Initially I was astonished to read in the document, “Constraints to Biotechnology for Poverty Alleviation.” that one of the aims of the Pontifical Academy’s Study Week is to greatly reduce regulations on GM crops. Since the current regulations are totally inadequate, how could they be reduced further? Then I was reminded of Winston Smith, the principal character in George Orwell’s novel, 1984, on human behaviour in a society which is totally controlled by Big Brother, Smith’s job was to completely rewrite history. If someone had been deemed to have insulted Big Brother, whether there was any truth or not to the allegation, that person had to be removed from history. I am sure that Smith, who worked in the Ministry of Truth, which spent all its time spinning lies, would have been impressed with the second last paragraph of the Introduction. It read, “We also need to develop ideas for what ‘science-based’ regulation would mean and to develop strategies to inform the media, the public, the regulatory authorities and governments that it is unjustified, even immoral, to continue with current attitudes and processes.” Not a word about the billions of dollars that Biotech companies would make from ‘light touch’ regulation!
Nearer to our own time, I was reminded of bright, young, neo-liberal economists who, until a year or so ago, waxed eloquently about the need to reduce financial regulations which were stifling the creativity of budding entrepreneurs. Light touch regulation was all the fashion, not, of course, for any base motive! It was all altruism, helping to create money, to create jobs so that people could find work, pay their mortgages, educate their children and live the good life. They assured us that the market, through some strange calculus, only known to the true-believers, would sort out everything. If some one raised awkward questions about whether these practices might lead to a spectacular economic collapse, they are met with two responses. Firstly, a demand to know whether the questioner had a Ph.D. in economics from one of the ‘better’ universities. Secondly, a reassurance that the highly qualified people working in the Stock Market had clever risk-management computer tools that have allowed them to gear hedge-funds and other derivatives as high as the moon. They had also discovered the ‘holy grail’ of some esoteric science and mathematics which allowed them to manage risk and at the same time break the boom/ burst nature of economic cycles.
In hind sight, with 20/20 vision, we know this was a total charade. Though the tools of the traders such as computers and the internet were modern, they were used to promote old fashion vices such as greed and deception. This reckless gambling made fortunes for a minority of people, while at the same time it impoverishing many people who have watched the value of their pension funds dwindle as banks, financial institutions and other corporations collapsed. Now, even conservative politicians, in North America and Britain, are talking about the need to regulate and police financial institutions.
Given the current healthy climate of suspicion against so-called experts, I do not think that this primary aim of the Pontifical Academy’s Study Week is going to be achieved. Those who believe that they can dismantle the paltry regulation of GM foods, much of which was actually written by the Biotech industry especially in the U.S, are extremely naïve if they think they can fool the people in the current political climate.
Like in Orwell’s 1984, the truth is almost always the opposite of what is being claimed. Dan Glickman, the former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, told Bill Lambrecht of the St. Louis Post on leaving office in 2001 that, “What I saw generically on the pro-biotech side was the attitude that the technology was good and that it was almost immoral to say that it wasn’t good because it was going to solve the problems of the human race and feed the hungry…. And that there was a lot of money that had been invested in this, and if you’re against it, you’re a Luddite, you’re stupid… You felt you were almost an alien, disloyal, by trying to present an open-minded view on some of the issues being raised. I pretty much spouted the rhetoric what everyone else spouted; it was written into my speeches.” Once again, why the Pontifical Academy of Sciences is giving this deregulation agenda a platform, is difficult to understand.
 Bill Lambrecht, “Out-going Secretary Says Agency’ Top Issue is Genetically Modified Food,”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 25 January 2001.