Is Cornell’s Alliance for Science ‘brainwashing Indian scientists, farmers, decision-makers’ or ‘captivating the world’?

13 Apr

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A Cambridge reader has drawn attention to the activities of the Cornell Alliance for Science, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It was set up in 2014 todepolarize the charged debatearound genetically modified foods (GMOs) by adding “a stronger voice for science”.

https://blogs.cornell.edu/onehealth/2017/09/15/gates-grant-seeds-cornell-alliance-for-science-10m-campaign/

To this end Rob Horsch, who worked for Monsanto for 25 years before moving to the Gates Foundation, was appointed as Deputy Director of the Cornell Alliance.

For four years he led the foundation’s agricultural research and development strategies which are said to have relentlessly promoted the use of GMOs and agrichemicals in Africa despite the opposition of Africa-based groups and social movements, who have voiced many concerns about genetically engineered crops. Assisting them in this work are 24 of their 27 ‘2018 Global Partners’ from African countries. Has Africa even greater cause for concern?

Strengthening public relations – aka propaganda?

Mr Horsch has been succeeded by Vanessa Greenlee who has a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. She ‘ensures team coordination to reach organizational goals’ and has ‘a passion for finding consensus through conflict’.

U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit public interest, consumer and public health research group working for transparency and accountability in the nation’s food system, describes the Cornell Alliance for Science as a public relations campaign to promote genetically engineered foods and pesticides. The examples in their fact sheet show that the group:

  • misleads the public with inaccurate information about science;
  • elevates unreliable messengers who make false and unscientific claims; and,
  • partners with front groups that have worked with the tobacco industry or chemical industries to manufacture doubt about science that raises health concerns.

Shaping India’s agricultural future 

The India-based Cornell Sathguru Foundation for Development, established in 1994, is said to promote access to scientific innovation as a means of enhancing food security, improving environmental sustainability and raising the quality of life globally. A search, however, reveals little reward for its efforts.

One of the few entries found relates to a course funded by the US Department for Agriculture involving American and India students. No publications were reported during this period and the outcome was that Cornell was seeking funds to continue this work. Its genetic modification proposals have not been successful, apart from India’s now failing Bt Cotton sector.

On April 8th 2019, Joan Conrow, the managing editor of the Cornell Alliance for Science, published an article – Shaping India’s agricultural future – about a course held in February featuring ‘international and Indian experts in gene editing, science communications and the regulatory framework that governs the technology in India’. Matthew Willmann, director of Cornell’s Plant Transformation Facility, lectured on the latest advances in plant gene editing, often called CRISPR.

Dr Sarah Evanega, director of the Cornell Alliance for Science, who moderated the subsequent discussion, said hopefully “It was extremely rewarding to participate in an informed, civil conversation about a controversial topic that has captivated the world. India is clearly preparing to take its rightful place on the world stage of agricultural innovation.”

Genetic modification of agricultural seeds isn’t in the interest of the planet or its inhabitants”

This reflection preceded many points raised in Dr. David Perlmutters dialogue with Dr Evanaga last year. A few are summarised here:

  • Genetically modified (GM) crops are associated with an increased use of chemicals, like glyphosate, that are toxic to the environment and to humans. These chemicals not only contaminate our food and water supplies, but they also compromise soil quality and are actually associated with increased disease susceptibility in crops.
  • This ultimately leads to an increase in the use of pesticides and further disrupts ecosystems. And yet, despite these drawbacks, we haven’t seen increased yield potential of GM crops, although that has always been one of the promises of GM seeds.
  • The various toxic herbicides that are liberally applied to GM crops are having a devastating effect. In terms of the nutritional quality of conventional versus GM food, it’s important to understand that mineral content is, to a significant degree, dependent on the various soil-based microorganisms. When the soil is treated with glyphosate, as is so often the case with GM crops, it deprives the plant of its mineral absorption ability.
  • Whenever harmful chemicals like glyphosate are introduced into an ecosystem, this disrupts the natural processes that keep our environment healthy.
  • The USDA Pesticide Data Program reported in 2015 that 85% of crops had pesticide residues. These chemicals are also contaminating the supplies for other organisms in the surrounding environment.
  • GM seeds now account for more than 50% of global glyphosate usage.
  • These chemicals are harming the soil. the various organisms living in the soil act to protect plants and make them more disease resistant. Destroying these protective organisms with the use of these chemicals weakens the plants’ natural defence mechanisms and, therefore, will require the use of even more pesticides and other chemicals

Dr Perlmutter ends by saying that the argument that we need GMO food to feed the entire world population is absurd. GM crops have actually not increased the yield of any major commercialized food source (link leads to the report on the right) and concludes that traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering ‘hands down’. In fact, soy — the most widely grown genetically modified crop — has actually experienced reduced yields. The promise of increased yield potentials with GM crops is one that we have not realized.

 

 

 

 

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