ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
Date:  27 November 2000

VOTE! VOTE! VOTE!  for the burnt out undies

Après Florida - the Pants!  Here are the nominations for October's PANTS ON FIRE Award.

In case you've lost track, then August's winnner was Krebs and the FSA.  September's winner was Aventis. Who next for this great honeur?

Send in those votes + any nominations for November.

Jean de Bris
Pants on Fire Chief

Full details of the Award, the winners and to see a magnificent pair of burnt out undies at:
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More 'ILLUMINATING' contributions to the great GM debate!  Three  nominations for October, as follows:

1.    Legg of NIAB - man of principle!
2.    Nature Biotechnology - taking "science" lessons from Avery!
3.    Wilson of HRI - the original Prof Wilspin!

Votes by 3rd December please - nomination details below
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Nomination 1:  Prof Legg - a man of principle?

The following nomination of Prof Brian Legg, the director of the UK's National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) comes from Rev Paul Cawthorne who has been a key player in exposing the secret GM trials that have been occurring in the UK.

Paul writes:

'Information flow is an indispensable part of a properly functioning democracy. Transparency is one of this government's professed objectives in order to promote accountability in novel technologies.

Why then did the director of the National Institute of Agricultural Botany reportedly instruct his West Midlands regional manager not to discuss the presence of an unpublicied GM trial in my parish?  People who are in a position to discuss matters as friends are thereby forced to take up a different stance in ordeer to restor etransparency.  Hiding behind commercial confidentiality ("we do not, as a matter of principle, discuss our clients' business with third parties"), when it is apparent
that discussions with other parties have taken place selectively, it is not the best way to inspire confidence in our rersearch institutions' methodology, logic or disintererestedness.

To say, "we are not able to disclose any details of work done for our customers" invites speculation about what else may be going on that we are not being told about.  How can we find out when it appears even the Department of the Environment has been kept in in the dark?
Establishment myopia can be deliberate for a number of reasons, some better than others.  I wish I knew what was motivating it at NIAB.'
*  *  *
Nomination 2:   'Nature Biotechnology' - "science" lessons from Avery?

Hodgson, the editor of Nature Biotechnology has been nominated by Prof Jo Cummins for an editorial attack on Andrew Watkinson's published research, involving computer projections of the likely impact of herbicide resistant GM crops on UK bird populations, by way of a claim that Arpad Pusztai had never conducted any experiments on GM!

Prof Cummins notes that such outrageous spin would have been unthinkable in a science journal a few years ago but no longer. The editor of Nature Biotechnology, Prof Cummins says, 'may be taking "science" lessons from Avery!'

Nature Biotechnology October 2000 Volume 18 Number 10 p 1023

Taking a leaf out of Arpad Pusztai's studies, researchers at the University of East Anglia have published work on the impacts of GM crops "without doing any experiments." Computer modelers Andrew Watkinson and colleagues at East Anglia modeled the effects of GM herbicide tolerant
beet on the population dynamics of a weed that is an important food source for farmland birds...

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Nomination 3:   Wilson of HRI - the original Prof Wilspin

Jonathan Matthews is nominating Prof T Michael Wilson, the head of Horticultural Research International for his GM spin track record plus his planned closure of Stockbridge House, a highly regarded non-GM research centre that has pioneered biological pest control, hydroponics
and other alternatives to GM.

Wilson is certainly no friend to alternatives to biotech!  Prior to HRI, Wilson was at the JIC and then Acting Director of the Scottish Crop Research Institute, where he was followed by John Hillman who famously used the SCRI's annual report to smear organic farming

On leaving SCRI to take up his HRI post, Wilson did a press interview with The Scotsman in which he claimed independent research had already proven GM crops a beneficial technology that encouraged wildlife.  However, the evidence Wilson cited turned out not to be from the source
he claimed; not to be independent in the way he implied; and nor did it contain any evidence for benefits to wildlife!!! []

Wilson and Hillman subsequently collaborated on a chapter on GM in the "Fearing Food" book put out by the right wing Institute of EconomicAffairs] 

The book also had a chapter by Dennis Avery on organic farming. Wilson and Hillman's end their chapter with a prolonged rant about "disinformation" and those "who raise speculative risks" and "promote public fear".

Whether they had Wilson's Scotsman article or Hillman's annual report in mind, who can say!

Wilson also put in an appearance at the OECD conference in Edinburgh where he was among the biotech evangelists making personal attacks on Dr Pusztai - in Mike Wilson's case the attack even extended to Pusztai's wife![]

The direction of HRI's support for UK market gardening under Wilson was illustrated recently by the 'GM apples to fight tooth decay' story which emerged from HRI research. In other words, under Wilson, HRI threatens the death of the UK fruit industry!

HRI has, needless to say been the recipient of massive amounts of public funding over the years, mostly through MAFF -- yet another illustration of the fact that public investments in science are serving to subsidise interests and outcomes that have no public mandate.

It is in this context that Wilson's axing of Stockbridge House should be seen.

Growers fight plant centre closure
by Martin Wainwright - The Guardian (London) 18 September 2000 

A leading research centre is facing closure in a  move which has revived fears about scientific promotion of GM crops and a brain drain from laboratories in the north.

Commercial growers and MPs are pressing the government to save the 175-acre specialist unit at Stockbridge House at Cawood, near Selby, North Yorkshire, which has pioneered biological pest control, hydroponics (growing plants without soil) and other alternatives to genetic adaption of plants.

Fifty jobs would go in March under a planned restructuring of Horticultural Research International, the government's main testing and development arm for market gardening, fruit and related crops. The Cawood unit, which has recently added to its three acres of glasshouses, is the only northern laboratory run by HRI, which is planning to concentrate on its scientific centres at West Malling, Kent, and Wellesbourne, Warwickshire.

The axe was announced by HRI chief executive Professor Michael Wilson, a proponent of genetic research, to Stockbridge staff, some of whom were in tears at the prospect of losing tied housing on the site. Six scientists at the centre have been offered relocation to the midlands and south.

Commercial growers, who pay half the costs of the centre, have also warned that their money may not be transferable to different research, and are backing a rescue attempt linked to the Government's huge central science laboratories only 20 miles away in York.

'This would be a match made in heaven,' said John Grogan, Labour MP for Selby and one of the backers of an emergency campaign to keep Stockbridge intact. There's an obvious synergy and we're putting a robust place and business plan together.'

Senior advisers to Nick Brown, the agriculture minister, are to hold talks with the group, which is supported by the National Farmers' Union and headed by a former director of Stockbridge, Michael Bradley. He said yesterday: It's a viable site, it's got a good team and a good budget.

There's an awful lot of horticultural science about at the moment, but much less work on the practical technology which makes that science useful to growers. That's the speciality of Stockbridge and we believe it can survive and prosper.'

Prof Wilson said that the HRI had to remain the major UK player, fighting fit, competitive and the source of the highest quality research and development". Recent years had seen a slower growth than forecast in commercial operations to make up for a steady cut in the public sector grant to the non-departmental public body, which is responsible to the agriculture ministry but dependent on private sector income as well.

Scientists in the north are still sore about the government's decision earlier this year to build a pounds 500m synchotron at Didcot in Oxfordshire rather than Daresby in Cheshire - a site with a greater expertise in generating high energy X-ray beams to penetrate the structure of proteins, potentially invaluable in the development of medical drugs.

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