ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
29 November 2002


'Professor King said the decision to exclude the results of the field trials was a matter of timing. He characterised the trials as a minor, barely significant element in global GM research.' (item 1)

'Asked about the presence on the review's independent scientific panel of Andrew Cockburn, of Monsanto, and Simon Bright, of Syngenta, Prof King said: "I would have thought anyone who works in a company producing GM organisms would have a direct interest in knowing what the current state of science is." ' (item 1)

NB the Science Panel not only includes an overwhelming number of fervent biotech supporters but even some whose contact with truth and reality is so poor in this regard that they have been honoured with PANTS ON FIRE awards for misrepresenting the science. And of course Pusztai-attacker Lord May has contributed his only little headline-catching bit of GM spin to the day of the announcements - see item 4.

1.Review of GM strategy will ignore field trials
3.Membership of the science panel
4.Gardens 'greater threat than GM' - Lord may


1.Review of GM strategy will ignore field trials

James Meek, science correspondent
Friday November 29, 2002
The Guardian,9174,850130,00.html

A new government-funded review of the safety and usefulness of genetically modified crops will ignore the results of Britain's GM field trials, carried out over years at great cost in money, trouble and protest.

The review, to be completed next summer, will be critical to the government's decision over whether to allow the growing of GM crops in Britain. But the only scientific study carried out of what actually happens when GM crops are grown in Britain - the field trials, also due to finish next summer - will not form part of it.

The review, commissioned by the trade and industry secretary, Margaret Beckett, will be launched today, with members of the public and scientists from anywhere in the world being invited to contribute. It is being presented as independent, although the panel sifting through the input will be chaired by David King, the government's chief scientific adviser, and has representatives of the pro-GM biotech companies Monsanto and Syngenta among its 25 members.

Professor King said the decision to exclude the results of the field trials was a matter of timing. He characterised the trials as a minor, barely significant element in global GM research.

"It would be absurd if we focused on one trial in the UK, on one aspect," he said.

"Herbicide tolerance: that's all we are testing. I don't think many countries know about our little experiments."

Prof King said the review was only following recommendations of a report earlier this year from the agriculture and environment biotechnology commission.

"They didn't want the debate to be dominated by the field scale trials," he said.

But the commission did not recommend that the scientific review should ignore results of the trials altogether. As matters now stand the results will be presented to the government as a separate report, out of the context of the review.

Prof King's remarks about the minor significance of the trials seemed to contradict the frequently asked questions page on the government's own website, where their importance is stressed.

Under the question "Why do we need the farm scale evaluations?" the answer comes: "Small-scale evaluations in experimental plots or laboratory conditions cannot provide information on the complex ecology of the agricultural ecosystem; so no existing research is available to help answer the important questions that must be answered about the wider impact, if any, of these new herbicide regimes. This can only be found out by testing under farm conditions."

Asked about the presence on the review's independent scientific panel of Andrew Cockburn, of Monsanto, and Simon Bright, of Syngenta, Prof King said: "I would have thought anyone who works in a company producing GM organisms would have a direct interest in knowing what the current state of science is."

He pointed out that two other scientists - Carlo Leifert of the Tesco Centre for Organic Agriculture and Andrew Stirling of the University of Sussex - were nominees of the GM-hostile or GM-sceptical organisations Genewatch, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.

The views of the public will be sought at a series of open meetings across Britain, and on the review website, which is due to open today at

Adrian Bebb, GM campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said Mrs Beckett was "trying to erect a wall between public debate and the decision to give the go-ahead for GM crops".

He added: "She is desperately trying to keep the two apart, whereas they should be one and the same. It is ludicrous to have a public debate, especially a scientific debate, when the crops in the trials are still in the ground and the results are not published."



Web version:

  Embargo:  00:01 Friday 28 November 2002

  Government policy on genetically modified (GM) crops descended   into farce again today after the Government confirmed that a major   scientific review of the new technology - which will help   determine whether to allow GM crops to be commercially grown -   will end before the GM farm scale trials have finished [1].

  The short deadline imposed by Environment Secretary, Margaret   Beckett, further undermines the Government‚s Public Debate on GM   Issues [2] which is due to begin early next year.  The debate,   which has three strands (a public debate, the scientific review   and a costs and benefits study of GM crops), has already been   described by an unnamed Government Minister as just a "PR   offensive" [3].

  The GM farm scale trials started in 1999 „ to study the effect, if   any,   that the management practices associated with Genetically   Modified Herbicide Tolerant (GMHT) crops might have on farmland   wildlife, when compared with weed control used with non-GM   crops .‰ However, the trials were criticized because of the threat   they posed to neighbouring crops and honey, and because they would   only provide a very limited view of the potential long-term   environmental impacts of this new technology.

  Friends of the Earth‚s GM campaigner Pete Riley said:   "The Government‚s Public Debate on GM issues is descending into   farce.  The Government told the public that the farm scale trials   would provide important information on the safety of GM crops -  but Mrs Beckett‚s ludicrously short timetable for completing the   scientific review means that those results will now be excluded.   Many people already think that the GM debate is simply a PR   exercise.  Unless the debate is extended beyond the June deadline   this suspicion will only grow."

  [1]    Government press release confirms that the Public Debate   and Scientific Review will be completed by June next year.  The GM   farm scale trials (or farm scale evaluations) won‚t finish until   after that date, with the results published in July.

