conflicts of interest & the GM farmscale trials
- take a closer look
According to answers to parliamentary questions, in a 12 month period Government ministers had some 56 official meetings with the biotech corporations compared to just 6 with environmental and consumer groups.
In order to speed up farmscale GM trials the Government has gone to extraordinary lengths, up to and including illegality. In September 1999 the Government and Aventis conceded that the consent given for Aventis's GM winter oilseed rape trials was “unlawful.” This was the third time that the Government, following a court challenge, had been shown to be acting illegally over GM crops in a way that suited the interests of companies in a hurry to get their crops to market.
"Rest assured, the government is ready to support and enhance the competitiveness
of the biotechnology industry... We want the UK to remain a leader in this
The Government is spending over £50 million a year on research on agricultural biotechnology, for which there is almost no market, as against under £2 million on research related to organic agriculture.
“Without the right regulatory balance, we shall not be able to compete...
Some estimates have predicted a £9 billion market by the year 2000.
We cannot jeopardise this by over-regulating initiative and enterprise.”
A leaked memorandum in May of 1999 disclosed that the Government had a spin-doctor operation based in the Cabinet Office which included the use of independent scientists promoting pro-GM views in the media .
"We are not in the driving seat."
How can I trust the research?
Just because they held a gun to the head of the RSPB and said support the farmscale trials or we move straight to full commercialisation, shouldn't lend respectability to what is going on.
"It is clearly the companies developing the crops, not the scientists
undertaking the research who are in the driving seat. Science is being
used as a smokescreen for commercial scale growing."
"Scientists are working for companies... having particular projects
to pursue and particular aims to prove. That’s where the science base has
gone in this country."
Dr Mike May and Dr Alan Dewar of the Institute of Arable Crops Research (IACR) are two of the "independent scientists" responsible for overseeing the farmscale trials but they also undertake research for Aventis and Monsanto - the very companies whose crops are being assessed in the farmscale trials.
Dr Peter Lutman also works at IACR. IACR are part of a consortium of 3 research groups carrying out Government work on farm-scale trials. Dr Lutman is a co-author of a report to the Government on progress on the trials. Dr Lutman also works for CropGen, a pro-GM spin campaign set up and financed by the biotech industry. Two other scientists from IACR are also part of CropGen.
History has shown that meaningful assessment of risk is unlikely when technology assessment is provided by proponents who have a clear vested interest in the adoption of the technology.
“The universities are cheering us on, telling us to get closer to industry,
encouraging us to consult with big business. The bottom line is to improve
the corporate bottom line. It's the way we move up, get strokes.... We
can't help but be influenced from time to time by our desire to see certain
results happen in the lab.”
Dr Benedict continues, “All of these companies have a piece of me. I'm
getting checks waved at me from Monsanto and American Cyanamid and Dow,
and it's hard to balance the public interest with the private interest.
It's a very difficult juggling act, and sometimes I don't know how to juggle
How can I trust the research?
The Government may claim to be impartially awaiting the evidence from the farmscale trials but don't look for "open minds" among many of the scientists appointed to collect and oversee that evidence.
Professor Chris Pollock chairs the committee overseeing the farmscale trials. When TESCOs indicated to growers that they would not buy produce grown on sites used for GM trials, Professor Pollock retorted in The Independent that there was "no evidence that DNA from GM crops persisted in the soil." His comment was printed under the sub-heading "The Truth".
But what Pollock told The Independent was very far from the truth. In research published, for example, in the journal FEMS MICROBIOLOGY ECOLOGY (1999, Vol.28, No.3, pp.261-272), under the title: 'Monitoring field releases of genetically modified sugar beets for persistence of transgenic plant DNA and horizontal gene transfer', Gebhard and Smalla report the persistence of transgenic (GM) DNA in soil and in bacteria under field conditions, even in one instance after 2 years.
Not only is there evidence of such persistence but this type of gene transfer is too poorly understood, having never been adequately explored in the laboratory, for GM trials to proceed with safety.
"Even if one accepts the claims of the doom mongers with a healthy degree
of scepticism, there still must be risks. It must make sense to continue
extensive research but to confine it to the laboratory and not to allow
the release of genetically modified material into the environment until
we know a great deal more about the potential drawbacks."
Professor Pollock, incidentally, is director of research at the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER). The institute has contractual and financial relationships with AstraZeneca and Aventis.
Dr Jim Orson is another "independent scientist" on Pollock's committee. Orson's research station derives important income from the many GM trials it runs for biotech companies like Aventis. Despite the fact that the farmscale trials have not yet generated enough significant data for conclusions to be drawn, Dr Orson is already on record as saying that there are ways of growing GM crops that are good for the environment.
Such certainty and commitment seem almost to be a hallmark of many of the independent scientists working in this heavily commercialised sector.
Farmscale trial meetings - take a closer look
Anyone attending a public meeting about the farmscale trials should perhaps treat any information given by "independent experts", no matter how eminent, with a certain caution.
At the first public meeting about a farmscale trial in Norfolk, one of the most senior scientists from the John Innes Centre (JIC), a leading plant biotech institute, assured his listeners that enormous environmental benefits from growing GM crops had already been proven by US government research. Despite subsequent requests, however, the scientist in question has failed to provide any evidence to substantiate the existence of this research.
He also told his audience that when one looked into the famous monarch butterfly study, one discovered that the larvae were killed more or less equally by both the non-GM and the GM corn pollen. In fact, however, the larvae which ate the non-GM pollen thrived and only those which ate the GM corn pollen died! In other words, what this "independent expert" told the public meeting was simply untrue.
JIC scientists have been key advisors to Government on the GM issue. The JIC shares the same public funding body (the BBSRC) as the IACR and the SCRI - institutes running the farmscale trials. The Chairman of this public funding body was until recently the Executive Director of biotech company AstraZeneca while many of those on its committees are linked to corporations such as Aventis.
Find out more?
THE GM PROPAGANDA CAMPAIGN - for copies of the NGIN report on
this issue, contact NGIN:
"I'm well impressed with your analyses and commentaries: it seems
to me that you've got a clear and detailed picture of what's going
The report is also available on the NGIN website: http://members.tripod.com/ngin/biospin.htm
More on conflicts of interest and the GM farmscale trials
The Institute of Arable Crop Research and the Scottish Crop Research Institute make up 2 out of the 3 institutes in the consortium of scientists running the current GM farmscale trials.
The question posed by the following items is just how independent of the biotech industry and its interests are researchers at these institutes?
Institute of Arable Crop Research (IACR)
Sack the GM scientists
Researching for AgrEvo
Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI)
Pro-GMers and the radical right
Can we trust the scientists overseeing the trials?
Among the scientists managing the current GM farmscale trials is Jim Orson of Morley Research. For more information on Orson's overcommitment to this technology as well as the financial dependence on GM crops of his institute, click here.
on the industrial alignment of independent science and public service
for a briefing on the farmscale trials - click here
Professor B: index