The background starts here: Monsanto and Others Infiltrate NC Museum of Natural Sciences and it devolved quickly. The Museum provided me with an insulting, condescending response to my initial email opposing Biotechnology Day. I rejected this response and the employee punted my concerns to a colleague. The new conversation started out professionally enough, but then I pointed out to that employee that he was providing misleading information right down to the very definition of Biotechnology, and that didn’t play well. The more he misled or dodged, the deeper I dug, until he abruptly ended the conversation without answering most of my questions or addressing most of the concerns that I repeatedly raised.
The email correspondence between the Museum and me is below, along with Museum documents, but first here is the Take Action Alert. While on the surface this may seem to be a North Carolina issue, it extends further than North Carolina’s boundaries. Children and their parents were targeted with misinformation to pave the way for future growth and profits of GMO and other Biotech companies, such as the pharmaceuticals, and this could be the first of similar Biotech Days in museums around the country.
Thank you for reading and taking action!
Alert: N.C. Becoming GMO-Central as Museum of Natural Sciences Promotes Unnatural GMO and Other Biotechnology
On June 30, 2012, the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences (the Museum) held an event called Biotechnology Day. I and others objected to Biotech Day because the Museum allowed Monsanto, BASF and other poisonous industry giants to spoon feed propaganda to children and adults in a completely inappropriate venue. In this façade the Museum was a warm, welcoming environment where the GMO industry and pharmaceutical giants were virtuous, bold and brave, working to save humanity. No one presented the fantastically remarkable pitfalls and detriments associated with their work (poisoning, injury, death and more). It was a successful day from the perspective of growing North Carolina’s reputation as a warm and welcoming state for the largest and most egregious GMO proponents. GMO and Biotech-central.
Due to the nature of their business, the GMO and pharmaceutical industries will always push their propaganda. The Museum of Natural Sciences must not be the venue. Biotech Day is adversarial with the Museum’s very name, let alone its Mission Statement and Core Values (keep reading for the Museum’s internal documents regarding their mission and core values). During Biotechnology Day, the Museum promoted the efforts of Monsanto, Bayer Crop Science, BASF and other companies that are genetically modifying our food (also known as GMO food or GE food) and gaining control over the world’s food supply, as well as promoting the pharmaceutical companies that encourage us to medicate and suppress illness.
I attended the event and was amazed by the number of corporate attendees and their presentations. Not surprisingly, Bayer Crop Science, BASF and some of the pharmaceutical companies were not only Biotech Day exhibitors and/or presenters, they were also flagship donors to the Museum’s new wing. It troubles me deeply that a wonderful place where Colson and I have spent the last six years learning about Natural Science is not safe from the reach of Monsanto and others.
Here is the most basic point of my protracted email discussion with the Museum – their name alone, Natural Sciences, makes them the wrong venue for a Biotechnology Day celebration. The definition of Natural Science is “a science or knowledge of objects or processes observable in nature.” The definition of Nature is: “the material world, especially as surrounding humankind and existing independently of human activities.”
The definition of Biotechnology varies, but most modern definitions involve human manipulation of nature using modern technology. On their website, Monsanto asks: “WHAT IS BIOTECHNOLOGY? Biotechnology, or genetic engineering...” The definition of genetic engineering reveals that: “Genetic engineering, also called genetic modification, is the direct human manipulation of an organism's genome using modern DNA technology. It involves the introduction of foreign DNA or synthetic genes into the organism of interest.” Because genetic engineering involves the “direct human manipulation of an organism’s genome using modern DNA technology,” it is profoundly clear that biotechnology and/or genetic engineering are in conflict with the most foundational aspects of Natural Science, as discussed above. The Museum representative I communicated with was unmoved by this information and was irritated by my “fondness for definitions.”
I continued to try and persuade him to abort any future Biotech Days with information regarding the threats of GMO foods, I shared resources with him from organizations such as the Cornucopia Institute and the Institute for Responsible Technology, I offered alternatives to Biotech Day, such as Sustainable Living Day, and I offered to help obtain highly regarded speakers. This was all met with no response.
