ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
8 February 2003

GMWATCH number 6

From Claire Robinson, GMWATCH editor
Dear all,

As well as the monthly round up we have some juicy material in the form of a special feature on the Royal Society. This once respected body has become a mere PR flak for the biotech industry, damaging the integrity of science in the process. The RS's recent hyping of the Monsanto-funded "skylark research" (see below) would be funny if it weren't so desperately dishonest.

Lord May, the RS's President has called on his fellow scientists to support GM in the UK's debate: "Otherwise there is a risk that the debate will be swamped by a well-orchestrated campaign involving those having special interests" (from a letter on the Royal Society web site). But the evidence suggests it is the RS that is at the heart of "a well-orchestrated campaign involving those having special interests".

Lord May also says in his letter, "We will also need to utilise the expertise of those of you who are outside the UK." By a curious coincidence today's Daily Telegraph carries the headline, "Prince is told his GM views are 'criminal'". It covers comments by the controversial geneticist James Watson, "The "irrational superstitions" of the Prince of Wales should not influence the public in the debate over GM foods, says a Nobel prize-winning scientist. For that to happen would be a crime..."

How about the crime of smearing every critic who raises their head in this debate instead of dealing honestly with the scientific evidence?

On a lighter note, you may enjoy the story of the BBC message board punch-up between your GMWATCH editors and the biotech brigade, not to mention the tale of the disappearing bananas in IMPROPAGANDA.

Please continue to circulate GMWATCH to one and all, and what about printing it out for those who aren’t online?

There's a very dirty campaign going on out there and we all need to spread the word.

Claire Robinson <>


Put yourself in Monsanto's shoes. You're eager to show the UK, with its concerns over the impact on the countryside of intensive agriculture, that GM crops are great for wildlife, BUT you've always promoted them to farmers in North America and beyond as a means of achieving weed-free fields. Weed free fields are easily obtained with herbicide resistant GM crops and that's bad news for birds, insects and on farm wildlife in general. Then there's the mounting evidence from Canada, the US and now Europe that GM crops lead to the growth of herbicide-resistant superweeds and increased spraying of ever more toxic herbicides.

So what on earth do you do?


*** You pay scientists at Brooms Barn research station in Suffolk to work out an elaborate protocol for how to grow more weeds in a GM sugar beet crop. The scientists there come up with a novel Alice-in-Wonderland weed management approach that a farmer would have to be totally deranged to employ, involving allowing weeds to not only grow for longer in the season between crop rows but even set seed - how farmers love to see those weeds setting seed!

*** The scientists claim that the novel weed management methods can be done "without affecting yield" - in spite of the fact that this is not shown in the study. On the contrary, to achieve the wildlife benefit, farmers would have to delay their application of glyphosate even though this means they forfeit 10% of their potential yield!!

*** Your chums in the Royal Society (RS) publish the paper in its own journal - which, according to the Guardian, does not require stringent peer review.

*** The RS hypes the paper to the skies in a press release to the media - on the very day, as it happens, that the Health Committee of the Scottish Parliament publishes a highly critical report on GM safety. The RS claims the research shows how GM crops can help save endangered farmland birds, including the skylark, which nest in weeds and eat their seeds - in spite of the fact that the study contains precisely no data on bird life!

*** Establishment-friendly media science correspondents dutifully report that the research shows how GM crops can help save the skylark with no loss in yield - in spite of the fact that neither of these claims are validated by this research which is based only on a few small plots!

In fact, even Professor Sir David King, the UK Government's Chief Scientific Advisor, has politely admitted that more research would be needed to validate the claims of environmental benefit being made.

But who needs to validate anything when you have the Royal Society?


A shadowy new group called Sense About Science appears to be one of the RS‚s new allies in matters GM. SAS‚s chairman is Lord Dick Taverne, who recently took Monsanto‚s skylark road show to the House of Lords, spawning an enthusiastic Farmers Weekly article, 'Peers welcome GM weeds study', which even mistook SAS for a Lords'committee!

