Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | News Video | Crime | Employers | Housing | Immigration | Legal | Local Govt. | Maori | Welfare | Unions | Youth | Search

 

Jim Peron: Conflicts Of Interest And The GE Debate

Conflicts Of Interest In The GE Debate Can Be Found On Both Sides


by Jim Peron

Recently I received a phone call from a well known anti-GE activist. In the course of our conversation he intimated that scientists who dismiss the anti-GE hysteria are merely in the pay of the biotechnology industry.

The most tenuous of connections between a scientist and biotechnology raises shrill cries of ³conflict of interest.²

Certainly when a conflict does exist it should be considered very carefully.

Generally we dismiss the opinions of those with such conflicts. A scientist who earns his money from a biotech company is dismissed, just as is the ³scientific² refutation of evolution from a Christian creationist.

We realise that financial interests and religious or ideological presuppositions may mean that someone has an axe to grind on a specific issue. Such people are often not deemed credible sources.

Now the activist who was ranting to me on the phone started promoting the book Hard to Swallow by Jeffrey Smith. Conflicts of interest that Smith may have did not seem to interest him in the least.

First there is the issue of theological bias with Mr. Smith. Smith is strongly connected to the Transcendental Meditation sect of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Those are the people who sit in a lotus position, chant the names of Hindu gods, and bounce on their backside. They call it ³Yogic Flying² and argue that when bottom-bouncing is practised miracles happen.

They even claim that New Zealand¹s economic performance over the last decade or so is the direct result of Yogic Flyer¹s in this country.

Maharishi had his followers begin a political movement to promote TM. They called it the Natural Law Party and Smith was its candidate in Iowa. In fact the sect¹s headquarters in the US is Fairfield, Iowa where Smith ran for office.

This tiny town boasts Maharishi University, a couple of other TM schools, the Natural Law Party headquarters, and other TM connected ventures.

It is also the town where Smith lives and works. His US publisher‹which appears to be himself‹is Yes! Books, which has only published one book and also is located in Fairfield. For a town of 10,000 it¹s a busy place.

Smith¹s New Zealand publisher says he was a candidate but they neglected to mention it was for a party run by a religious sect that many consider a cult. The publisher also mentions that Smith worked for a GE detection lab. But again they are short on details.

The lab in question was Genetics, ID., Inc. also of Fairfield. And the prime owners are followers of the Maharishi. The lead scientist there is John Fagan, who teaches at Maharishi University.

Fagan¹s bias is seen in a letter he sent sent to anti-GE activist Richard Broome, of South Africa¹s anti-GE Safe Food Coalition. The letter said: ³I wish you great success in all the work you are doing for the Maharishi.²

South African newspapers say the Safe Food Coalition is another front group for the Maharishi¹s Natural Law Party.

Another of Genetics ID¹¹s owners‹Smith¹s employer‹is also the owner of several major organic related companies.

Maharishi is also involved in corporate enterprises directly related to the organic industry via Maharishi AyurVeda Products. Recently the sect started their own city, Maharishi Vedic City, just outside Fairfield. The city government went into the organic food business and banned all food items not certified as organic.

The founder of the South African SFC emailed the US Food and Drug Administration urging them to "support an immediate global ban on GE food and... insist that all food production be produced by Maharishi Vedic Organic Agriculture [which] is the most holistic food production system in the world.²

In spite of such apparent conflicts GE-Free New Zealand recently promoted Smith¹s book on their web site. But then a spokesman for the group is also a spokesman for the New Zealand Natural Law Party in addition to being the GE-Free organiser for Wellington.

Hysteria over GE certainly helps the company where Smith was vice president. No doubt the push for organic foods will profit Smith¹s friends at Genetic, ID as well. Nor should we forget that the TM sect and it¹s leader, are also financially profiting from the pro organic stance of the anti-GE crowd.

Last but not least remember that Mr. Smith does have a book to sell.

It¹s not that I¹m saying Smith is dishonest even if I think he¹s probably wrong. But his theological and financial interests should be considered.

It is possible that the fundamentalist Christian¹s take on evolution is right; that the Catholic view on stem cell research is correct and the Maharishi¹s view on GE foods is one worth considering. But I have strong doubts about all three possibilities.

Certainly these groups and their supporters have the right to be heard even if they do have an axe to grind.

But what I question is why the first two groups are so quickly dismissed by the Left while the third group¹s conflict of interests are routinely ignored.

Surely theological and financial conflicts matter regardless of from which side they come. A predisposition to ignore Baptists on evolution and Catholics on stem cell research should mean one ignores bottom-bouncers when it comes to GE foods. Considering financial and theological conflicts like this should be pretty much clear cut.

That it isn¹t so smacks of hypocrisy to me.

*******

- The preceeding op-ed is available for free use provided appropriate credit Is given. It is presented as a public service by the Institute for Liberal Values. For more information contact (09) 368-1466.


© Scoop Media

 
 
 
Parliament Headlines | Politics Headlines | Regional Headlines

Scoop 3.0: How You Can Help Scoop’s Evolution

Entering into its third decade of operation, the Scoop news ecosystem is set to undergo another phase of transformation and evolution.

We have big plans for 2018 as we look to expand our public interest journalism coverage, upgrade our publishing infrastructure and offer even more valuable business tools to commercial users of Scoop. More>>

 
 

Speaking Of Transport: Public Engagement On Wellington Scenarios

“Our work on possible solutions for Wellington’s transport future is ongoing, but has progressed to the stage where we’re ready to share our ideas with the public and seek their feedback to help guide our next steps...” More>>

ALSO:

Parental Leave: National's Time-Sharing Change Fails

National has proposed a change to the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Amendment Bill that would allow both parents to take paid parental leave at the same time, if that is what suits them best. More>>

ALSO:

Train Free Thursday: Workers Strike To Defend Terms Of Employment

"They signed up to these conditions a year ago when they got the contract for Wellington's rail services. Now they're trying to increase profits by squeezing frontline workers." More>>

ALSO:

Seclusion: Ombudsman Emphasises Importance Of Monitoring

Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero says that while there have been changes to the Education (Update) Amendment Act 2017 to prohibit the use of seclusion, the report is an important reminder of the importance of regular monitoring of schools. More>>

ALSO:

United Future History: "All Good Things Must End"

'We’re extremely proud of what we’ve achieved over the past 15 years, working alongside the government of the day, both National and Labour.' Mr Light told members on Monday. More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The TPP Outcome, And The Hobbit Law

Somehow the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal has come lurching back from the dead – and as predicted in this column last week, the member countries gathered in Vietnam have announced a deal in broad principle, shunted aside until a later date the stuff on which they don’t agree, and declared victory. More>>

Agreeing To Differ: Greens Maintain Opposition To TPPA
“The Green Party has long opposed the TPPA. The new proposed deal, which came out of the weekend’s talks, still contains key ISDS concessions to corporations that put our democracy at risk, so our position remains the same,” said Green Party trade spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman. More>>

ALSO:

Monitoring Report: A New Chapter For Children’s Rights In New Zealand?

The Children’s Commissioner is calling on the country to embrace children’s rights to ensure their overall well-being. More>>

ALSO:

 
 
 
 
 

LATEST HEADLINES

  • PARLIAMENT
  • POLITICS
  • REGIONAL
 
 

Featured InfoPages

Opening the Election