Channapatna S. Prakash

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Dr C. S. Prakash is Professor in Plant Molecular Genetics and Director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University, Alabama, USA, where he oversees research on the genetic modification of food crops and the training of scientists and students in plant biotechnology[1].

He has served on the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Biotechnology Advisory Committee and on the Advisory Committee for the Department of Biotechnology of the Government of India[2]. He is an advisor to USAID, serving as the principal investigator of a USAID-funded project "to promote biotechnology awareness in Africa"[3]. Tuskegee University receives multi-million dollar funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

In 2000, a USDA report noted that it had "recently signed an agreement with sub-Saharan African countries and Tuskegee University to facilitate technology transfer related to agricultural biotechnology"[4].

Prakash has received more than $4 million in funding for research from US Department of Agriculture, National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, USAID and UNESCO[5].

Prakash is best known for his AgBioWorld campaign, which was launched in January 2000, involving the website[6] and the heavily-subscribed AgBioView e-mail list, which Prakash personally edits. His "Declaration in Support of Agricultural Biotechnology" has received support from over 3,400 scientists, including Nobel Laureates like Dr Norman Borlaug, who is a keen supporter of Prakash's campaign[7].

Under the AgBioWorld banner, Prakash has sent petitions and press releases to international bodies and meetings, such as the International Biosafety Protocol Meeting in Montreal and to the UN Committee on Sustainable Development, as well as to science journals and the media.

His campaign has attracted extensive media coverage, including well over a hundred newspaper and magazine articles. He was also featured in Martin Durkin's controversial documentary, The Rise and Fall of GM[8], on British TV's Channel 4.

Prakash has travelled overseas to speak at a number of events on behalf of the US State Department, including at the US embassy in London, at a debate staged by the Institute of Economic Affairs, and at the Seeds of Opportunity conference chaired by Philip Stott.

Prakash was the lead orator in May 2003 when US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick announced the US's intention to file a World Trade Organization case against the European Union over its "illegal five-year moratorium on approving agricultural biotech products"[9].

He has given testimony to the US Congressional Committee on Science and to the Philippine Senate Committee on Health, and was keynote lecturer at the inaugural meeting of AfricaBio in Pretoria. He has also hosted a media forum for journalists in New Delhi with Barun Mitra of the Liberty Institute and lectured at the MS Swaminathan Foundation in India.

He has worked as a "Science Advisor" to the magazine Your World which is targeted at school students, developing a special issue on GM crops for the biotech-industry funded Biotechnology Institute. The Your World series has been used with children in schools in North America and Scotland.


Prakash's AgBioView list has been successfully used to catalyze GM supporters within the scientific community to be more proactive in supporting GM crops, most notably over issues like GM contamination of Mexican maize landraces, the rejection of GM contaminated food aid in Southern Africa, and Golden Rice.

As with other aspects of Prakash's campaigning, however, serious questions have been raised over his collaborators, his tactics and, not least, the accuracy of the information that Prakash puts into circulation.

For instance, Prakash is reported as having told a Tanzanian audience that GM 'doubles production' (The Express, Tanzania, Aug 21, 2002). In fact, as University of Minnesota economist Vernon W. Ruttan has noted: 'Thus far, biotechnology has not raised the yield potential of crops'. There is also some evidence for yield losses rather than gains, particularly with the main GM crop in global production.

Aaron deGrassi at the Institute of Development Studies, at the University of Sussex, provides another striking example of the unscientific nature of some Prakash claims. In his report Genetically Modified Crops and Sustainable Poverty Alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa deGrassi notes, 'Another surprising example of advocacy trumping facts is C.S. Prakash, the influential biotechnology advocate who has advised the US Trade Representative. Prakash has repeatedly cited [GM] sweet potatoes [in Kenya] as a positive example of the benefits of GM for African countries, but has confessed to having no knowledge of the results of scientific trials in Kenya.'

Prakash told the press in the Philippines that GM crops can help reduce farmers' post-harvest losses because 'most genetically-modified crops have longer shelf life'. This is simply untrue. It is possible that Prakash was misreported, but if so he appears to have made no effort to correct the misleading impression created.

Dubious claims are not the only aspect of Prakash's campaign which have led to questions. AgBioWorld presents itself as a mainstream science campaign 'that has emerged from academic roots and values' and which carefully eschews corporate support. Yet according to the annual report (2000) of the Washington-based Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), the centre piece of AgBioWorld's campaign - Prakash's declaration supporting the use of GM crops in the developing world - was part of CEI's much wider campaign against 'death by regulation'. The same anti-regulatory CEI campaign has been directed against U.S. government efforts to discourage smoking because, according to the CEI, 'there are things more valuable than health' .

Recently Prakash has been more open about the fact that Greg Conko, Director of Food Safety Policy at CEI, is a 'co-founder' of AgBioWorld. Conko appears to have a high level of involvement in AgBioWorld. He was at the U.S. government's press conference as an invited guest when it announced its WTO action against the EU. Prakash was the principal orator. He co-authored a Prakash op-ed article supporting the WTO action that appeared in the European Wall Street Journal the same day. On AgBioWorld press releases Conko at the CEI is often a media contact.

CEI has a multi-million dollar budget that comes from corporate sponsors, including Monsanto, Philip Morris and Dow Chemicals, and the Center for Media and Democracy describes it as 'a well funded corporate front'. All of which makes Conko's role in the birth of AgBioWorld somewhat at odds with claims of 'academic roots and values'.

