Crops, Cancer And Climate Change: The Corporate Hijack Of Science

By Colin Todhunter
20 August, 2012

When rich companies with well-positioned, politically-connected lobbyists fund their own research and distort outcomes for their own ends, like some giant pharmaceutical company tinkering with our food or using poisonous pesticide, we are in serious trouble. Due to the corporate takeover of science, our rights and freedoms are currently in the process of being destroyed.

In a genuine ‘age of reason,’ science would provide clear answers to issues and the public would be able to engage in open, honest debate over the rights and wrongs of policies. Instead, corporate interests have used their junk science and PR machines to muddy the waters and engage in fear-mongering so that public debate has too often become distorted and campaigns of deliberate misinformation have become commonplace.

‘Scientific’ debate is now often played out in full public glare and acrimony has become the norm, particularly when someone’s huge profits are threatened. Corporate greed leads to debate being stifled whereby scientists and various groups who do not support particular corporate stances are made to look like they are the ones who are pushing dogma based on self-interest and not the other war around.

No wonder, therefore, that the public is sometimes left feeling confused. Even when the weight of credible scientific evidence is overwhelming, powerful companies are highly skilled in creating ambiguity and controversy through their spin machines. Think back to how the tobacco companies set out to fool the public. Of course, having access to huge funds helps.

ExxonMobil gave $2.9m to US groups that were set up to misinform the public about climate change, and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) reportedly offered scientists money to publish articles critical of the International Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 climate change study. The AEI had received more than $1.6m from Exxon. A couple of years ago, Greenpeace revealed that the American Petroleum Institute, which includes oil giants ExxonMobil, Shell and BP, had encouraged its members to send employees to rallies against a climate change Bill that required large utilities to use greater renewable energy sources.

The aim of such campaigns is to deceive the public by giving the impression of serious scientific doubt coupled with popular dissent over proposed policies. Money talks. The public listens.

Another tactic used to sway public opinion involves big companies trying to whip up the belief there is some kind of conspiracy or unscrupulous group that is working against them and, by implication, the population in general — because, as we all know, these poor victimized rich corporations have our common interests at heart!

Those who say that global warming is taking place, for instance, or that GMOs pose a danger, are dismissed as having an ideological axe to grind against those corporations that want to keep on burning fossil fuels, controlling the world food supply and raking in massive profits — all for the benefit of humankind you understand.

Lazy journalism, corporate backed internet bloggers or those with an agenda in the media also contribute to the process. Stories can be twisted any which way and two newspapers can slant the same evidence to produce entirely different takes. Propaganda masquerades as ‘serious’ journalism, and ‘experts’ from well-funded corporate backed think-tanks are wheeled onto our screens to put forward points of view based on methodologically unsound junk science. Too often, science is a football to be kicked around and a victim of corporations that have scant regard for the public interest.

If corporate ideology fails, however, it’s always nice to know that there is good old fashioned bullying to rely on. For example, a WikiLeaks cable highlighted how Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) were being forced into European nations by the US ambassador to France who plotted with other US officials to create a ‘retaliatory target list’ of anyone who tried to regulate GMOs.

The corporate takeover of science has led to many terrible but highly profitable practices. The issue goes far beyond the advertising industry referring to dodgy science to con the public into buying an anti-aging cream, a fat reducing food supplement or a wonder-beauty product. Think of US-based agribusiness concerns and their aim to control the food supply and the 2,50,000 suicides by indebted Indian farmers who were duped or forced to buy seeds year after year from one centralised corporate entity.

Backed up by their selective scientific findings and spin machines, powerful corporations have placed at their mercy farmers who are no longer able to grow their own foods and harvest their own seeds. Think also of seasonal flu vaccines, pesticides and the collapse of the honeybee population and psychiatric pharmaceuticals. The corporate misuse and abuse of science has damaged the overall reputation science while swelling private coffers to bursting point.

Think too of the cancer industry. Despite massive public screening campaigns, decades of scientific research often funded by the very dug companies that profit from managing rather than eradicating cancer and talk of cures, cancer rates continue to soar.

In the 2009 documentary The Idiot Cycle, it is claimed that the world’s top cancer causing culprits include the companies Bayer, BASF, Dow, Dupont, Monsanto, Syngenta, Novartis, Pfizer, among others. The allegation is that chemical manufacturers are profiting from the production of cancer-causing products and then some of the same companies are investing in profitable cancer treatments.

On top of this, some of these companies are now developing genetically modified crops which have never been adequately tested for long-term health impacts like cancer. The onset of the disease is frequently 15 to 20 years down the road for victims.