  [2] Earlier this year the Government said that it would hold a   Public Debate on GM issues.  The debate has already been heavily   criticized.  Many feel that it is simply a PR exercise.  Friends   of the Earth and others have also called for the period of the   debate and reviews to be extended beyond June 2003 to allow all   available information and opinions to be integrated.  The   Government has not explained how it intends to use the outcome of   the debate or reviews in the decision making process for the   commercial approval for the first generation of GM crops.   Questions are also being asked about the independence of the   Science Review and Economic Review, following the announcement   that they will be run by the Government‚s Chief Scientist   Professor David King and the Prime Minister‚s Strategy Unit,   respectively.  More information on the Government‚s GM debate can   be found at:

  [3] Daily Telegraph and FT (9 July 2002).


3.  Membership of the science panel


1.      Membership of the science panel is as follows:


Professor John Gray
Department of Plant Scientists, University of Cambridge

Professor Peter Young
Professor of Molecular Ecology, Department of Biology, University of York

Professor Pat Heslop-Harrison
Department of Biology, University of Leicester

Professor Dianna Bowles
Department of Biology, University of York

Professor Michael Wilson FRSE
Chief Executive, Horticulture Research International

Professor Chris Leaver FRS
Head Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford

Professor Mike Gale FRS
Director, John Innes Centre, Norwich Research Park, Norwich

Professor Bernard Silverman FRSInstitute of Advanced Studies, University of Bristol

Professor Mick Crawley FRSImperial College, Silkwood Park, Berkshire

Professor Mike Gasson
Food Research Institute

Professor William Sutherland
University of East Anglia

Dr Andrew Cockburn
Monsanto, Trumpington, Cambridge

Dr Simon Bright
Syngenta, Jeallots Hill International Research Centre

Professor Carlo Leifert
Tesco Centre for Organic Agriculture, Northumberland.

Dr Andrew Stirling
Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex

Revd Professor Michael Reiss
Institute of Education, University of London

Ms Julie Hill
Deputy Chair AEBC

Professor Jules Pretty
Director of Centre for Environment and Society, University of Essex

Professor Alan Gray
Director, NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology,

Professor Janet Bainbridge
Director Science and Technology, University of Teeside

Professor B Rima
Medical and Biological Centre, Queens University, Belfast

Dr Chitra Bharucha
Chair of Advisory Committee on Animal Feedingstuffs

Dr Mark Avery
Director of conservation, RSPB, Bedfordshire

Dr Brian Johnson
Head of Agricultural technologies, English Nature, Somerset

Professor Philip Dale
John Innes Centre, Norwich


4. Gardens 'greater threat than GM'

By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

The leader of the UK's scientific establishment says genetically modified (GM) crops are a lesser threat to biodiversity than some imported garden plants.

Lord May says some "fundamentalist" lobby groups opposing GM crops dismiss scientific facts as irrelevant.

There are real problems with invasive species in the UK. But they come from plants you can buy at garden centres

The new technology, he acknowledges, could reduce wildlife and impoverish the British countryside.

But it could also help to grow food "in ways which work with the grain of nature".

The charge comes from Lord May in an address to the Royal Society, the UK's national academy of sciences.

Not many answers

Lord May became president of the society in 2000, after five years as chief scientific adviser to the UK Government.

He argues in his address for an open public debate about the possible effects of GM crops on other species, and about the wider role of scientists in society.

Lord May said there was nothing new in people's distrust of the new. And the better they understood science, the likelier they were to ask questions about "the Faustian elements" of the bargain between benefits and risks.

He said science was at least as much "a way of asking illuminating questions as it is a collection of tidy and certain answers".

But he did warn his audience against "fundamentalist" lobby groups which, he said, "know, by dogma, instinct or political ideology that GM crops are bad, and the scientific facts are irrelevant".

Garden menace

The British countryside was under greater threat from some commonly sold exotic plants than from potential new GM "superweeds", he argued.

Lord May said the possible risks of GM plants had been exaggerated: "Pollen from 'conventional' crops, many of which have been produced by very hi-tech methods in recent years and which could easily be seen as Frankensteinian if you so chose, blows around, and does create hybrids.

"But, far from being superweeds, these are typically wimps. There are, however, real problems with invasive species in the UK. But they come from plants you can buy at garden centres.

"Among several current examples are the invasive aquatic weeds, Australian swamp stonecrop, Crassula helmsii, which first 'escaped' from garden ponds in 1956 and now infests over 2,000 sites nationwide.

"Another is the floating pennywort, Hydrocotyle ranunculoides, now a major problem in the Exminster Marshes and the Pevensey Levels."

Blessing or curse

Lord May said he hoped the government's decision on commercialising GM crops would be based on "a real debate about values and beliefs... against a realistic background of the possibilities that tomorrow's agricultural biotechnology may offer".

 "If there are no clear benefits to be set against possible worries... then the public at large is inclined to shrug its shoulders and leave the field to a minority of special interest groups, usually representing extreme views both for and against."

The new technology could be used to make modern farming more intensive, with "fewer wild plants, fewer insects, fewer birds and an ever more silent spring".

But it could also help us to "grow our food efficiently but in ways which work with the grain of nature rather than wrenching the environment to [produce] our crops with fossil-fuel subsidised fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides".

'Out of touch'

Lord May said there had been calls for a scientists' code of conduct, something like medicine's Hippocratic Oath.

"Such calls will persist", he said, "if the science community does not devote enough time and effort to demonstrating that we recognise and respect the ethical and moral bounds determined by the rest of society, and that we too are guided by an underlying principle, simply to 'do no harm'."

Adrian Bebb, of Friends of the Earth, told BBC News Online: "Whether GM genes will escape from GM crops is not in question.

"The consequences of escapes are a matter for debate. If Lord May has evidence that they will not create long-term problems, then let him publish it.

"Attempting to blame pressure groups when the public at large has serious concerns about GM foods and crops shows how clearly out of touch Lord May is with the general public."

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