I asked the Museum repeatedly for its Mission Statement, Goals Objectives and Policies, and for a list of donors, and after some foot dragging these were provided along with the following statement on August 24, 2012:
As you noted in your July 24 email that you are "a former state government employee who has interacted highly with the public," I'm sure you will appreciate that our workload includes responsibilities to the 911,000 visitors who have come through our doors over the last 12 months as well as to our diverse collection of stakeholders. I'm certain you will agree that several of us at the Museum have expended an inordinate amount of effort in responding to your individual inquiries. As such, we wish you well in your endeavors and consider this matter now closed.
I don’t remotely agree with the representative’s condescending, shut the public up response. Now that the Museum has closed our dialogue it is time for other measures.
What You Can Do:
Please write to Ms. Betsy Bennett, the Museum Director, and let her know that you oppose Biotechnology Day and that the Museum should cease plans for any future Biotechnology Days. The Museum of Natural Sciences is not the forum for such a precedent-setting event because Biotechnology is adversarial to Natural Science, the Museum’s Mission and its Core Values. Let her know that you appreciate the Museum’s Natural Science exhibits and presentations, but by allowing Biotechnology to have a foothold the Museum weakens it Natural Science efforts and undermines its very name and mission. Please add any thoughts that you have regarding GMO foods, pharmaceuticals or other biotechnologies.
You must contact the Museum Director, Ms. Betsy Bennett, through her Administrative Assistant, Ms. Amber Davis, at the following email address: email@example.com.
Thank you for caring and for taking action. Together we can have an impact on this larger battle for our food supply and health.
My Emails with the Museum (please forgive some of the formatting):
Sent: Monday, July 23, 2012 12:59 PM
To: Baird, Liz; Ahmann, Katey
Subject: Fw: NC Museum Biotech Day Concerns
To: "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>
Cc: "Baird, Liz" <firstname.lastname@example.org>; "Kroll, David" <email@example.com>; "Ahmann, Katey" <firstname.lastname@example.org>; "Johnson, Mark D" <email@example.com>
Sent: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 9:59 AM
Subject: Fw: NC Museum Biotech Day Concerns
To: "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>
Sent: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 4:45 PM
Subject: RE: Fw: NC Museum Biotech Day Concerns
David J Kroll, PhD
Science Communications Director
Nature Research Center
NC Museum of Natural Sciences
121 W Jones St
Raleigh, NC 27603
Sent: Thursday, July 26, 2012 11:33 AM
To: Kroll, David
Subject: Re: Fw: NC Museum Biotech Day Concerns
To: laura combs <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 12:32 PM
Subject: RE: Fw: NC Museum Biotech Day Concerns
I sincerely thank you for your response - it is through discussions like this that better ideas are formed. I am going to respond in the order of the topics in your last email. Before I do though, I want to briefly discuss your mention of my fondness for quoting definitions. When it seems clear to me that people may be trying to talk about the same topic but are possibly not effectively making their positions known, I find that referring to the most basic meanings of the words can help facilitate the discussion. In our conversation, definitions seem to help.
Take the definition of “biotechnology” for example. You rely on a definition from Karoly Ereky from 1919: “All lines of work by which products are produced from raw materials with the aid of living things.” You also rely on a United Nations definition: “Any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use." Using these definitions as a starting point, the conflict between biotechnology and the museum for which you work, Natural Sciences, still exists because biotechnology is impossible independent of human activities, as discussed in my previous email regarding the definition of natural science: “...the definition of natural science: ‘a science or knowledge of objects or processes observable in nature’ and considering the definition of nature: ‘the material world, especially as surrounding humankind and existing independently of human activities.’”
Taking this discussion of biotechnology further by briefly researching how the Museum’s Biotech Day contributors define biotechnology, I reviewed BASF’s website and found the following:
People have been using biotechnology for millennia. This technology is based on the use of microorganisms, which e.g. ferment the sugar in barley to alcohol during beer production. Other examples of everyday products that undergo biotechnological processing are cheese, yogurt, vinegar, wine, yeast, and sourdough. Without knowledge of the exact backgrounds, our ancestors used these methods to discover and improve a range of applications that made their life easier. Genetic engineering is a modern subspecialty of biotechnology. It is concerned with the targeted modification of the genetic material of bacteria or plants, for example to stimulate them to biosynthesize desired products.