Prakash also appears to share the same political outlook as the ultra-right CEI, to judge by this Prakash comment on a Pakistani critic of GM crops, 'It is sad that intellectuals in the developing countries find it avant garde to become development-bashers and sing along the acopalyptic tunes of socialism... Ms. Panhwar just needs to look north at China to see how even a communist nation has discovered the virtues of economic freedom and technologies... Pakistan can also look at its giant nemesis across the border to see how India is wriggling out of the socialist darkness into relative prosperity. I suggest a compulsory reading of Fredereich A. Hayek's classic "The Road to Serfdom" as a beginning therapy.'

Prakash has also stated his strong support for the role of multinational corporations, expressing a preference for their control of food production and distribution in the developing world because of their 'enormous skills, resources and investment'. (Expert lashes poor's new enemy , Herald Sun, July 9 2000)

Prakash also shares the antipathy of the extreme right towards those with environmental concerns. Some of the material he has posted on his AgBioView list has accused critics of GM crops of fascism, communism, imperialism, nihilism, murder, corruption, terrorism, and even genocide; as well as of being worse than Hitler and on a par with the mass murderers who destroyed the World Trade Centre.

As the list's editor Prakash has control over what items are included and the prominence each item is given. It is perhaps symptomatic of his editorial approach that on one occasion he headed an AgBioView bulletin with a 'letter' from the Daily Telegraph which had been intended as a satire on strident support for GM crops. Despite the letter proclaiming profit and the public interest to be identical, and labelling the majority of the British people 'instinctive Luddites, sunk in the darkness of medieval superstition', Prakash seems to have been unaware that it was anything other than a commendable letter of support for GM crops (see Paul Ohm).

AgBioWorld's press releases have often aroused controversy. In one instance, a press release issued by Prakash and Conko appeared to imply anti-GM activists had killed 10,000 people in the Indian state of Orissa through their opposition to GM contamination of food aid, when, in fact, those who died were victims of a cyclone. Although the Indian trade and policy analyst Devinder Sharma publicly remonstrated with Prakash over 'the obviously fabricated and mischievous' implications of his press release, no attempt was made to correct the impression it created. (GM food and Orissa - the real story)

Fake persuaders

In April 2002 the Washington Post broke the news that the journal Nature, in an unprecedented move, had apparently disowned the research of UC Berkeley scientists, Ignacio Chapela and David Quist, which it had earlier published. Their research had demonstrated the contamination of traditional maize landraces in a remote part of Mexico by GM maize. Prakash has admitted that AgBioWorld 'played a fairly important role in putting public pressure on Nature' (Seeds of dissent). In a fund-raising message put out on his list he went further and claimed AgBioWorld's campaign led directly to the disavowal of the research.

The AgBioView list had taken the lead in promoting and coordinating attacks on the two scientists. The inflammatory series of e-mail attacks that kicked off AgBioView's campaign came from a Mary Murphy and an Andura Smetacek. These e-mails claimed Dr Chapela was politically motivated and that his research could only be understood in the light of his collusion with 'fear-mongering activists' with whom, it was insinuated, he had designed the research. And just how much money was he getting in 'expenses' from the anti-biotech 'industry', Smetacek asked.

Mary Murphy has subsequently been shown to be an e-mail front for Monsanto's PR company, Bivings Group, while the postings of Andura Smetacek have been traced back directly to Monsanto in St Louis (Monsanto's web of deceit). In all Prakash posted over 60 of their attacks on his list, and their attacks on Chapela were all placed at the top of his AgBioView bulletins.

Although Prakash claims to have no connections with PR firms or biotech companies, his connections with Monsanto and its PR people have turned out to be much more direct than even the Murphy/Smetacek mails might suggest. An error message received while we were searching the messages in Prakash's AgBioView archive indicated that the AgBioView database was held at the time on Monsanto's PR company's main apollo server. A technical audit which we commissioned of the website also indicated it showed the technical hallmarks of having been designed by Bivings Group.

The Monsanto fake persona, 'Andura Smetacek', felt able to act in AgBioWorld's name. An online petition, calling for the jailing of the French GM crop protester Jose Bove, stated it had been created by Those who oppose terrorists and support science - this statement was directly linked to The writer of the peition was identified as Smetacek. There is no indication that Prakash was not party to this collaboration with a 'corporate phantom'. He was one of the petition's earliest signatories (no. 18 of nearly 300), writing 'Good job! Let Jailbird Jose serve his time and help the humanity!'

Interestingly, Jay Byrne, while Monsanto's chief Internet strategist, told a PR publication that he offered advice and information to the AgBioWorld campaign to help the company make its case. There is evidence suggestive of Byrne's involvement in an aggressive Internet strategy that included use of AgBioWorld for corporate PR purposes.

There is much to suggest that CS Prakash's AgBioWorld campaign has since its inception been the product of close collaboration with ideological extremists and others who are paid to promote corporate interests.


  1. "Dr. Channapatna S. Prakash", AgBioWorld website, accessed September 2008
  2. "Dr. Channapatna S. Prakash", AgBioWorld website, accessed September 2008
  3. "Dr. Channapatna S. Prakash", AgBioWorld website, accessed September 2008
  4. "[The Role of Biotechnology in Combating Poverty and Hunger in Developing Countries]", Hearing before the Subcommittee on International Economic Policy, Export and Trade Promotion of the Committee on Foreign Relations, US Senate, 106th Congress, 2nd Session, 12 July 2000, p. 14,
  5. "Dr. Channapatna S. Prakash", AfricaBio website, accessed September 2008
  6. AgBioWorld website
  7. "Declaration in Support of Agricultural Biotechnology", AgBioWorld website, accessed September 2008
  8. Transcript of The Rise and Fall of GM, produced by Martin Durkin, accessed September 2008
  9. "Tuskegee Scientist's Expertise a Key Component of World Trade Organization Initiative", News Release, Tuskegee University, 15 May 2003, accessed September 2008