Gilles-Eric Seralini, professor of molecular biology at the University of Caen in France, says it is absurd that only three months of testing allowed GM corn to be approved in over a dozen nations. Upon reviewing Monsanto’s raw ‘research’ data, he and his team found, among other problems, liver damage and physiological changes into a pre-diabetic condition among the rats which had eaten Monsanto’s GM corn. And that’s just from three months of eating such food.

In the US, animal and dairy products are highly contaminated with a wide range of hormones, pesticides and other industrial chemical carcinogens, some of which are very important risk factors for reproductive cancers – testicular cancers in men, breast cancers in women and leukemia in children. The use of the IGF1 growth hormone in milk has been associated with breast, prostate and colon cancer.

The usual tactic by officialdom is to individualise health issues by advising people to change their behaviour. While in certain cases individual behaviour may indeed minimise risks, there is not much the individual can do in terms of many of the major cancers that have increased in recent decades. By adopting a ‘blame the victim’ strategy, attention is diverted away from the practices of large corporations that cause cancer and ill health.

Credible science adheres to a certain methodological rigour, and its findings are at least subject to some form of established system of peer reviewed scrutiny, however imperfect that may be. The biggest challenge science faces is becoming more adept in getting its message out but most of all remaining independent from outside vested interests. A failure to do so is resulting in it being hijacked by corporate agendas and our rights and freedoms being eroded.

Colin Todhunter : Originally from the northwest of England, Colin Todhunter has spent many years in India. He has written extensively for the Deccan Herald (the Bangalore-based broadsheet), New Indian Express and Morning Star (Britain). His articles have also appeared in various other newspapers, journals and books. His East by Northwest website is at:



Science as a new religion

I just got back from a trip to Berlin, and one of the most interesting discussions I had with friends there was about how science has become a new religious authority. While many people may not be aware of this, science is not a neutral or objective way of understanding the world. It, like all other discourses, is built on assumptions and presuppositions that were created by men at some point in time to suit the context they were in. Thus it is a politicized discourse, like all others, including religion.

But this is not the story we get about science. What we hear is that science is the best way to understand life today. Why is it the best? Because it is rational, objective, and neutral (coincidentally those are all European Enlightenment values – what does that tell us?). It is faultless and it is basically the truth.

Now whenever someone claims that *their* discourse is the ultimate truth, people should start asking questions. Who defined the basics of science, such as molecules, atoms, etc? Who said this is an atom and this is a molecule? Who decided all these things? Aren’t they assumptions? Why are they true?

My friend told me about how when scientists today try to publish things that go against mainstream scientific beliefs they are ostracized. Funding and grants usually go to scientists who maintain the status quo.

I would argue that science as a dominant discourse is even more dangerous than religion, for 2 reasons. One, while we can all talk about religion, to an extent, since it has become mainstream knowledge, this is not the case for science. Can non-scientists discuss science confidently? I know I can’t. So this already creates a certain exclusion and a certain lack of confidence. Science cannot easily be challenged because we don’t all know the language with which we can discuss and challenge it.

Two, we are pretty much taught to accept that science is true. It is something we don’t question, especially in the west and especially within educated circles. Science is there and beyond doubt.

For these two reasons, I believe that it will be more difficult to challenge the dictatorial authority of science than that of religion. This is not to say that when we do experiments and see results they are not happening: of course they are.But who has defined what is happening, how and why? The language, the processes…they are all based on assumptions.

I also think it is pointless to get into a discussion about whether it is better to use science or religion to understand the world. The point is to see that they are both socially constructed ways of understanding physical realities, and have both been created as authorities that should not be challenged, which is never a good thing.

GM and the PM

Vandana Shiva

To impose a failed technology with high social and ecological costs in the name of ‘science’ is anti-science and anti-democracy

In an interview to the journal Science (Feb. 24 edition), Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chose to focus on two hazardous technologies — genetically engineered seeds and crops in agriculture and nuclear power — as vital to the progress of science in India and the “salvation for finding meaningful new pathways of developing our economy”. He also talked about foreign-funded NGOs that were blocking this development.