SAS‚s pro-GM fulminations are breaking the eerie silence left by the sidelining of the discredited Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC). For more on the food industry-funded SIRC and its close relations with the Food Standards Agency‚s Sir John Krebs, the Royal Society and others, see:

Then there's another inheritor of the SIRC's mantle, the Science Media Centre housed within the Royal Institution and claiming to be "an independent venture working to promote the voices, stories and views of the scientific community" but whose funders include the likes of Dupont, Merlin Biosciences, Pfizer, PowderJet and Smith-Nephew, and whose press releases on GM are full of quotes from the biotech brigade and the likes of that well-known (non)"scientist" Stepehen Smith of Syngenta!

The Royal Society joined with the SIRC and the Royal Institution to produce guidelines telling journalists how to report science issues (read GM). The guidelines recommended a list of approved pro-GM "experts" whom hard-pressed journalists can rely on for authoritative advice. The Royal Society produced the list which includes the likes of Prof Tony Trewavas FRS - the same Prof Trewavas who was named in the High Court in London in relation to a media libel case over GM!

Now, the Royal Society has joined with Sense About Science to set up a committee to examine peer review in science. Why, we may wonder? An editorial in the Independent (31 Jan 2003) explains. The RS is "worried that people do not understand science and therefore fall prey too easily to sensational and unsubstantiated claims". The committee has asked the press not to report findings that have not been peer reviewed.

Is there cause for celebration here? Does this mean that when biotech supporters hype unpublished, un-peer reviewed "studies" showing that GM crops are safe to eat, benefit wildlife, and vastly increase yields (which often turn out to be producer estimates, opinion pieces and even internal company memos), we can rely upon the RS to intervene and save us from the corporate lies?

Sadly not. Examples of "sensational and unsubstantiated claims" that will be countered by the RS and Sense About Science include - wait for it:
*** Chapela‚s (published, peer reviewed and replicated) findings of GM contamination of Mexican maize;
*** Arpad Pusztai‚s (peer reviewed and published) findings that GM potatoes damaged the health of rats. Despite which, the Independent‚s editorial effectively labels Pusztai‚s research a "fraud"! Where do they get their information?


The BBC's science correspondent recently reported that the BMA was backtracking on its GM-sceptical stance as a result of SAS‚s persuasive arguments. The BMA rushed out a press release to correct the BBC‚s gullible Pallab Ghosh, pointing to matters of fact that were 'wrong' and 'totally incorrect'. What were Ghosh‚s sources for his misleading report which he hadn't even bothered to check with the BMA? Sense About Science and a leading Fellow of the Royal Society, Peter Lachmann.

Professor Sir Peter Lachmann, FRS is President of the Academy of Medical Sciences - funders include Aventis. In 1999 Lachmann was identified by the Guardian as the Fellow of the Royal Society who threatened Dr Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, that his job was at risk if he went ahead and published Dr Pusztai‚s research on GM Potatoes.

Lachmann‚s CV, the Guardian noted, included a consultancy to Geron Biomed, which markets the cloning technology behind Dolly the sheep, and a non-executive directorship for biotech company Adprotech. Lachmann was also on the scientific advisory board of SmithKline Beecham, which invests heavily in biotechnology.

In a letter to the Times, Lachmann attacked the BMA for criticising the impact of GM crops on health when they have "no expertise in plant science". This didn't stop Lachmann, who similarly has no especial "expertise in plant science", from waxing lyrical in a BBC Online article about how GM plants are no different from all other plants etc.


Sense About Science has no web presence and its funders are undisclosed. The SAS calls itself "an association promoting evidence in discussions of science and risk".

Chairman: Lord Dick Taverne

SAS‚s chairman is Lord Dick Taverne a politician/barrister with no background in science but a long history of supporting GM. Taverne has claimed that the media's "sloppiness" on GM issues is "undermining the health of our democracy". As part of his "media distortion" crusade, Taverne sat on the SIRC forum that produced the media Guidelines telling journalists how to report contentious science and health issues. Also on this forum were Steve Connor, science correspondent for the Independent,  and a representative of the RS.

