In 2014, Harvard professor Calestous Juma wrote an article/paper which supported GMO to end world hunger. In the controversy that followed, he conveniently failed to disclose his ties to Monsanto-resulting in Twitter and other social media speculations that he, the professor, was paid by the Agro-chemical giants to do the said research.
Juma’s article was titled: “Global risks of rejecting Agricultural Biotechnology” and in it, he strongly recommends viewing Agriculture as a knowledge-based entrepreneurial activity. He also urges African policymakers to rethink their stance on over-regulating genetically modified crops.
It is being speculated that Monsanto funded the paper, the research and also suggested the gist of what the article should and should not say and what the headline should be. Monsanto is clearly trying hard to makeover its image regarding GMOs and it is believed that the company even indulges in marketing activities to publicize such papers so that they go viral in order to win over consumers and policymakers.
Juma however maintains that nothing of the sort happened and that he was not commissioned by Monsanto to write the paper. In fact; he only referred to the research he had done when he wrote his book The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa written and published in 2011. He maintains that he did not do any new research for the paper nor that he had any different views on the subject.
The layman or the common consumer looks up to academicians for an impartial opinion on hotly debated issues. The GMO issue is one such debate with some people for it and others against it. Even politicians are divided over it. This paper episode clearly gives us a glimpse into how powerhouse corporate are sticking their fingers in science in order to marshal support of academicians and research scientists and win brownie points from the public.
When asked about the matter, a spokesman for the Kennedy school also declined to comment on why the professor failed to reveal his ties with Monsanto. The spokesman went on to state that faculty members are not allowed to indulge in activities for financial gains particularly if they are known to compromise their commitment to the University’s mission.
Juma went on to say later that he did not make any special efforts to hide his connection with the company. He regrets this bad judgment but he implores that the public look at it as just that- a misstep.
That being said, the public cannot easily forgive and forget, can it? As researcher Josephine Johnston says: “It is important to know whether there was inappropriate contact between him and the chemical company”.
What are the proponents of GMO saying?
They believe that the technology can solve world hunger by producing drought resistant crops that respond well to insecticides and pesticides. Opponents of GMO however believe in the fact that the Agro chemical companies are hiding test results which have shown how GMOs can lead to tumors. In short: the very technology they are trying to develop to save humans is actually killing humans in the process.
The episode with the professor began in August 2013 when he along with 8 other academicians received an email from Eric Sachs on Monsanto in which Sachs wrote “This will be an important project and is designed to lead to increased engagement on critical topics that are barriers to broader use and acceptance of [genetically modified] crops globally”. He then also asked the team to write 7 papers (Read the list here). The plan was evident- The Agribusiness would then hire marketing company to merchandize the papers online and disseminate them on social media, conduct press releases etc to clear up the image of GMO in the minds of the public. Monsanto also suggested the headline to Juma following which he wrote the paper titled Global risks of rejecting Agricultural Biotechnology posting it here.
The Kenyan native maintains that he never fully understood these implications and in all honesty viewed the paper as an invitation to speak at a conference. He also stated later that he viewed Monsanto to be a small part of what it takes for the Agriculture system to function.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you think Juma is innocent? Comment below!