I was the independent observer at the ARESA trials of biologically engineered plants in Angola in late 2003. Some will know that the trials were conducted without any instruments to measure temperature, humidity, soil moisture, etc., and with an amateur carelessness over the release of genetically engineered material in a country where its use is illegal. And some will know that the plants, a variety of European watercress did not grow at all, despite being pampered by me with copious fresh water and shade-netting.
ARESA had not prepared for the trials, and had not developed a plant that could grow in varied climates. With more than three years of expensive salaries, they had selected a plant for which the genome (genetic map) was already in the public domain. The plant, coincidentally, grows with a reddish tint when 'stressed' - which means it grows red when there is not enough water or nutrients, or the sun is too strong, etc. They claimed to have engineered it so that it would grow red in the presence of TNT. Since it did not grow at all in Angola, that claim could not be tested, but it might be considered a poor choice when it would also grow red for a variety of other common reasons.
ARESA and their film company abandoned the trials for security reasons (see The truth about the red plant trials) and asked me to stay on for a further ten days to give the plants twice the time they had predicted they would need to reach maturity. I did so unpaid, trying to be as fair as possible to ARESA but wishing to distance myself from people who did not have the skills to grow weeds, never mind engineer a new plant.
A few will also know that ARESA is still gathering money from a naive public to further their 'research' in Denmark. As part of their funding drive, I have been subjected to a rather childish smear campaign that includes the repeated showing of a television programme about the trials - in which I am accused of being against the plants because they will take my job away.
ARESA conveniently forgot that I am one of the few people who believes that a successful plant could have some utility - for checking the quality of work on land already cleared of mines AND undergrowth. Since 2000 I had advised the group freely, and had believed their claim to have a product ready for trial. I had gone out to observe for very little money - and had torn up the contract after seeing how they distributed GM seed carelessly. I was persuaded to stay so that the trials could continue, but did so as an unpaid observer. It was not me who was in it for the money.
The Danish TV programme was first screened in November 2004 and again in 2005. It includes selectively edited footage of the trials. It is a peculiar programme because, despite the selective editing, I think that anyone who knows demining will see who was being 'reasonable' and 'professional' and who were the headless chicken. But some members of the public are more gullible.
Here are a few of the emails I have received about the programme, ending with my answer to one.
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Monday, November 29, 2004 9:39 AM
Subject: Re: greetings from Denmark
I just saw a TV film about the RED Gold, the plant testing in Angola by ARESA. The film was made in such a way that you were the bad guy and Carsten Myers and his dog Anders were the good guys. I asked my wife to make a video tape that I will send to you (send your address). For normal people you look like the bad guy but I spoke with some demining people like Bo and they felt that you where the only normal person, and Carsten and Anders came over as idiots.
There is a debate here and most newspapers take your side. They think it strange that you were not asked any questions.
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Monday, February 07, 2005 12:03 AM
Subject: DR Dokumentar - on Aresa's field experiment in Angola
Dear Mr Smith:
Last night I watched a documentary on Danish television, showing a
field trial in Angola for a GMO-demining plant
(http://www.dr.dk/dokument/co-produktion/det_rode_guld.shtm). One of the
participants is Mr Andy Smith, 'landmining expert', and after doing a search
online, I've come up with your email address. If you are not that person, I
apologise for inconveniencing you.
I found the program interesting, namely because I've spent my childhood
in southern Africa, of which 11 years in Angola, during the war. I also
have an interest in the subject, being a biologist by education. However,
the documentary leaves many questions unanswered, and I would like to get
more background information on what happened during the trial. Could you
please refer me to the location of your report of the trial? According to
the documentary, you published it online after the events transcribed.
And here is a message forwarded from the MgM office in Namibia.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Conradsen" <Conradsen@tradecom.dk>
Sent: Monday, February 07, 2005 12:31 PM
Subject: Was it for personal winn???
After having seen the Danish Television documentary of the way you
orgination have been handling the case of the new inventing plant from
I must ask, why, is it because that Andy Smith have a interest in still
getting money form the old facion way of finding mines, or are there a
For me to se the way he was handling the case was a disaster, and I can only
conclude that it must be due to personal win that he was behaving the way
that he did.
It's a shame that an orgination like MGM, deep down is only interested in
making money, on old facion way of thinking, and not really want to find new
ways of clearing minefield.
Here the link to the Danish television program of how Andy Smith, was
destroying a new way of clearing mines field's.
And, predictably enough, here is my response to that one:
Sent: Friday, February 11, 2005 9:26 AM
Subject: Re: Was it for personal winn???
You appear to be rather quick to judge people.....
If you have a genuine interest in the red-plant fiasco, you should have
looked at my report on the ARESA trials in Angola before believing the
simplistic rhetoric with which they present their confidence-trick to the
Danish public. My report on the trial was published on my website in March
2004 after ARESA misrepresented the outcome of the trial in order to
raise money from the general public. The TV programme mentions my report, but somehow failed to provide viewers with the link. See "The truth about "red plants" or
the "purple weed system" (2003 trial report).
Also note that I am not a deminer. Deminers are on their knees clearing
mines all day. I am too old for that. I do what interests me rather than what makes money. Successful plants would not take my job away.
My objectivity has only ever been questioned by ARESA - and I venture to
suggest that this is because they are no less than con-men. The ARESA "scientist" Carsten Myers is a charming and very
likeable man. Unfortunately, he appears to also be a self-serving
liar with no real scientific ability.
Take my tip, invest elsewhere.
I have been contacted a couple of times since then - latest five years ago - by venture capitalists asking me if they should invest. I have told them that I have no up to date information - and referred them to my report of the trial. Surprisingly, at least one (looking for a high-risk investment) still put money in, from which I infer that the con is still going on today.