CropGen is a biotech industry-funded lobby group that says its mission is to "make the case for GM crops and foods".
Cropgen describes itself as 'An education and information initiative for consumers and the media on the subject of crop biotechnology'. It is led by a scientific panel. Until the end of 2003CropGen was run by PR company Countrywide Porter Novelli. Since then it has been run by Lexington Communications which also represents the UK biotechnology industry funded lobby group the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC), as well as Monsanto, BASF, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, Syngenta, and the Crop Protection Association.
As of April 2013 no funding sources are declared on its website. However the website on 11 July 2001 said, "While ultimately funded by industry, CropGen's panel members are free to express such views as they consider appropriate."
Although the 'public should be allowed to make their own informed choice about GM foods', says the CropGen Chairman Prof Vivian Moses, 'it is essential that the biotechnology industry takes the lead in helping educate people on this issue.' CropGen was established to assist this process with nearly £500,000 from a consortium which included Aventis CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto and Novartis Seeds. The money was to cover the group's first year of operations.
Although funded by the industry, CropGen's panel members say they 'are free to express such views as they consider appropriate. The funding companies cannot veto the panel's position on any issue.' Panel members include Vivian Moses, Nigel Halford, Peter Lutman, David Cove, Helen Millar, Guy Poppy, Howard Slater, Guy Smith, Jonathan Harrington, Bill Macfarlane Smith and Conrad Lichtenstein.
The BBC quoted a public relations source as saying that the initiative came from the biotech companies who approached the panel members. The PR firm in question was Porter Novelli, which was responsible for the day to day running of CropGen prior to Lexington Communications. Porter Novelli's website used to feature a quote from CropGen thanking the PR firm for providing invaluable support in taking its arguments to the general public and via the media amid 'all the hype and misinformation' spread by the opponents of GM.CropGen
However, CropGen has itself faced criticism for spreading hype and misinformation.
In a press release issued by Cropgen to welcome the publication of the UK's official 'science review' in July 2003, CropGen's chairman, Prof Moses, was quoted as saying of GM food safety, 'We can readily test for acute conditions: is the new food toxic, is it likely to provoke allergic responses and might it result in nutritional deficiencies? All these tests can be done in the laboratory using animals or with a relatively small number of human volunteers. Such tests are, indeed, routinely done as part of the approvals process.' But this is not the case. Human volunteers have never been involved in the testing for the approvals process for GM foods. The nutritionist Dr Arpad Pusztai describes the Moses' claim as 'a grave travesty of the truth', concluding,'Within the bounds of civilised discussion I cannot comment on this because I do not want to be personal!'
Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies similarly takes issue with the claims made by CropGen in order to promote the image of GM crops improving the lives of poor Third World farmers. He notes that in GM Cotton in South Africa: A Small-Hold Farmer's Experience , published by CropGen in GM Viewpoint, October 2002, CropGen states that the South African farmers growing Monsanto's GM cotton are gaining $113 per hectare. DeGrassi points out, however, that this figure is substantially at variance with claims made by others, including by those connected to the biotech industry.
In fact, even Monsanto only claims the farmers in question gain an extra $90. Others place the figure substantially lower. The industry-funded ISAAA argues that switching to GM cotton allows the farmers to make an extra $50 per hectare. University researchers, reports deGrassi, put the figure at $35, ie less than a third of the Cropgen claim. But a survey team found farmers gained only $18 in the second year, while in the first year 'Bt cotton nonadopters were actually $1 per hectare better off'. In other words, the claimed profitability for GM cotton in the area ranges from $1 down per hectare to CropGen's claim of a $113 per hectare profit.
DeGrassi reports that there is, in fact, no convincing empirical evidence to support the claim that adoption of GM cotton has substantially improved the lives of farmers in the area (South Africa's Makhathini Flats). Indeed, he found its introduction appeared to have actually deepened and widened their indebtedness which he says now totals $1.2 million.
Despite this CropGen has claimed GM cotton has helped turn the area from one that wasn't viable for agriculture into one that is thriving: 'The Makhathini Flats is a good example of how an area which was not agriculturally viable has been transformed into a thriving agricultural community through a government-backed project and the introduction of GM crops.'
DeGrassi also accuses CropGen of following Monsanto's example and featuring unrepresentative farmers from the area as part of their pro-GM PR campaigning. An article in PR Watch notes, 'In the United Kingdom, the organization Cropgen serves as a front group for corporate biotech interests, often coordinating its activities with EuropaBio, which plays a similar role on a Europe-wide basis. In January, EuropaBio brought ten "representatives" from developing countries to deliver their favorable perspective on biotech to the EU. Three of the representatives traveled to London to give a press conference for Cropgen on the "need for biotechnology for their continent."'
In a press release issued in response to a critical report on GM crops by the devlopment charity ActionAid , CropGen again claimed major benefits from GM cotton for South Africa. It also claimed benefits for several other countries including India where it claimed there had been average yield increases with GM cotton of 60% and a 70% reduction in insecticide use 'resulting in environmental, social and economic benefits'. (CROPGEN RESPONSE TO ACTIONAID REPORT, May 28, 2003)
But the Qaim and Zilberman research (based on data provided by Monsanto-Mayhco) that CropGen's claims relied on is hugely controversial and has faced serious criticism even from GM supporters. An Indian scientist working for biotech company Syngenta has said of the research CropGen quotes, 'This kind of shoddy publication based on meagre and questionable field data... do more harm to science and technology development, perhaps set GMO technology backwards.'
Research and reports by Indian state governments, NGOs and associated scientists and economists also give the lie to CropGen's claims. They show that the GM Cotton harvest in India in 2002 was a serious failure. There have been demands for compensation from farmers and India's regulatory committee has subsequently not allowed GM cotton to be commercialised in the northern states of India. (For a comprehensive account )
In its press release CropGen also refers to 'years of field trials' in India but CropGen fails to say that those trials have themselves been a major source of controversy regarding length, adequacy and findings - some of the findings are said to have been predictors for the very problems that have occurred post-commercialisation. (See: Bt Cotton Belies Promises: Research and Economists' Report Card On Bt Cotton )
However, in its press release CropGen ignores all of this, even stating, 'If the success of the Indian experience is projected to South and Southeast Asia and Subsaharan Africa... then the yield effects of GM crops have the potential to be just as high and result in huge environmental, social and economic benefits.'
CropGen, P.O. Box 38589, London SW1A 1WE, U.K.
tel: (in UK) 0845-602-1793; (from overseas) +44-20-8451-0784
Chairman: Professor Vivian Moses
Cropgen also have a panel of experts: http://www.cropgen.org/expertview.html
The Cropgen website lists links to associated organisations.