Dr Gerard F. Barry has been Coordinator of the Golden Rice Network at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines - one of 16 centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) - since late 2003.
Barry's major responsibility at IRRI has been to work with plant breeders, biotechnologists, intellectual property rights specialists, and biosafety and regulatory agencies in Asian countries 'to facilitate the development and deployment' of the genetically engineered Golden Rice originally developed by Ingo Potrykus. (New coordinator for Golden Rice Network joins IRRI )
Prior to moving to IRRI, Barry had been Director of Research, Production and Technical Cooperation at Monsanto. Both IRRI's involvement in the Golden Rice project and Barry's appointment to oversee it have proven controversial. The Indian food and trade policy analyst, Devinder Sharma has said of the appointment, 'the administrative control of the inter-governmental Golden Rice research project is being manned by a former Monsanto executive. Strange that the CGIAR, which claims to have more than 8,500 scientists and scientific staff on roll, had to seek the help of the biotech giant, Monsanto, for managing the "golden rice" research project!' (CGIAR turns to outsourcing)
The timing of Barry's appointment only added to the controversy. The original remit of CGIAR was publicly funded research but concerns that this was being increasingly undermined in favour of the private sector culminated in 2002 with the appointment of Syngenta Foundation to CGIAR's board.
Further controversy over Barry's role has been stirred by rumours that Swapan Datta, the rice crop leader of the CGIAR's Challenge Program on Biofortification and the leading plant biotechnologist at the International Rice Research Institute, was being asked to step down to make way for Barry to take entire control of the Golden Rice project.
To critics that degree of control over the introduction of Golden Rice into Asia is merely a continuation of Gerard Barry's Monsanto trajectory - a trajectory that can be traced from the time the corporation realised the incredible PR potential of Golden Rice. According to Ingo Potrykus, 'only (a) few days after the cover of "Golden Rice" had appeared on TIME Magazine, I had a phone call from Monsanto offering free licenses for the company's IPR [intellectual property rights] involved. A really amazing quick reaction of the PR department to make best use of this opportunity.' Barry played a key role in the subsequent negotiations - negotiations which in the end drew in a further five biotechnology companies keen to follow Monsanto's example.
The Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, the business paper in Monsanto's home town in Missouri, spells out the PR context:
'Biotechnology industry representatives quickly seized on the companies' generosity and held Golden Rice up as a model for the way genetically modified crops could help feed the world. It was a badly needed positive message for an industry under fire, said Adrian Dubock, an executive at European biotech giant Syngenta Ltd... Amid the controversy about genetically engineered food, Golden Rice was a brilliant flash, something slick U.S. marketing firms could sell to a skeptical public in television and print ads, Dubock said.'
By August 2000 Gerard Barry was able to stand up at a conference in India and announce that Monsanto would not only provide royalty-free licenses for any of its technologies that could help further development of Golden Rice, but would also open up its rice-genome sequence database to researchers around the world. GM lobbyist CS Prakash, who was also a speaker at the conference, described what had been announced as 'a good business plan'.
During his long career at Monsanto, Barry was leader for rice (1995-1997); core team member for the High Yield Rice project (a joint project with Japan Tobacco; 1995-2000); co-director for Rice Strategic Business Team, Monsanto (1997-1999); head of Rice Genomics (Rice Genome Initiatives) (1999-2001); and director of research - Product and Technology Cooperation, Monsanto (2000-2003).
His high standing in the company is reflected in the awards he received: Monsanto Achievement Award (1984); Monsanto Achievement Award (1989); Monsanto Award (1990); Monsanto Team Achievement Award (1991); Monsanto AG Leadership Training Program IV award (1991-1992); and Monsanto Excellence Award (2000).
Another example of the usefulness of Barry to Monsanto was the role he played on the Design Advisory Committee (DAC) of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), where he served alongside the former Monsanto-trained scientist Florence Wambugu. The Committee was created according to AATF, to play 'a critical advisory role, guiding the formation of AATF' and to provide 'guidance on key operational issues. This included 'guidance on the business plan, selection of board members, selection of the African headquarters, and the development of criteria for the selection of pilot projects.' The Committee also assisted 'in the selection of a permanent Board of Directors for the AATF'. Gerard Barry is quoted as saying that getting involved with AATF 'has been fantastic for us [ie Monsanto].'
AATF projects are said to include a vitamin A maize. Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies, who has looked at similar projects in Africa, argues that they have more to do with PR than with delivering real benefits to poor farmers.