by Adam Smith
Science & Communications Officer, ANH-Intl
Even the most cursory glance at the news in recent weeks will have been enough to realise that Wikileaks is currently one of the biggest stories in town. Certainly since the advent of the so-called ‘cablegate’ affair, when it began releasing thousands of diplomatic cables, Julian Assange’s site has succeeded in its stated mission to “Aim for maximum political impact” while “Reveal[ing] unethical behavior in…governments and institutions”. We were interested to note two recent revelations that most definitely reveal unethical behaviour on the part of the US government and pharma.
Yep, we’re as surprised as you are.
In the first instance, the US Ambassador to France, unhappy with European Union (EU) reluctance to adopt genetically modified organisms (GMOs), urged the US government to “reinforce our negotiating position with the EU on agricultural biotechnology by publishing a retaliation list”. Moreover, this list should “cause some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility.” The cable bemoans the French government acting in the “common interest” (contained in scornful quotation marks in the cable itself) and avoiding “science-based decisions”. Showing just how closely the US government is allied with the pro-GMO lobby, the cable states “the pro-biotech side in France – including within the farm union – have told us retaliation is the only way to begin to turn this issue in France”. The Ambassador wrings his hands over France’s leading role in the EU’s consideration of GMOs, believing that the French “are in the vanguard of European public opinion in turning back GMO’s”. He derides the precautionary principle and clearly believes that only “science-based decision-making” should hold any sway in the argument over agricultural biotechnology.
The second case confirms that pharma’s tentacles reach into all corners of global institutions: in this case, the World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Working Group on innovative financing for research and development. This Working Group was set up to “examine current financing and coordination of research and development, as well as proposals for new and innovative sources of funding to stimulate research and development…and the specific R&D needs of developing countries”. It is immediately obvious, then, that the deliberations of this Working Group are of considerable interest to pharma. Knowing their decisions in advance would allow the pharma industry to plan for maximisation of revenue under any new regime; and if it could influence the decision-making process in its favour, to maintain aspects of the status quo that especially suit the industry, then all the better.
This revelation comes on the back of documents released by Wikileaks showing that Pfizer tried to avoid liability payouts following a controversial clinical trial in Nigeria. However, it appears that pharma has escaped significant damage from Wikileaks – so far.
According to James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, this is exactly what has happened: “A larger WHO strategy [exists] to protect the status quo, especially as it relates to intellectual property issues”. Wikileaks released documents apparently obtained from the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), who themselves had obtained the Working Group’s operative drafts. "IFPMA was not supposed to have working drafts of the expert working group in their possession and they were not given these documents," said Precious Matsoso, director of Public Health Innovation and Intellectual Property at the WHO. Interestingly, the IFPMA document opened with an introductory letter noting that “the overall result [of the working group's report] is in line with most of the industry positions on this matter”, but that there was still “room for them to introduce new language”.
It will come as no surprise to anyone with an interest in the field, but the GMO cable leak is black and white proof of the extent to which widespread acceptance of GM food is a policy objective of the US government. It also lays bare the contempt of their overseas emissaries for those who hold opposing positions, if the French ambassador is anything to go by. And it reveals how immoral and ruthless governments can be when a cherished goal looks in danger of being thwarted: the ambassador’s language shows him to be entirely in favour of a form of collective punishment for the EU. Such actions would be illegal under international law if pursued by the US military, but are apparently fine if realised through more subtle methods.
What we want to know is: where is the international condemnation? Why is the UK national press not up in arms over a naked threat to our interests by a foreign government, and particularly one with whom we are supposed to have a ‘special relationship’? Can you imagine the outcry if it had been, oh I don’t know, Iran who had said the same things in a leaked cable?
The ambassador’s justification for his position appears to be that France, and the wider EU, has become ‘anti-science’ on the issue of GMOs and therefore irrational and dangerous. But what does the science actually say? It says that we do not know enough about the long-term effects of manipulating the genetic material of our food; it says that there have been many instances of adverse health effects associated with GMOs; it says that genes from GM plants will find their way into the wider environment; it even says that the central tenet upon which GM was built – the “one gene, one protein” hypothesis – is fundamentally incorrect. And so on, and on. The issue touches on the “intellectual tyranny” that Mike Adams of Natural News recently discussed, where true science is usurped by corporate interests, who then accuse its opponents of being ignorant, ‘anti-science’ Luddites.
However, even in the face of such overwhelming concerns, the US – and, presumably, other pro-GM governments like our own – merrily subverts national sovereignty in the interests of market penetration for GMOs. Their fervour for GM is so unmatched by public sentiment that we predict that the GM experiment will eventually fail. It would be wonderful if the UK media actually did its duty and reported these stories to the public, thereby hastening the end of the largest uncontrolled experiment in human history; but our breath remains resolutely unheld.
As for the WHO story, it’s hard to tell whether the dog is wagging the tail or vice-versa. The WHO is meant to set guidelines for all aspects of healthcare worldwide, so it’s odd that the Working Group’s deliberations chime so perfectly with the desires of pharma, isn’t it? Pharma has clearly been ‘in’ on the discussions for some time, certainly long enough for the working drafts to be analysed and commented upon by IFPMA. So has pharma been directing the discussions all along to some extent? Is this story less about the pharma industry ‘spying’ on the WHO, and more about the inappropriate relationship between pharma and the WHO being brought to light? Intellectual property is the very cornerstone of the pharma industry’s success in modern times, and these rights look set to be maintained into the foreseeable future thanks to the WHO. Because of intellectual property, pharma can prevent other manufacturers from producing cheaper versions of its drugs, thereby maximising profits over a period of years. We can only speculate, of course, but such cosy relationships are what a sclerotic, anti-nature, resource-hungry, unsustainable model of ‘sick care’ is all about. Trebles all round!
Say NO to GM campaign
Sustainable Healthcare campaign
Updated: 25 Jan 2011
For our FREE Newsletter.