Tomorrow, the National Research Council (NRC)—the research arm of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences—is scheduled to release a highly influential, multi-year report on genetically engineered crops, commonly called GMOs.
But in a new issue brief released today, Food & Water Watch questions how much confidence we can have in this report’s findings given the NRC’s far-reaching, unmanaged conflicts of interest.
Under the Influence: The National Research Council and GMOs charts the millions of dollars in donations that pour into the organization from biotech companies like Monsanto, documents the one-sided panels of scientists the NRC enlists to carry out its GMO studies and describes the revolving door of its staff directors who shuffle in and out of industry groups. The new issue brief also shows how it routinely arrives at watered-down scientific conclusions based on industry science.
Since the NRC’s GMO project begin in 2014, Food & Water Watch has asked it many times to take action on the lack of balance, the conflicts of interest and the industry bias in its work on this project.
We’ve provided the NRC with details about the many conflicts of interest among scientists it invited to author the new report. More than half of these authors have worked on the development or promotion of GMOs or have industry ties, such as consulting for biotech companies or taking research funding.
We’ve reminded the NRC that under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, it is required to engage “balanced” committees of scientists, to avoid conflicts of interest and disclose conflicts if they are absolutely necessary. It has failed badly on all three counts.
We’ve also told the NRC that it shouldn’t need a federal law to guide its ethical worldview on these issues. It’s common sense that conflicts of interest are bad for science. Academic researchers have shown that industry influence routinely leads to bias in science, including research on GMOs, where the biotechnology industry exercises outsized influence—far more than other stakeholders, such as industry critics or GMO opponents.
Weak, watered-down or biased findings from the NRC have a very real impact on our food system. Policy makers develop “science-based” rules and regulations on GMOs based on what the science says—especially what the NRC says, because it is part of the National Academy of Sciences, chartered by Congress to provide scientific advice to the federal government.
And this is where science can become politicized. Companies like Monsanto need favorable science and academic allies to push their controversial products through regulatory approval and on to American farms. Corporate agribusinesses pour millions of dollars into our public universities, play a heavy hand in peer-reviewed scientific journals and seek to influence prestigious scientific bodies like the National Research Council.
We’ve asked the NRC many times to remove itself from this broken system of science, to step up and be a leader on the issue of conflicts of interest in GMO research. But just last month, the NRC announced it was beginning a new study on GMOs, which will provide federal regulators with advice on how to update regulations. Which scientists did it invite to author this hugely influential study? Once again, there are many industry perspectives and few conflicts-of-interest disclosures.
The NRC is taking public comments on this new GMO project, and they need to hear from you. Provide comments here.