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8-Misc: Canadian biotech lobby subsidized by government with millions



----------------------------- GENET-news -----------------------------

TITLE:  Biotech lobby got millions from Ottawa
        Public cash used to alter image
SOURCE: The Montreal Gazette, by Mark Abley
DATE:   February 28, 2000

-------------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/ --------------------


Biotech lobby got millions from Ottawa
Public cash used to alter image

The federal government has handed out nearly $6 million in the past 
six years to the major lobby group for Canada's biotechnology 
industry. Publicly available documents on Industry Canada's Web site 
show that between 1994 and 1999, BIOTECanada and its predecessor, the 
Canadian Institute of Biotechnology, received annual grants of as 
much as $1.1 million under Industry Canada's Technology Outreach 
Program. Industry Canada provides funding to many different business 
groups. What's different here is that part of the public money went 
directly to changing public perceptions of the biotechnology industry.

"The government is acting as both the protector and the regulator of 
this industry," said Angela Rickman, deputy director of the Sierra 
Club of Canada. "They don't even feel they need to pretend to look 
impartial."

Biotechnology has been much in the news of late. It holds the 
undeniable promise of medical advances, but many scientists fear that 
its genetic transformations of life's building blocks pose severe 
risks to the environment and perhaps to human health. Greenpeace's 
controversial campaign against "frankenfoods" has crystallized those 
fears.

BIOTECanada is a coalition with more than 115 members. It brings 
together universities like McGill and Universite de Montreal, company 
groups like the Quebec Bio-Industries Association, and major 
corporations like Bayer, Monsanto, Novartis and Merck Frosst. On its 
Web site, BIOTECanada now calls itself "the national organization 
dedicated to promoting a better understanding of biotechnology and 
the many ways it contributes to improving the quality of life of all 
Canadians." But the self-description it gave Industry Canada on its 
most recent lobbyist registration form has a different emphasis: 
"BIOTECanada is the voice for biotechnology in Canada that fosters 
the growth, profitability and long-term viability of the Canadian 
biotechnology industry."

As recently as last fall, BIOTECanada's Web site also gave the 
following information: "An Industry Canada-funded study was carried 
out to examine the biotechnology communications strategies and 
outreach activities undertaken by the Canadian biotechnology 
community since 1992. The goal was to provide recommendations for the 
improvement of public awareness about biotechnology." In other words, 
the federal government paid the biotechnology industry to spruce up 
its beleaguered image. The quotation in the above paragraph is no 
longer publicly available on the Web site.

Besides paying for some of BIOTECanada's work, Industry Canada is 
also an official member of the organization. This means, in effect, 
that Canadians are paying for one branch of the government to join an 
industry association whose mission involves lobbying other branches 
of the government. This year, BIOTECanada registered four official 
lobbyists.

Danielle Gauthier, a communications officer for BIOTECanada, said the 
$5.17 million given under the Technology Outreach Program went "to 
the broader biotechnology community at large for the areas of 
communications, technology transfer, human resources and information 
and networking." This money is independent of the $55 million in 
federal spending that, as Finance Minister Paul Martin announced in 
the 1999 budget, is earmarked for biotechnology research.

Biotechnology firms are also eligible for grants under other lavish 
programs run by Industry Canada, such as the $150-million Technology 
Partnerships scheme. In promoting the Canadian Biotechnology 
Strategy, Industry Canada says that "these new technologies are 
expected to have a dramatic impact on industrial competitiveness, 
economic growth and society itself."

When asked to explain his department's spending on BIOTECanada, John 
Jaworski, a senior industry development officer with Industry Canada, 
said that "the funding was providing ongoing funds to the Canadian 
Institute of Biotechnology, focusing on getting the research 
community better organized." "The money was there to promote networks 
and linkages." But less than an hour after speaking to The Gazette, 
an embarrassed-sounding Jaworski phoned back to say, "I've been 
talking with people in admin., and they've suggested very strongly 
that I not wind up doing this discussion with you. "They've asked me 
to get the communications people involved. É Whatever it is, it looks 
like it's pretty sensitive," Jaworski said.

Patrice Miron, a spokesman for Industry Canada, said that "we never 
provided direct funding to BIOTECanada. We provided funding, under a 
program that doesn't exist any more, to the Canadian Institute of 
Biotechnology, which was eventually converted into BIOTECanada." But 
the Industry Canada Web site shows that while federal financing to 
BIOTECanada has slowed, it has not stopped. In its latest lobbyist 
registration form, effective Feb. 11, BIOTECanada disclosed that it 
has been funded to the additional tune of $150,000 from CIDA, $34,000 
from IDRC, and $52,000 from "Industry Canada - projects."

BIOTECanada was officially formed in February 1998, when the Canadian 
Institute of Biotechnology, or CIB, merged with the Industrial 
Biotechnology Association of Canada. Files on the Industry Canada Web 
site show that in the fiscal year 1994-95, the department gave the 
CIB $750,000. The following year, the amount went up to $1.1 million. 
It stayed that way until 1998-9, for a total outlay of $5.17 million. 
Moreover, BIOTECanada received $250,000 over a five-year period from 
the federally funded International Development Research Centre and 
$289,000 in 1998-99 from the Canadian International Development 
Agency.

Last month in Montreal, at the international meetings to hammer out a 
United Nations-sponsored protocol on biosafety, BIOTECanada's 
president, Joyce Groote, was a prominent voice on behalf of the 
industry. She served as chairman for the 2,200-member Global Industry 
Coalition, which worked closely with Canada and five other nations in 
the Miami Group to dilute the environmental force of the agreement.

Besides Industry Canada, other branches of the federal government 
continue to feed money to the biotech industry. In 1999, for example, 
a Winnipeg-based biotechnology company called CanGene received of a 
loan of $700,000 from the Western Economic Diversification program. 
CanGene was one of the companies and associations that banded 
together in 1998 to form the Biosafety Protocol Consortia. That 
group, which included Monsanto and BIOTECanada among its members, 
hired Rick Walter (president of Biotech Consulting Group Inc.) to act 
as a lobbyist in Ottawa. Walter was executive director of the 
Canadian Institute of Biotechnology in the years when it was 
receiving the most funds from Industry Canada.

The federal largesse extended to other departments, too. A lobbyist 
registration form from 1997 shows that the CIB was working "under 
contract for a number of government departments to complete projects" 
in such areas as "networking, communications, public awareness and 
education."

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