(NaturalNews) Dr. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Senior Scientist at Pesticide Action Network, was recently notified by the National Academy of Sciences that the National Research Council (NRC) was assembling a provisional committee of experts tasked to complete a new, novel study on genetically modified (GM) crops. According to the NRC, the panel was selected to investigate the history of GM crops around the world while studying the experiences of farmers and the positive and negative effects associated with GM seeds.
Dr. Ishii-Eiteman promptly denounced the committee members as a whole after assessing their expertise and educational backgrounds. Most of the panelists were found to be biotechnology supporters.
Dr. Ishii-Eiteman pointed out that the group is incapable of carrying out a comprehensive investigation into the history and impact that GM crops and pesticides have on planetary and human health. She also criticized the study for starting and ending with a vague question asking how GM crops might contribute to agricultural innovation (which sounds biased).
Conflict of interest: NRC puts together research committee comprised of biotechnology experts
Sixty-seven other leading scientists and researchers backed Dr. Ishii-Eiteman, criticizing the NRC for failing to put together an unbiased slate of experts. Most of the panelists chosen by the NRC are just biophysical scientists. Their expertise follows along the wide path of biotechnology; they are versed in genetics, biochemistry, plant biotechnology, crop sciences and plant breeding but have no expertise in health standards.
Also on the panel are a couple of lawyers, a marketing specialist and an agricultural economist. While this group of panelists sounds diverse and knowledgeable, Dr. Ishii-Eiteman points out that the group falls short of understanding how GM crops impact community agriculture and health. The group lacks development sociologists, political economists, political ecologists, anthropologists and geographers.
On top of that, the group contains no real-world farmers -- the very people who work with the crops day to day.
Furthermore, there are no public health professionals on board, who could bring expertise evaluating occupational, environmental and community health. No one on the panel is trained in multidisciplinary research and complex systems science. No one on board understands agriculture as a "complex, continually evolving social/cultural/ecological system," as Dr. Ishii-Eiteman points out.
A chorus of scientists joined Dr. Ishii-Eiteman in pointing out that the NRC failed to diversify institutional interests. They pointed out that many of the panelists work for the USAID and USDA support programs which specialize in biosafety and biotechnology. Most of the panelists have built their careers around a GM crop development framework. Peculiarly, many of the panelists come from the Monsanto-affiliated Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, which is "devoted to the research, development, commercialization, export and/or trade in [genetically engineered] crops."
Dr. Ishii-Eiteman points out that the biotechnology-influenced members would be quick to base their research around their world view, which is heavily influenced by a disciplinary background steeped in biotechnology. This could easily sway the entire research project, projecting false positive information of GM crops. Even the scientific process behind the research project itself is aimed at proving that GM crops are the only way for innovating agriculture.
Dr. Ishii-Eiteman says an unbiased study would ask questions like, "What are the challenges facing agriculture today?" and "What do we need to know and understand in order to transform our agrifood system into one that is equitable, resilient and sustainable?"
Instead of going along with the NRC panel which is practically handpicked by the biotech industry from the start, Dr. Ishii-Eiteman and several other scientists ask for something very simple: transparency.
She asked, "What are the origins of this study? Who are its sponsors? Who at NRC decided on committee participant invitations? And as the study gets underway, how will minority perspectives and dissenting opinions be treated?"
As she states on her Huffington Post blog, "Unless things change radically and fast, this NRC study appears destined (or designed?) to produce just another myopic 'what could go wrong' endorsement of the biotech industry's products. That outcome would be a missed opportunity by the Council to provide the public and policymakers with a truly meaningful, nuanced and illuminating report. Surely our National Academy of Sciences can do better."