Taverne commented on these guidelines in a debate in the House of Lords in which he said he hoped "that the Press Complaints Commission will enforce this code toughly and come down heavily on the kind of irresponsible and reckless disregard for fact and evidence which has characterised the reporting of many scientific issues in the past"

As an example of such reckless disregard for fact and evidence Taverne referred to press coverage of how "Dr Pusztai fed harmful lectins inserted in potatoes to rats". In fact, Dr Pusztai used a snowdrop lectin proven in peer reviewed research to be harmless to mammals in its natural non-GM form.

He complained in relation to press coverage of Pusztai and GM foods that, "the result of some 50,000 experiments worldwide, were completely ignored". But the pitiful number of published peer reviewed animal studies involving GM foods relevant to Pusztai's findings could be counted on one hand - so where did Taverne get that fantastical figure?

In July 2002 Taverne was reprimanded in the House of Lords after he called for Prince Charles to relinquish the throne if he made any more statements critical of GM crops!

Taverne was involved in the setting up of the biotech-industry supported Science Media Centre directed by Rwandan genocide-denier, Fiona Fox.

But Taverne is just the figurehead for Sense About Science. The only other named person - SAS's director Tracey Brown has failed to return GM WATCH's calls. Why the secrecy? Watch this space!


The Royal Society‚s claimed respect for proper peer review would seem to be highly selective. The following extracts are from a letter written by Dr Arpad Pusztai on 6 February 2002 to the Royal Society.

To summarise sme of Pusztai‚s points in this letter, the RS appears to have:

*unethically obtained a scientific paper prior to its publication

*made claims for GM food safety by citing as an established piece of research a paper which was merely an opinion piece that refered to (a) a study by Chinese scientists which, unlike Pusztai‚s study, had neither been peer reviewed nor fully published, and (b) a Japanese feeding trial (published in an obscure journal - it is not known whether it was peer reviewed) which would not have been legal in the UK because the rats were starved and put on hardly any weight (in contrast to the rats in Pusztai's research which grew well over 300 grams during the feeding trials), making it impossible for any valid conclusions to be drawn from it.

Dr Pusztai‚s experience confirms that the RS‚s criterion for judging the quality of scientific research is not scientific rigour or peer review, but the ease with which the results can be presented as showing that there is no problem with GM foods.


Results that seem to suggest that there might be a problem with GM foods are dealt with very differently!

They are attributed to "incompetence", "fraud" or "media inaccuracy", regardless of the facts or the quality of the science. To this end the Royal Society seems quite happy to circulate outright lies about such research. Thus in The Independent's article, "Scientists blame media and fraud for fall in public trust", about the Royal Society's views on why the public no longer trusts experts like themselves, we are told:

"Fraud can still slip through the net despite [peer review], but makes up a tiny proportion of the millions of scientific papers published every year.

Of the three cases cited, however, only Professor Pusztai's work was not peer-reviewed. When it was, the reviewers refused it for publication, citing numerous flaws in its methods - notably that the rats in the experiment had not been fed GM potatoes, but normal ones spiked with a toxin that GM potatoes might have made."

Almost every word of this statement is a total fabrication. There was no "fraud". Rats were fed GM potatoes. There was no "toxin". 5 out of the 6 reviewers of Pusztai's research approved it for publication - the exception was the peer reviewer who worked with the RS to smear the research pre-publication.

Viral marketing is the term used by the PR industry for campaigns to deliberately spread rumours you want the public to believe. Monsanto's PR machine has specialised in spreading smears in this way, often via the internet -

Following a recent BBC radio programme on Radio 4, someone referred to Dr Pusztai on the BBC's science message board, saying it would have been interesting to have heard from him in the programme. This comment quickly attracted the following reply (typos corrected!):

re: Errors and omissions Nick Clark - 1st post - 8 Jan 2003 13:44

"...Ah Dr Pusztai's reseach is an interesting one, his research was never peer-reviewed. It was published in the Lancet but only after it was forced to, and in the editoral of that issue it said that the report FAILED its normal review process. Surprise Surprise he found that if you feed underfed rats a known poison they suffer from that poison."