I have no issue with the use of fermentation, a form of biotechnology, to enhance nutrition, as discussed by you and BASF. The benefits of non-alcoholic fermented foods are widely known and cause no harm to our environment when properly prepared, which is a separate discussion. My difficulty with BASF’s (and other’s) activities focuses on the genetic engineering that they and other companies utilize. Regardless of whether we are discussing fermentation or genetic engineering, neither of these activities is compatible with the definition of Natural Science as discussed above.
Monsanto, on the other hand, defines biotechnology even more pointedly, stating on its website that biotechnology is genetic engineering: “WHAT IS BIOTECHNOLOGY? Biotechnology, or genetic engineering...” A search for the definition of genetic engineering reveals that: “Genetic engineering, also called genetic modification, is the direct human manipulation of an organism's genome using modern DNA technology. It involves the introduction of foreign DNA or synthetic genes into the organism of interest.”
Because genetic engineering involves the “direct human manipulation of an organism’s genome using modern DNA technology,” it is even more clear that biotechnology and/or genetic engineering are in conflict with the most foundational aspects of Natural Science and presumably the Museum’s mission. I will provide a separate discussion of Biotechnology and the Museum’s mission and goals, objectives and policies once I receive those documents as previously requested.
I could continue to search through the websites of Biotech Day participants to illustrate the conflict of biotechnology with natural science, but I will stop here and close with this definition from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center:
“(Ancient definition:) The use of living organisms to solve problems and make useful products. (Modern definition:) A collection of technologies that use living cells and/or biological molecules to solve problems and make useful products.”
Based on the Biotechnology Center’s definitions of biotechnology, it would appear that Mr. Ereky’s “ancient” definition is no longer appropriate in the modern age, and the modern definition is in conflict with the Museum’s very name.
Regarding the broad reach of biotechnology, I am well aware that it is much larger than genetically modified organisms, as you discuss. Rather than take on the entire issue, I put my focus on GMOs, but I can expand the discussion to pharmaceuticals and more if need be. You highlight the involvement of universities as an attempt to bring the issue to a larger scope than just industry. The frustrating thing here is that the universities receive significant funds from industry to conduct biotechnology research for industry, as well as industry funding to purchase equipment and support libraries, for example. It is well known that industry funds and influence are interwoven with university activities, as discussed in this article and report, for example: http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/pressreleases/public-research-private-gain-corporate-influence-over-university-agricultural-research/. I know that it is wrong to assume, but given that it is your job to defend Biotechnology Day, I suspect that you will find ways to discredit this report, regardless of the growing concern of corporate influence as discussed in other articles, in books and on NPR. Perhaps this article in the journal of the American Association of University Professors will carry greater weight: http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/pubsres/academe/2011/JF/Feat/wash.htm.
Even with the deep roots of corporate involvement in the University system, I visited NC State University’s (NCSU) website to understand what is taught in their biotechnology program, as I was especially curious after speaking to some of the biotech students at the Museum’s Biotech Day. The program involves a significant amount of genetic engineering. What is more compelling, though, is that the University teaches about the controversy around biotechnology in its “Ethical Issues with Biotechnology Class.” Even with the corporate influence, NCSU still acknowledges the ethical challenges of biotechnology, which, again, was not presented at the Museum’s Biotech Day, undermining the museum’s efforts to be a neutral forum. Here are some of the “Controversial topics in biotechnology” presented by NCSU:
-Patents on life
-Labeling of GMO food
-Stem cell research
-Privacy of genetic information
Moving on to the discussion of ethics and biotechnology, per the “modern” definition, some additional points need to be made. Some of the companies are a far cry from the ethical determination you made regarding the presentations from their representatives in your last email. If you look at just a couple of the fines and violations earned by Biotech Day companies, let alone violations by biotech companies not represented at Biotech Day, it is clear that ethics, balance, and neutrality were severely compromised:
2009 - Pfizer (PFE) paid a record $2.3 billion fine and pleaded guilty to one felony count to settle federal criminal and civil charges that it illegally promoted its Bextra painkiller and other drugs.
