October 14, 1999
Mr. Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr.
New York Times
229 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036
Dear Mr. Sulzberger:
On October 11, the New York Times printed a full-page advertisement entitled, ôWho Plays God in the 21st Century?ö on page A11. The ad makes a number of assertions and statements about where genetic engineering is taking society. I was told by the editorial staff of your newspaper that I could not write a letter to the editor to comment on the ad. However, I was informed that I could buy a full-page ad in response. I do not have the $81,000 in my advertising budget to set the record straight.
I also checked with your ôDepartment of Acceptability,ö about the criteria the New York Times uses for running such an ad. This department explained to me that accuracy in accepting this ad is of no consequence.
As a former executive editor of a group of newspapers in Massachusetts I, better than most, understand the need for advertising revenue to support the editorial activities of your news department.
But, no amount of advertising revenue is worth misinforming readers of your newspaper. I have no intention of responding to every foolish assertion and inaccuracy in this ad. I will, however, just mention that the ad states, ôThe industry says some of these experiments may save lives, but so far there are few successes.ö The truth of the matter is hundreds of millions of people have already benefited from drugs and vaccines developed through genetic engineering. Biotech drugs give hope and relief to people with AIDS, cancer and heart disease just to name a few.
There are women with breast cancer who are alive today because of drugs from genetic engineering. There are people with cystic fibrosis who are alive today because of drugs from genetic engineering. There are people with rheumatoid arthritis who are able to live normal lives because of drugs from genetic engineering.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of biotech drugs awaiting FDA approval now. If the organizations that sponsored this ôWho plays Godö ad succeed in stopping biotechnology, which is their ultimate goal, those drugs may never reach patients.
Introducing this technology into society requires a responsible discussion of the issues biotechnology raises, and there are legitimate issues. This organization, which represents over 800 biotech companies promotes that dialogue at every opportunity. But trying to scare people with this type of advertising does not contribute to an informed debate. I wish the New York Times, in this instance, would have put social responsibilities before cash.
Vice President of Communications
Biotechnology Industry Organization