to the fight against climate change, vaccination or medical progress. But when it comes to the agricultural future of the planet, agro-strategy or food security, the debates easily take a hysterical turn.
The Golden Rice debate is emblematic. It has been going on for years, with the protagonists of the pros and cons of GMOs facing each other in extreme battles. Yet both sides present rational arguments that make sense. Greenpeace denounces the lack of sufficient studies on the safety of this modified rice on human health. For the environmental organization, this rice is not ready to be marketed. As for the supporters of GMOs, they show the benefits of this rice in the fight against hunger, and the health of millions of people on this planet. They consider that this modified rice is already perfectly developed.
The technical debate has been going on for a long time and should not lead to such a violent attack on one of the protagonists, in this case Greenpeace. Is it therefore a pretext? Is this polemic merely a façade to conceal other fears and other agendas?
The world of agriculture is changing dramatically. Gigantic monopolies are forming before our very eyes: Bayer, allied with Monsanto, will account for more than 30 % of the seed and phytosanitary treatment market. Syngenta, allied to ChemChina, will total more than 28 %. Dow and Dupont will account for more than 17 %. This is a market issue. And at the heart of these markets are genetically modified organisms, either conventionally or with new genome editing technologies.
The scale of the issues at stake goes beyond the simple technical debate on the pros and cons of GMOs. Blocking GMOs means blocking whole areas of scientific research with considerable consequences for the economy of the sector. Allowing GMOs means opening the way to dangerous manipulations because they are increasingly easy and difficult to control. The hiatus concerns the very nature of science. Today, more than ever, caught up in the constraints of the markets, it is becoming suspect. To allow this suspicion to persist is to compromise the progress of scientific research.
One wonders what could have motivated the Nobel Prize winners to sign this letter in such large numbers. Were they hypnotized by genius communicators who took them into their own hands? Are they "pawns", as Stacy Malkan of the NGO US Right to Know ? « These world-renowned scientists have been used as political pawns in a game beyond them ".
Are they all bought by the industry? It is offensive to them to say so and even to think so. 108 Nobel Prize winners, that's almost 40 % of living Nobel Prize winners!
Is this Nobel letter really just a cry of despair? The one who says loudly and clearly "Enough is enough! Leave it to us. We are men of science. We want the well-being of humanity. Do not block us. Trust us".
Questioned by L'ExpressJean-Marie Lehn, French Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, one of the co-signatories of the petition, apologizes for the content". anti-scientist "of these actions. With, as a watermark, behind words and deeds, this plea: don't hold us hostage to market strategies.
In the end, one may wonder who is the instrument of the other? Is it those industry communicators whose skill is to have understood this widespread feeling in the scientific community, to have channelled it and skillfully exploited it? Or is it the skill of the Nobel Prize winning community who have taken advantage of this dispute between pro and anti GMOs to assert their message and their willingness not to be constrained by market wars? And take advantage of the dazzling intensity of the media light that this campaign has generated.
The second hypothesis would explain the astonishing moderation of the reactions of Greenpeace representatives to this operation, contenting themselves, in a statement from Manila to challenge some of the scientific arguments, wondering about this "singularly laconic"... media farce "but carefully refraining from entering head-on into a battle in which they would only be a pretext.