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Scientists, Groups Urge National Academy to Reverse Decades of One-Sided GMO Science

Letter Urges Academy to Publicly Disclose Conflicts of Interest
WASHINGTON -

The National Academy of Sciences must move to end its one-sided work on genetically engineered crops and animals (often referred to as GMOs) given the “enormous potential to introduce bias,” according to a letter signed by 39 public-interest groups and academics. 

Today’s letter to the Academy cites a lack of balance, perspective and independence among the committee of experts chosen to carry out a new taxpayer-funded study, which will advise the federal government on how to update regulations of GMOs—including new biotechnology products developed using synthetic biology.

The Academy’s findings will help shape how food is produced and regulated in the future, and the letter calls it “troubling” that at least six of the 13 invited committee members have financial conflicts of interests with the biotech industry—four of which are not publicly disclosed. Several other committee members have backgrounds advocating for biotechnology development. 

By contrast, no strong advocates of the precautionary principle or critics of industry practices were invited to participate as committee members, though many were nominated. Likewise, no farmers or farmer groups were invited even though a focus of the Academy’s work is on agricultural biotechnology. “The current committee does not include the diversity of expert perspectives that exist in the mainstream scientific discourse, where there is great disagreement about how to regulate and deploy the products of biotechnology,” says the letter. 

The complaint letter comes on the heels of a Food & Water Watch report showing structural conflicts of interests at every level of the National Academy’s agricultural research program. The Academy receives millions of dollars in donations from biotech companies and allows industry representatives to sit on high-level boards overseeing the organization’s operations.

For decades, scientists and public-interest groups have raised questions about conflicts of interest and potential bias in the Academy’s work on GMOs. “The NRC frequently trumpets its position as a premier scientific institution that provides policy makers and the public with objective, independent scientific advice,” says the letter. “Yet, since 2000, the NRC’s work on agricultural biotechnology has been dogged by conflict-of-interest concerns and allegations of bias, stemming in part from the one-sided committees NRC initiates.”

“We ask the NRC to review its requirements under FACA [the Federal Advisory Committee Act] and take immediate action to engage experts and scientists on the committee who can provide balance and perspective, including critics. We also ask the NRC to publicly disclose all financial conflicts of interests among committee members.”

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Food & Water Watch mobilizes regular people to build political power to move bold and uncompromised solutions to the most pressing food, water, and climate problems of our time. We work to protect people’s health, communities, and democracy from the growing destructive power of the most powerful economic interests.

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