These lies are almost exactly the same as those that appeared in the article in The Independent that was based on the RS's views. Similarly, not so long ago the Biological secretary of the RS, Patrick Bateson, wrote in "Science and Public Affairs" that the Lancet published Pusztai's research "in the face of objections by its statistically-competent referees". (June 2002, "Mavericks are not always right").

The fact that Pusztai's Lancet paper successfully came through a peer review process which was far more stringent than that applying to most published papers is being deliberately inverted.

Such smears, like Lachmann's threats against the Lancet's editor, make absolutely no sense in terms of the scientific evaluation of evidence, they only make sense as part of a dirty tricks campaign intended to serve certain highly specific interests.


Biologist and social scientist, Dr Tom Wakeford, in an article on the Royal Society, ‘The Appliance of Science: Britain Urgently needs New Measures to Guarantee the Accountablility of its Scientists’, makes the following points:

"Set up as a product of royal patronage, the Society's funds have traditionally come, with minimal parliamentary scrutiny, from the public purse. More recently it has begun to receive substantial funds from transnational biotechnology corporations, such as Rhone Poulenc [part of Aventis] and Glaxo Wellcome.

"Honouring such generous donors by making them part of its 'President's Circle', the Society bizarrely justifies such donations by saying that it will ensure it can 'formulate balanced judgements about the use of science to solve national, social, economic and industrial problems... independent of vested interests'.

"Until the 1960s, the Philosophical Transactions of the Society carried an advertisement in every issue claiming: It is an established rule of the Royal Society...never to give their opinion, as a Body, upon any subject'.

"In recent years these words have been quietly dropped, and now it seems that British citizens are paying taxes to fund an organisation that actively promotes the interests of multinational biotech corporations, under the guise of independent science."


In a disturbing development, the UK government has decided to have the Royal Society publish its GM crop trials results. The Guardian comments: "The government was planning to publish the results of GM field trials in the Journal of Applied Ecology in the summer. As befits a reputable journal, the editors reserved the right to have the papers peer reviewed - in other words, if bits were not scientifically rigorous they would not be published. So now publication has shifted to the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, where, apparently, such stringent peer review will not be necessary."

GM in agriculture has sometimes been described by its critics as "a solution in search of a problem." The Glasgow Herald was among many who fell hook, line and sinker for a tale about a problem with bananas. The paper reported that "a global consortium of scientists" were fighting to save the banana from impending extinction due to viral attack.

Clearly, this problem calls for a solution, and the noble scientists are ready with it: "Scientists from across the world are working to solve the problem through genetic engineering." But there’s a snag: "… producers are reluctant to invest in the project, and consumers are still wary of genetically modified foods. The consortium have warned that, within 10 years, it could be a choice between genetically engineered bananas, or none."

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation quashed claims that bananas would die out, pointing out that the disease threats to the banana only relate to a widely used commercial type accounting for only 10% of the types grown. Essentially says the FAO the problem arises from growing too many of the same type - that, of course, is a problem that a GM banana would be likely to make worse!

GMWATCH asked one of the people running the BBC's science message board how the debate that followed the BBC's two recent Radio 4 "Seeds of Trouble" programmes on GM compared with other discussions on the board. "Oh," she said, "It's been very different - much nastier and it's attracted all these experts!"

The message board discussion was like a biotechnologists' reunion, with Phil Dale, Roger Hull, Mike Wilson (his prolonged rant was mysteriously deleted only to turn up later on the Prakash list), Alan McHughen and Denis Murphy chipping in, not to mention the BBSRC!

One thread of the discussion focused on Dr Arpad Pusztai's research. This too was marked by a series of "expert" interventions. These included an anguished cry from Prof John Gatehouse, the genetic engineer who developed the GM potatoes that Pusztai was testing, to the effect that "The Pusztai affair just won’t die!" They wish!

What is most remarkable, in relation to the original controversy, is the number of previously contested points that under pressure were conceded. One of the more notable concessions concerned lectins. Dr Phil Dale is among many scientists and others (including cabinet ministers!) who claimed that Pusztai's results were unremarkable because they involved the use of lectins, and lectins "are well-known toxins".

