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Originally published September 7 2014

Cornell University takes $5.6 million from Gates Foundation, partners with Biotech Industry to produce pro-GMO propaganda

by J. D. Heyes

(NaturalNews) Governments have teamed up with the biotech industry in the past to demonize critics of genetically modified foods and crops, as well as promote efforts to propagandize their use. Now, it seems, academia is teaming up with the industry as well, and for the same reasons.

In a recent announcement, officials at Cornell University said the institution would join a multi-million dollar campaign in an effort to "depolarize the charged debate" centered around GMOs. And the biotech industry, with its bought-and-paid-for supporters, are behind the new push.

According to a report from Food & Water Watch, an organization that tracks, among other things, GMO use around the world, the university has launched a website to host the propaganda effort, called Cornell Alliance for Science. So far, there is little on it, but it does, at least, list pro-GMO partners of the effort. They include the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, or ISAAA, an entity funded by Bayer, Monsanto and CropLife, which in turn is also funded by biotech and agrochemical companies including BASF, DuPont, Dow AgroSciences and Syngenta.

'Science for sale'

"This use of surrogates is par for the course with the biotech industry," wrote Tim Schwab of Food & Water Watch. "Sometimes called the soft lobby, corporations routinely engage neutral-appearing scientists and impartial-sounding front groups to help advance their political and economic agendas."

The organization says it has detailed the huge amount of research that has been generated by "our public land-grant universities" in a report published in 2012 called "Public Research, Private Gain." And Cornell, apparently, has been a regular generator of "science for sale."

Earlier this year, a Cornell economist, William Lesser, accepted payment from what Schwab described as a "biotech front group," in exchange for producing a highly suspect analysis indicating that GMO labeling would be a huge cost for consumers. And while Lesser said the study contained his personal observations rather than those of Cornell, GMO backers nevertheless began to refer to his findings as "the Cornell study" in their efforts to stave off initiatives by states to force food makers to include labeling of GMO ingredients in their products. At the same time, Schwab noted, independent studies have shown that GMO labeling would not increase food costs by much, if at all.

Cornell's latest jaunt into the debate over GMOs, so dubbed the "Alliance for Science," will mostly just add to confusion about this issue, as well as factual distortions, regarding the public debate.

"Rather than trying to promote a civil, honest, impartial dialogue about GMOs--as you would expect from a university like Cornell--the school has chosen to partner with some of the biotechnology industry's most prominent supporters and defenders," Schwab wrote.

That is apparent judging by the Cornell press release announcing the new pro-GMO initiative; the school said the money -- $5.6 million -- came in the form of a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been notoriously supportive of GMO crops and foods.

We need open, honest debate, not bought-and-paid-for propaganda

"Proponents and opponents alike speculate whether biotech crops are of benefit to farmers, but rarely are those farmers engaged in the biotech discourse or their voices heard," said Sarah Evanega, senior associate director of International Programs in Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), who will lead the project, according to the press release.

"Our goal is to depolarize the GMO debate and engage with potential partners who may share common values around poverty reduction and sustainable agriculture, but may not be well informed about the potential biotechnology has for solving major agricultural challenges," Evanega continued. "For instance, pro-biotech activists share a lot of the same anti-pesticide, low-input, sustainable-agriculture vision as the organic movement."

Regarding Gates, as Food & Water Watch noted, the philanthropy has partnered with biotech firms to develop GM crops for Africa, though African nations either don't want them or don't need them (because their organic food production is sufficient for their needs).

At a juncture when Americans really need a clear and open (and honest) discussion about GMO foods and GM crops, here comes one of nation's top academic institutions, taking money from the world's richest man, to muddy the waters in the debate over one of the seminal food issues of our day.


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