NOTE: At the end of last year came the embarrassing revelation that the UK Government's Chief Scientist, Prof Sir David King, had made grossly misleading comments about GM crops on the BBC's Today Programme - claiming an important GM breakthrough in Africa had increased crop yields by 40-50%, when the project he described had nothing at all to do with GM crops!
Now the release of correspondece between Dr Brian John and Dr Joanne Lawson of the Government Office for Science (part of the Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills - DIUS) makes it clear that King's other claim of a multi-billion pound loss to the UK economy from not adopting GM is equally vacuous, being based on no more than speculation.
EXTRACT: 'Frankly, I think that these figures (including a 100% plus or minus error!) have just been plucked out of the air -- and I do not believe them. We need much better information from Sir David if anybody is to take them seriously. He knew that they would be widely reported, and he should have actual data to back them up.' - Dr. Brian John
Nonsense figures re GM crops and 'loss' to the UK economy
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Thursday, January 03, 2008 4:49 AM
Subject: Nonsense figures re GM crops and 'loss' to the UK economy
Dear Dr Lawson
Thank you for your latest message, dated 2nd January 2008. I fear that I have never before encountered such nonsense, and if the contents of your letter do indeed represent the views of Sir David, it is just as well that he has moved on to pastures new...........
You seem to think that if the Government tells us (ie the taxpayers and consumers of this country) that a technology is good for us, it is indeed by definition good for us, and that if we subsequently display a degree of scepticism or obstructiveness we are guilty of blocking some great industrial opportunity. That is a view more suited to a fascist regime than a democratic one.
Your letter is based upon the presupposition that 'public concerns about the new technology' were misplaced, and were inadequately dealt with by the relevant authorities and by the GM industry. You seem to think that had the public been better 'educated' as to the merits of GM technology, then there would have been broad acceptance of it, and a glorious future of GM research, development and marketing would have opened up to the UK. You refer to the consequent loss of a 'competitive advantage' in the GM field.
If that is what your department, and Sir David, genuinely believe, you are all living in cloud cuckoo land. Your real problem is that the public is already far better educated as to the dangers associated with GM crops and foods than this Government is prepared to accept -- and no amount of propaganda from you and your colleagues is going to alter that. From a scientific point of view, I find it quite extraordinary that there is nothing in your letter to suggest that you are aware either of the meaning of the precautionary principle or of the vast (and rapidly accumulating) literature demonstrating both health and environmental dangers associated with GM. If nothing else, a scientist (such as Sir David) who is so utterly convinced as to the rightness of his thesis that he cannot even begin to understand the contradictory evidence placed before him by other scientists, does not deserve to be trusted by the public.
Has it ever occurred to you and your colleagues that GM crops and foods are actually harmful, that they bring no benefits to anybody other than the GM corporations and patent holders, and that the real competitive advantage in the future will lie with those nations which have NOT gone down the GM route and which have opted instead for high quality food produced in an environmentally friendly fashion?
Dr Brian John
GM Free Cymru
Dear Dr. John,
Thank you for your email of 12 December.
Sir David King's estimate of the loss to the UK economy was not based on the current market for GM crops, but was intended to reflect the potentially much larger European and global markets that he considers would have existed had public concerns about the new technology been understood and addressed.
Before hostility to GM crops developed, UK businesses and academics were in a prime position to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by GM technologies and UK companies could reasonably have expected to take a significant share of that much larger global market. This expertise, and the associated competitive advantage, has now been largely lost.
Government Office for Science
Sent: 12 December 2007 11:08
To: Lawson Joanne (Dr J) DIUS GO - Science
Subject: Sir David's figure of £2 billion - £4 billion
Dear Dr Lawson
Re Sir David's claim that 'Britain's failure to adopt GM crops had cost the economy between GBP2bn and GBP4bn' you replied to my colleague Ian Panton:
'The costs to the UK are both direct, in terms of lost revenue, and indirect, for example, through specialist researchers moving abroad. He also believes that GM technology has the potential to deliver a range of benefits over the longer term, which could include making crop production more sustainable and helping to manage the effects of climate change. The figure quoted by Sir David and reported in the press was based on data which he had derived from a number of sources, as well as the size of the global GM market.'
Frankly, I think that these figures (including a 100% plus or minus error!) have just been plucked out of the air -- and I do not believe them. We need much better information from Sir David if anybody is to take them seriously. He knew that they would be widely reported, and he should have actual data to back them up. Please can we have the full data?
'Potential' for certain types of future deliveries is immaterial here -- we can all dream up future scenarios with or without GM crops. If Sir David claims that GBP2 - 4 billion has already been lost, in terms of lost revenue and researchers moving abroad etc, I hope he has not made the simplistic error of just looking at costs and leaving out benefits. (His costs might be my benefits, and vice versa, but there you go.....) There are two sides to every equation, as he should know as a scientist............
I look forward to seeing your accurate figures.
Dr Brian John