2010 - Monsanto paid $2.5 million penalty for selling mislabeled bags of genetically engineered seed.
2011 - 2012 - An Internet search reveals results of the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT), which convened in India and indicted Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, Syngenta, DuPont, and BASF, for human rights violations. Three of these companies were present at the Museum’s Biotech Day. These companies could be considered part of the adverse anthropogenic insults to our planet that you mentioned in your last email, and instead of the museum exploring whether or not they are in fact insults and threats to our planet, the Museum holds them up as keys to our future.
Regarding the American Association of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), you determined that the AAEM does not meet your scientific standards. What is most frustrating is that it seems that no one from the Museum seems to have reviewed the presenting companies to determine how scientific or ethical they are. The difficulty here is that some of the positions the AAEM promotes do not generate revenue but instead encourage people to take control of their health and avoid pharmaceuticals and unnecessary medical procedures, which is not a widely held medical strategy in much of the medical and pharmaceutical industries. Since you took the time to examine this organization, I hope that you will finally examine the biotech companies and technologies that you invited to Biotech Day so that you can further explore the ethics that you seem to consider that these companies have, including their fines, other violations, undue influence in the University system and harm to citizens of the world.
That said, given your research into natural herbal medicine cancer treatments, I feel fairly certain that you are aware of the controversies but are unwilling to acknowledge them because that would be contrary to the expectations of your managers at the Museum. Finally, I in no way advocated that AAEM be a part of Biotech Day, as you seem to suggest. I raised them to show that independent, critical thinking medical professionals recognize that GMO foods cause harm.
I have no opposition to genetic research, microbiology or other sciences that help us to better understand, respect and care for our planet and ourselves. I object to the injury that biotechnology, according to the “modern” definition, most often does.
Finally, regarding the Nature Research Center, I am interested to know which corporations donated to its construction and am requesting a list of corporate donors. As I stated early on, I have no issue with exploring and researching to understand the biology and biodiversity of the planet and how to responsibly and positively care for it. Genetic engineering is the concern and perhaps learning the list of corporate donors will help me understand why the Museum is abandoning its Natural Science directive.
It is clear that the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences should not host future Biotechnology Days. The addition of a risks vs. benefits discussion, while worthy in another venue, does not satisfy the incompatibility of the Museum and biotechnology. For these reasons, I urge the Museum to stop hosting Biotechnology Day.
Because this is the Museum of Natural Science, I recommend that the Museum host a Sustainable Living Day (separate from the Earth Day celebration because it would take on a larger scope of topics). Such a celebration could include the following and more:
- Biodynamic Farming
- Methods to avoid modern illness, such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, psychiatric disorders and more simply through the use of nutrient dense, non-processed food and other non-pharmaceutical healing modalities. Dr. Emily Deans, Harvard psychiatrist and Psychology Today contributor, has a fantastic blog regarding the appropriate use of food and medication for healing, and here is an example: http://evolutionarypsychiatry.blogspot.com/2012/07/teenagers-mood-psychosis-and-omega-3s.html. Here is another recent blog post empahsizing proper prenatal nutrition to avoid mental illness: http://evolutionarypsychiatry.blogspot.com/2012/08/mainstreaming.html. Dr. Deans is very accessible, and I can provide other medical doctors, such as Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride (www.gapsdiet.com), who understand that there are ways to reduce or eliminate disease without medication or minimal medication. With the large number of children from all socioeconomic levels and numerous autism spectrum, obesity, diabetes-related and other challenges visiting the museum, it would be immeasurably helpful to provide them and their parents with information that could dramatically improve all of their lives.
- Low Impact Housing and Corporate Development
- Low Impact Transportation
These types of presentations would help people to better understand how to live more harmoniously and safely with our planet, which would more closely align with the Museum’s name and supposed mission than Biotechnology Day and all of the non-natural implications and threats it presents.
Thank you for your time and consideration of these points. I look forward to your response regarding the points I raise and the recommendations I make.