This claim is exposed here for the nonsense it is.

For the BBC message board punch-up, see

Doubts over the safety of GM food voiced by the British Medical Association have been blamed for Zambia’s refusal of American GM food aid. The claim came from Zambian scientist Dr Luke Mumba, about whom more in the next item, SPOT THE DIFFERENCE.

There's an industry-orchestrated attack underway on the BMA as a result of their submission to the Health Committee of the Scottish Parliament about the dangers of GM. The committee clearly found the BMA’s submission more persuasive than those of the UK Government's advisory committees, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Prof Tony Trewavas FRS etc.

At the time of the BMA submission a letter was written to the press by the Royal Society‚s Dr Peter Lachmann denying broad support within the medical community for the BMA's stance. This was a remarkable claim given that the BMA represents 80% or more of UK doctors. Lachmann is the Fellow of the Royal Society identified by the Guardian as having tried to stop Lancet editor Richard Horton publishing Pusztai and Ewen's peer-reviewed research by threatening Horton with the loss of his job.

Zambia has come under attack from the US for refusing American GM maize food aid. Clearly, the Zambians needed to be put straight, and there are signs that this has happened.

Zambian scientist Dr Luke Mumba in March 2002: "University of Zambia School of natural sciences Dean Dr Luke Mumba says, unlike chemical or nuclear contamination, gene pollution cannot be cleaned up. He adds, toxic effects of genetic mistakes will be passed on to all future generations of species. 'Once released, it is virtually impossible to recall genetically engineered organisms back to the laboratory or the field. Genetically engineered products carry more risks than traditional foods,' points out Dr Mumba."
- The Times of Zambia, March 12, 2002

Dr Luke Mumba in July 2002: "All of us who consider ourselves to be experts in biotechnology must accept that we have not done enough to guide our policy makers on the subject. Each time we are afforded a forum we are invariably issuing contradictory statements on GM maize and biotechnology in general. Little wonder that our government is to date undecided on whether or not to accept maize aid from the US". Dr Luke Mumba, Safety of GMOs, The Post, Zambia, July 29, 2002

This Mumba article was full of reassurances: "Biotechnology companies are under obligation to ensure that all the genetically improved crops they produce comply with all national and international guidelines. Their survival as companies is dependent on complying with regulations and consumer expectations."

The reason for the disappearance of his earlier caution remains unexplained. The second item below presents a very different opinion from Dr Mumba's within the Zambian academic community as to what is going on:

"THE United States is being driven by business motives in their wish to supply genetically modified (GM) maize to Zambia, charged University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers Union (UNZALARU) secretary general Dr Timothy Mwanza yesterday... Dr Mwanza said... as a union, they were worried because some experts had allegedly been bought-off to convince the government that GM maize was safe."

Filipino scientists have developed a "dream rice" that they claim is an answer to malnutrition. The scientists working at the world-famous International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Manila, Philippines, created the new nutritionally fortified variety through traditional breeding, not GM. The rice contains over twice the normal amount of iron alongwith Vitamin A and zinc.

For Devinder Sharma’s report on the much-hyped protein-enhanced GM potato, see
For Dr Arpad Pusztai’s comments on the "PRotato", see

The European Union's overseas aid chief has accused the United States of spreading lies about the EU's stance on genetically modified (GM) food. European Development Commissioner Poul Nielson said US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick lied when, earlier this month, he said some EU governments had threatened to withdraw aid from poor countries that used GM food products. "This very negative lie has been circulated and repeated recently by Robert Zoellick," Nielson said. Nielson told reporters he wanted to propose a deal to the Americans which would create a more normal situation.  "The deal would be this: if the Americans would stop lying about us, we would stop telling the truth about them..."

India's recent official refusal of GM food aid from the US reinforces the fact that this is an issue of global concern and not, as some in the US would have us believe, just the bubbling over of a Northern trade dispute.

American scientists have said that the Bush administration is manipulating scientific advisory committees in order to further its political agenda and benefit certain industries. "We've seen a consistent pattern of putting people in who will ensure that the administration hears what it wants to hear," said Dr David Michaels of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at George Washington University's School of Public Health.

