ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
Date:  27 November 2000

1.    GM Debate at UEA tonight
2.    Excerpt from Brisley meeting
3.    Excerpt from M Griffiths re pre-publication spin

1.     GM  DEBATE  TONIGHT and blatant presentational manipulation

University of East Anglia Development Society debate on GM.  The two speakers will be Jonathan Jones (John Innes Centre), representing the forces of darkness, and Jim Thomas from Greenpeace.

The meeting is at UEA in Norwich (Art A01.02 - Arts Building first floor) at 6pm on Monday 27 November.

*  *  *
2.    To show you how good these meetings can be here's a fascinating exchange from a recent meeting - Dr Jeremy Bartlett pinning down Dr Mike May, an IACR researcher involved in the UK farmscale trials.

Mike May accuses Jeremy of circulating a briefing in which a lot of the references are actually drawn from press articles etc.  Jeremy then refers to the fact that May et al research was used as part of a big industry spin operation prior to publication.

To judge Jeremy's GM crop trial briefing and the references which May attacks, see: - I could only spot 1 press article amongst about a score of references.

For some of the low down on how May et al's research was spun pre-publication see below this excerpt from the meeting transcript - we ope to have the whole transcript up on the ngin site very soon.

Public meeting - Brisley, Norfolk - 7 Sept 2000  - Mike May v J Bartlett

JBartlett  One of the things - I'm sorry, I'm not trying to do the John Innes Centre down
                because they do some good research there, very good place.  But there are places
                like that where I've been - one of the things that made me really get a bit more
                active about   this - there were scientists there who were making statements beyond
                the limit of their knowledge about how safe GM was.  They - a lot of them were -
                well I suppose like I - geneticists by training but they were making very definite
                statements about - oh, it's certain, in terms of ecology it's perfectly safe.  Now I
                certainly wouldn't say something like that because I don't know, and I don't think
                anybody knows.

                And the trouble with science these days - it's been the same I'm afraid since about
                1980 - is that it's very difficult to get independent science because the government
                funding for science has dropped dramatically - I can't give you any figures, but there's
                so much reliance on funding from commercial organisations, and there's also,even
                when you do get funding that's not from commercial organisations, if you work for,
                do any research for BBSRC - it's the Biotech Research Council - you're not allowed,
                as part of your contract, to make controversial statements about GM.  Now, that
                doesn't actually mean that.  It means you're not allowed to make statements against

                Because you get these scientists who actually are making pro-GM statements.  And
                the trouble is they're trying - I don't think they're succeeding -  they're trying to fool
                people, members of the public who trust them - you know you should be able to trust
                them - that they've got all the answers and they're impartial and they're not  - it really
                upsets me.

M May   Can I just clarify that?

S Beare   I was going to say to you Mr May, what do you feel about it -  good science?

M May     BBSRC don't actually fund our site, but they do fund other parts of IACR and their
                policy is not to say that you cannot speak about GMs if it's only adverse.  You cannot
                speak about GMs until it is published and it's in the public domain.  We've had roblems
                in the past with people, and there's a lot of references here that [indicates Jeremy
                Bartlett's paper] you'll see are just quotes in the media.

J Bartlett They're peer reviewed scientific articles.  There are some media quotes.

M May    There's a lot in there that are not Jeremy.  And those are the misleading ones.

J Bartlett  They're not.

M May   And our view, as far as the BBSRC goes, is that it has to be published in a peer
                review journal which means first of all it has to be seen by other scientists and then it's
                made available.  And then we can comment.  We're not allowed to comment before.

(Audience) That's the point I was making about Listeria - the Institute of Food Research, that
                people knew for a whole year that there was a serious problem.  But because the paper
                hadn't been published, nobody would comment on it, even though all the scientists
               knew that there was a very real problem.

