ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

28 December 2002



It would be very interesting to know exactly how the study reported below under the headline, "GM crops could revive endangered wildlife", came to the attention of The Times ahead of peer-reviewed publication.

In 1998 Monsanto conducted press tours of GM crop trials run by scientists from the Institute of Arable Crops Research, an institute that includes Aventis, DuPont, Novartis and Syngenta amongst its "Commercial Partners". At that time The Times ran the headline, "Modified crops help man and wildlife", reporting, "Genetically engineered crops can save farmers money, reduce chemical spraying and create a better habitat for birds and insects, scientists claimed yesterday." When, nearly two-years later, the IACR study was actually published, it turned out that the delayed herbicide application involved in the trials in question produced a massive yield penalty that farmers would be unlikely to accept.

Now exactly the same institute that allowed Monsanto to spin its industry-funded study of GM sugar beet almost two-years ahead of publication is involved in the latest trials involving GM sugar beet that are being spun by The Times well ahead of peer-reviewed publication, and under a not dissimilar headline. Disturbingly, the same IACR scientists who seem to be at the heart of these industry spin operations are  involved in running the UK's farmscale trials into which millions of pounds of taxpayers money has been sunk.
The latest study, according to the information contained in The Times article, involves the extremely surprising claim that the yield issue has now been taken care of. Being able to let weeds grow late without impacting at all on crop yield is an almost miraculous finding that runs counter not only to other agronomic research but to normal farming practice which is based on the necessity of removing weed competition.

What truth there is in these remarkable claims is impossible to assess without access to the paper, but nobody should make the mistake of thinking that these claims will not be taken seriously despite their lack of peer reviewed publication.

The UK government's recently announced science review on GM crops notably involved the surprising request that non peer-reviewed scientific material be submitted for the panel's consideration. By submitting this IACR study simply by way of summary, all the problems that might be inherent in the study will be difficult for scientific sceptics to identify.

And if anyone thinks that the panel would not dare use non peer-reviewed data in such a cavalier and grossly misleading way, they need only look to the last Royal Society panel on GM crops which declared that Pusztai's research had been successfully replicated without any harmful effects emerging, on the basis simply of reference to such a claim in a non-peer reviewed opinion piece by 2 well-known biotech supporters, Gasson and Burke.  Gasson and Burke, in turn, based their claim on 2 studies - one a non-peer reviewed piece of research published only by way of summary, and the other a study published in an obscure Japanese journal and involving laboratory work of such a dire standard that Arpad Pusztai commented that if it had been conducted in the UK the researchers would almost certainly have lost their experimental licence for conducting work involving such unnecessary suffering to animals.

Reassuringly, the UK Science Review panel includes Professor Mike Gasson - one of the two scientists involved in this fraud. It also involves scientists working for Syngenta and Monsanto as well as Syngenta consultant (1998-2002), Professor Chris Leaver. Leaver is one of 3 panelists with direct connections to the John Innes Centre which has enjoyed multi-million pound research alliances with the likes of Syngenta and DuPont, and which has a history of extreme misinformation in support of GM crops, including bogus claims of "enormous environmental benefits", including benefits to wildlife, that turned out to be based on research that not only had not been published but simply did not exist!

Another Science Review panelist is former JIC man, Professor Mike Wilson, now the Chief Exec of Horticulture Research International and a consultant to Lord Sainsbury's biotech investment company Diatech Ltd., as well as a member of the the advisory board of the anti-environmentalist 'Scientific Alliance'. Wilson has also previously claimed that independent research has already proven GM crops beneficial for wildlife. On investigation the evidence in question turned out not to be from the source Prof Wilson claimed; not to be "independent" in the way Wilson implied; and - surprise! surprise! - nor did the research contain any evidence of benefits to wildlife!!
[  For more on Wilson:]

In 1999 we launched the 'Professor Bullshit' section of the NGIN website to try and help alert people to this kind of extreme abuse of science for corporate purposes. Prof. B's introductory remarks remain pertinent:

"Welcome to the world of Prof Bullshit & Associates where the true scientist only argues his case with great care on the basis of sound peer reviewed data open to critical scrutiny - or does he?!