The Times, 1 February 03  Letters to the Editor
Sir, Professor Richard Dawkins's assertion that genes are a "software sub-routine", which can therefore be moved with precision by genetic engineering between totally unrelated organisms  (T2, January 28), reflects the naivete of individuals who theorise about genetics rather than those working with it first-hand.

Genetic engineering, either in an animal or plant context, always has unpredictable outcomes and they are frequently greater than the intended change. This is because it is wrong to consider genes as independent units of information, which can be accurately slotted into the genetic code of any organism. Genes have evolved within a given organism to work in combinations in the context of an immensely complex genetic, biochemical and ecological environment.

The ‘Luddism’ of the Prince of Wales and Peter Melchett in objecting to GM food on this occasion is supported by empirical scientific observation. - Michael Antoniou (Lecturer in molecular genetics), King's College London

Anecdotal reports from Copenhagen Zoo say that monkeys are going ape over organic bananas, leaving chemically grown foods untouched in their cages. The monkeys eat organic bananas with their skins on, whereas they peel chemically grown bananas. "The chimpanzees are able to tell the difference between the organic and the regular fruit," a keeper reported.

Perhaps these monkeys should be offered Sir John Krebs’ position at the Food Standards Agency. Krebs angered consumer groups when he rescinded long-standing government advice to peel non-organic fruit and veg before eating them.

With GM animals due to enter the food chain next year despite no standards having been established for testing their safety, and with pharma crops having already been grown at 300 secret sites often in food crops, even normally pro-GM groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) are starting to hit the panic button.

CSPI reviewers studied about a quarter of all cases where GM plants have come before the FDA for review. In many instances, CSPI’s report said, the FDA requested information on the nutritional composition of a plant that industry failed to provide. In three of 14 cases, CSPI reviewers found "obvious errors" in FDA analyses of certain food crops.

Certain scientific papers - cited to prove that human exposure to a particular foreign protein in gene-altered tomatoes and cantaloupes is safe - do not prove anything of the sort, the center said. The group said the FDA's procedures are so full of holes that continued safety cannot be ensured as companies bring more GM plants to market.

Nearly 400 pigs used in U.S. bioengineering research may have entered the food supply because they were sold to a livestock dealer instead of being destroyed, the Food and Drug Administration said. Under the study requirements set by the FDA, the pigs should have been incinerated or sent to a rendering plant for disposal.

Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide is beginning to lose its effectiveness in controlling weeds, reports the New York Times. Weeds resistant to the herbicide have emerged in Delaware, Maryland, California, western Tennessee and at the edges of the Corn Belt in Ohio and Indiana. The problem, crop scientists say, is the widespread use of herbicide resistant GM crops.

As an interesting postscript, popular TV gardener Alan Titchmarsh has predicted in the Radio Times that garden pesticides and herbicides will be illegal within a few years.

The EU is proposing two far-reaching curbs on the power of the biotech industry. It says companies seeking patents should say where they found any natural product they are appropriating, so as to allow indigenous peoples to share in profits. The EU also says poor farmers should be free to continue their traditional practice of saving and exchanging seeds, even ones already patented. The proposals will be discussed by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Bayer‚s share price is at its lowest since 1993. Shares plummeted after it was announced that the number of lawsuits seeking compensation claims for Bayer‚s Lipobay drug, which is alleged to have killed people, rose to 15,000.

Monsanto‚s stock has lost half its value in the last year. The company is still without a CEO since the resignation of Hendrik Verfaillie in December 2002.

With war looming in Iraq, the Bush administration has decided against antagonizing its European allies and has postponed filing a case against the European Union for its ban on genetically modified food. "There is no point in testing Europeans on food while they are being tested on Iraq," a senior White House official said.

Results of the field trials of GM crops look set to be included in a public debate on the issue. There was widespread anger when it looked as though the public debate on the issue would take place before the results of the trials were due out in July 2003. But Prof Malcolm Grant, in charge of the public debate, asked for a delay in its start because he was worried the government hadn’t allocated enough money for it.

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