M May    In those situations we are allowed to make it, but - and it goes through another system
                - but as far as the normal results go with this type of work, we're not allowed to publish
                it because it wants to be there as hard fact so that some people who are scientists can
                look at it, other people can look at it as well.  But there is so much going through where
                everybody is just trying to spin things in their own direction and that's why the BBSRC
                have put those sort of limits on it.  It's not because [of] gagging.  It's to make sure that
                when the public get the information it's based on sound science.

J Bartlett  Can I just, perhaps I can give you the quote from the BBSRC code. It's:  "staff should
                not become involved in political controversy in matters affecting research, Biotechnology
                and biotechnological sciences."  Mike, I believe there's a paper that you did - it finally
                appeared in Pest Management Science in April 2000.  Now understand, now maybe
                correct me if I'm wrong, I don't want to get anything wrong, that at least a year before
                that this was being quoted - it's to do with insects, sorry, to do with herbicide-resistant
                sugarbeet  and the consequences on the use of herbicide.  Now I understand that
                information from that paper was actually circulated a year or two years before - quite a
                few press articles, saying that this is a wonderful new technology, it's going to have all
                these benefits, yet the paper didn't actually come out until April this year.  Will you - if
                I'm wrong correct me on that?

M May   Yes, you're right and that's one of the things that we've actually done now.  Again - it's
                both sides, it's not one side.  We published a paper about a year ago and that was used
                beforehand. Somebody got hold of some data and was actually using data which wasn't
                actually in the paper, using results of that to make comments which weren't valid.When
                you look at the paper in the whole, on it's own, you can actually put it down, you can
                see what it really says.  Not what other people have been trying to spin out of it.  And
                consequently the paper that's just come out today we've published has not been put
                around the press before, other than a general comment within one of the farming press
                [major spin article in Farmers Weekly!].  So we're making sure these things are not
                spun.  And it does mean to say that there is a lag period.  It's a shame.  What we would
                love to do is to be able to take people and show you what we are doing in other areas.
                But you can't because people will spin it.

J Bartlett   Can I also say about this information.  The information I've got that isn't from scientific
                papers is from - there are things from newspapers, but there are things like the fact that
                the seed got contaminated, the Advanta seed got contaminated.  Now that's public
                domain, not controversial, we know.  There are things maybe we don't know about
                how it got contaminated, but there's that sort of fact.  They're not controversial things
                I've got in there.  The things that there is - I think that there may be some controversy
                about, are peer-reviewed scientific papers...  They've been checked by other scientists,
                so they're not just spin.  I deny that.

*  * *
3.       Mark Griffiths article - excerpt:

"...full details of the extent to which the work of scientists can become subject to blatant presentational manipulation by industry have recently come to light in a case in the biotechnology sector.  This follows the publication of a study on transgenic sugar beet in the journal 'Pest Management Science'.

Although this paper was only officially released in April 2000, Monsanto had been using parts of this work prior to its peer-review and formal publication to make misleading statements about the environmental 'benefits' of its transgenic sugar beet since 1998.

Further details of Monsanto's manipulation of the findings of this work, subsequently unearthed by New Scientist, are given at :

"The biotech industry is developing two very different sales pitches for its products - one for farmers and one for the rest of us,"

A few months earlier large sections of the farming and general media had been taken in by this deception: "Genetically engineered crops can save farmers money, reduce chemical spraying and create a better habitat for birds and insects, scientists claimed yesterday", reported an excited LONDON TIMES 25 August 1998 under the title 'Modified crops help man and wildlife' - even though we now know that the 'findings' concerned had been neither completed nor published at that date.

Now, however, full details of the work used to make these claims are - nearly two years after the first press reports - at last in the public domain. They show that the delayed herbicide application approaches (which were high-profiled by Monsanto at the time as providing valuable environmental 'benefits' related to insect populations), using glyphosate on the transgenic sugar beet concerned, produced heavy yield losses for farmers. These approaches are therefore most unlikely to be used in practice. In fact when such approaches were used even the claimed environmental benefits themselves were not conclusively demonstrated in the study, with the authors acknowledging that: "Further studies using more rigorous ecological sampling methods" are required to monitor the full impact on insect populations. "

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