"The joke is that such standards are only being required of critics of GM while they are simply ignored in relation to scientists making statements supportive of the technology. In the latter case, while such scientists claim the moral and intellectual high ground, in reality ANYTHING GOES!!!

"Statements that are quite unproven, comments on research that is still unpublished, even accounts of research that may be seriously misleading, or even entirely false, are likely to pass without censure..."

In the brave new world of the academic industrial complex, it's (big) business as usual!


GM crops could revive endangered wildlife

By Mark Henderson
The Times
26 December 2002,,2-524219,00.html
GENETICALLY modified crops could help to bring endangered birds such as the skylark back to British farmland, according to research that will be presented to the Government next month. The first major trial to test the impact of GM crops on the environment in Britain has revealed sharp improvements in the density of weeds, seeds and insects - the crucial foods on which many of the most threatened birds survive.

Skylarks, finches, buntings and lapwings, along with other birds that have declined since the advent of intensive farming, could benefit from the herbicide-tolerant crops, which can be sprayed less frequently without a loss of yield, the study suggests.

The findings will provide the Government's GM science review with some of the only evidence yet available of the ecological impact of transgenic crops. Results from the official farm-scale trials, which are investigating similar effects on biodiversity, will not be published until July - too late for the expert review panel, whose advice is expected to be crucial in deciding the future of GM farming in Britain.

The research, at Broom's Barn research station in Higham, Suffolk, used sugar beet and has investigated many of the same questions as the farm-scale trials.

Usually beet fields are sprayed several times a year, both before sowing and after harvest, because sugar beet competes poorly with weeds - usually wild relatives from the chenopodiaceae family. Spraying is agronomically effective, but wipes out the weed seeds that sustain birds and insects during winter. Rather than dousing the crop with weedkiller at regular intervals, the scientists let the weeds grow between the rows of GM beet early in the season, and sprayed only once before the harvest. The yield was not affected, but the weeds flourished.

John Pidgeon, director of Broom's Barn, said that he could not comment on the findings before they were published, but a written summary, seen by The Times, describes the trials as a "win-win". There was "no yield loss" but an improved weed seed count, providing "opportunities for bird food and lower environmental impact".

Professor Vivian Moses, chairman of the Cropgen panel, which supports GM agriculture, welcomed the research. "This may well show a way of dealing with weeds, and a major problem with these crops, which does not reduce the sugar beet yield yet is more favourable for the flourishing of wildlife," he said. "This would mean that many of the environmental fears about the consequences of GM crops in this country are, at least in this case, without foundation."

As well as testing the impact of GM sugar beet on biodiversity, the farm-scale trials are also investigating maize, oilseed rape and fodder beet.

The birds most likely to benefit from such farming would be the skylark, which is one of the Government's indicator species for environmental quality, the small finch, the corn bunting and the lapwing.

Independent experts said that the Broom's Barn findings looked promising, but that the true impact would depend on the seasonal effects of the GM crop. "It is interesting because seed production is quite important, but it' s the availability during autumn and winter that's really important," Mark Avery, the director of conservation at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said.

"If the seeds are just sprayed off, and aren't there any more after the harvest, there would not necessarily be a benefit for birds. From an environmental point of view this sounds like a smaller version of the farm-scale trials, and we're awaiting those results very eagerly to see effects there are on biodiversity."

Mick Crawley, Professor of Plant Ecology at Imperial College, London, said that although the theoretical benefits of herbicide-tolerant crops were persuasive he had doubts as to whether these could be translated from laboratory plots into commercial agriculture.

"It all depends on how farmers actually use this technology," he said. "My fear is that farmers are not always the most patient, and that they will not use the herbicide in the way in which it would optimise biodiversity."
"Think of the internet as a weapon on the table. Either you pick it up or your competitor does, but somebody is going to get killed". - a favourite quote of Monsanto's former Chief Internet Strategist, Jay Byrne

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