What Dr Singh said in the interview saddened me because he seems out of touch with science as well as the people of India whose will he is supposed to represent in a democracy. To label the democratic voices of the citizens of India as “foreign” and unthinking is an insult to democracy, to the people of India and to the scientific community. The scientific community is dedicated to developing science in public interest and to understanding the safety aspects of hazardous technologies like nuclear and genetic engineering.
Dr Singh’s statements also trivialised the regulatory framework for biosafety and nuclear safety. Biotechnology and nuclear science have safety implications in the context of the environment and public health. We have national and international laws on biosafety in the context of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and nuclear safety in the context of nuclear power and Dr Singh should be legally bound by these frameworks. The debate on safety is vital to our science, our democracy and our ecological food and health security.
Dr Singh is misleading the nation by making it appear as if the voices raising caution are only of “foreign-funded NGOs”. The most significant voice on biosafety is of Dr Pushpa Bhargava, the father of molecular biology in India and Supreme Court Appointee on the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, which is the statutory body that regulates GMOs for biosafety under the 1989 Environment Protection Act. The most important voice for nuclear safety is of Dr A. Gopalakrishnan, the former chairman of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. Dr Singh should listen to these eminent experts for developing a responsible and democratic science rather than creating the bogey of “foreign interference” and starting a witch hunt of public interest groups which are the very life and blood of a democracy.
This attack on movements engaged in safety issues of genetic engineering and nuclear power needs to be viewed in the larger context of the megabucks foreign corporations pushing GMOs and nuclear power plants are looking at in India. Dr Singh has succumbed to these pressures and has sacrificed India’s food and energy sovereignty. He signed the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement and the deal got the approval of Parliament only through the “cash for votes” scandal. Dr Singh also signed the Indo-US Agriculture Initiative which seeks to put India’s food and agriculture systems in the hands of global corporate giants like Monsanto, Cargill and Walmart, though the push for foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail was stopped by Parliament.
The recent Uttar Pradesh and other Assembly election results show that the people have rejected those policies of the UPA that focus on the interests of global corporations while trampling on the livelihood and democratic rights of the people of India.
We still haven’t recovered from the huge price we had to pay when our seed sovereignty in cotton was destroyed after the entry of Monsanto: Seed costs jumped 8,000 per cent, use of pesticides increased, as did crop failure, and that in turn increased farmers’ debt. And with debt came the epidemic of farmers’ suicides. Today, 95 per cent of our cotton seed is owned and collected by Monsanto through licensing agreements with 60 Indian seed companies.
Dr Singh talks of the “double whammy” of disease but he describes it as an “opportunity”. He fails to address the “double whammy” in the food and agriculture crisis — 250,000 farmer committed suicide and half of India’s children are malnourished. The GMOs are not a solution to this double whammy. They are aggravating and deepening the crisis of debt linked to capital intensive, non-sustainable agriculture based on seed monopoly, which destroys food systems that produce nutritious food. The solution to farmers’ suicide and children’s malnutrition is the science of agro-ecology and the development of ecologically intensive, low-cost agriculture that increases the production of nutritious food as we have shown in the Navdanya report titled, “Health Per Acre”.
Navdanya’s report “The GMO emperor has no clothes” provides empirical evidence about the performance of GMOs in farmers’ fields. The GMOs have failed to increase yields or reduce the use of pesticides. The prevalence of pests and weeds hasn’t decreased either. GMOs have, in fact, increased chemical use and led to the emergence of super pests and super weeds.
To impose a failed technology with extremely high social and ecological costs undemocratically on India in the name of “science” is anti-science and anti-democracy. It is anti-science because real science is based on the new disciplines of agro-ecology and epigenetics, not the obsolete idea of genetic determinism and genetic reductionism. The latest science in energy is renewable energy and not nuclear.
Yet, the Prime Minister, under the influence of global corporations, will stop at nothing to destroy the nation’s seed, food and energy sovereignty, as well as health and nutrition security. His attack on NGOs should be seen along with the attack on Biosafety Regulatory Framework in India. There is an attempt to dismantle the biosafety rules and replace them with the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (Brai), which would rob states of the powers they have under the Constitution and in the current biosafety laws. After all, 13 states stopped the Bt brinjal. To blame the moratorium on Bt brinjal on NGOs “funded from the US and Scandinavian countries” is to turn a blind eye to the concerns of the states. The proposed Brai will also rob citizens of their right to justice and biosafety by blocking them from approaching civil courts. The corporations will be deregulated and citizens will be policed.
Dr Singh’s attack on NGOs is part of this larger attack on democracy and people’s rights, to undemocratically promote global corporations in the vital sectors of food and energy.
The debate on genetic engineering and nuclear power is a test case of the intense conflict between corporate rule and democracy, between corporate science pushing hazards and public science calling for safety. It is a contest between science and democracy on one hand and propaganda and dictatorship on the other.

The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust