2 December 2002
LETTER FROM PROFESSOR DAVID KING ON GM SCIENCE REVIEW/DEBATE FAILS TO SATISFY
Below is a letter from the UK Government's Chief Scientific Advisor soliciting contributions to the Government's GM science review. Prof King says, "I want the key source for this work to be contributions from the scientific community" but we've already heard from a scientist who says they will be boycotting the review, unless someone can give them a good reason not to, as it appears a complete sham with a timetable, format and panel that are rigged so as to avoid proper consideration, or open debate, of the real scientific evidence - yet again!
Are people right to be so sceptical? According to Sir John Krebs FRS in a report for the Royal Society they probably are:
'Disagreeing with a scientific estimate of risk is not necessarily irrational: the evidence on the analysis may be incomplete, the scientist may have a vested interest in selecting particular bits of evidence, or there may be more than one particular interpretation of the facts. Interestingly, surveys show that within the European Union, people in those countries with the best understanding of how science works, also tend to be the most sceptical about the ability of science to resolve everyday problems' (Krebs and Kacelnik 1997)
For more on the Government's GM Science Review:
1. GM SCIENCE REVIEW: INVITATION TO PARTICIPATE
2. Debate on GM crops fails to satisfy opponents
1. GM Science Review: Background
Invitation to contribute - text of letter from Professor David King
29 November 2002
GM SCIENCE REVIEW: INVITATION TO PARTICIPATE
Genetic modification raises issues of significant public interest, and earlier in the year the Government in the UK announced that it would promote a public debate on these issues against the background of the possible commercial production of GM crops in the UK.
One of the three components of this debate is a review of the science of GM 1. In my capacity of chief scientific adviser to HM Government, I have accepted the role of leading this open review, together with Professor Dalton, the chief scientific adviser to DEFRA 2, with independent advice from the Food Standards Agency.
The GM science issues that interest and concern the public, and the scientific community, must drive the science review. So, whilst the work will focus on GM crops, I do not wish to constrain consideration of relevant issues, if they are of significant interest to the UK public.
The aim of the review is to air the scientific issues and for a panel, which I will chair, to summarise the current state of scientific knowledge, identifying the consensus, what the uncertainties are, how these might be reduced, and where there are gaps in knowledge, so as to inform both Government and the public. I want the key source for this work to be contributions from the scientific community. I want you to ask the questions, present your evidence-based views and provide answers wherever possible. This review presents the scientific community with a challenge and I want to stimulate a response from you.
As well as tapping into familiar expertise, I want to reach out to the wider scientific community and tap into fresh sources of knowledge that might offer new perspectives on the GM issues. Many issues are broader than GM. For example, studies on plants on the relationship between cross pollination frequency and distance pre-date the arrival of genetically modified crops, yet now have a peculiarly important bearing on how different forms of agriculture (conventional, GM and organic) might co-exist in future.
And what can science say about public concern over possible unanticipated long term effects of GM?
I urge you to visit the dedicated website [www.gmsciencedebate.org.uk] which provides further information on how you might contribute. The website also provides the principal medium by which we want to communicate on this science and look at the evidence. Science of course, has no geographical boundaries so please don't feel inhibited simply because you live or work outside the UK. Of course we want and need the views of experienced scientists. But I also want to hear what young, bright scientific minds have to say.
Contributions do not need to be peer-reviewed but should address the science. They should be reasonably argued and be evidence-based - either directly or by reference to identified and publicly available material.
There has been a great deal of discussion recently about the need for the scientific world to engage positively with the wider public, so that the public can appreciate what science can do for them - and what its limitations are, and so that scientists in turn can appreciate the interests and wishes of the society in which we do our work.
I believe this will be an exciting venture that responds to this need and expands understanding of GM issues. It should enable us to take a really comprehensive and open look at the science relevant to GM - but only if the science community is willing to take part.
Please give it serious thought. I look forward to reading your contribution.
Professor David King
1 The other strands are a public debate and economics study. The public debate is an innovative programme, with the issues for the debate being framed by the public. It is being run by an independent steering board at arms length from the government. The economics study, being carried out by the Prime Ministers Strategy Unit will analyse the nature and distribution of costs and benefits for the UK commercialisation of GM crops.
2 DEFRA - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
2. Debate on GM crops fails to satisfy opponents
Nov 30 2002
By The Journal
Controversy over genetically modified crops and food was debated at a series of open meetings across the United Kingdom yesterday as well as on the Internet.
Scientists and members of the public took part and a website was set up for the GM Science Review.
An independent scientific panel, chaired by Professor David King, the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, will review the extent of current scientific knowledge, the consensus and uncertainty.
The panel, which includes leading scientists and lay members, will publish a final report next summer, which will aim to explain the outcome of the science review in understandable terms.
The scientific review is one of three parallel strands of the GM debate. The others are the public debate and the study of economic costs and benefits.
The scientific topics include GM food safety; gene flow and detection; environmental impacts of GM crops; future developments and the regulatory process.
Prof King said: "We are conducting an open and transparent review of the science.
"We anticipate a wide range of opinions will be expressed by a wide range of scientists from around the world."
But Friends of the Earth GM campaigner Pete Riley said: "The Government's public debate on GM issues is descending into farce. The Government told the public that the farm scale trials would provide important information on the safety of GM crops but the Government's ludicrously short timetable for completing the scientific review means that those results will now be excluded.
"Many people already think that the GM debate is simply a PR exercise."
Greenpeace chief scientist Dr Doug Parr said: "The opening statements announcing the formation of the Science Review Panel are unimpressive.
"They give little hope that a robust or impartial analysis of the science of GM, flowing from the concerns of the public, is likely. It already looks like spinning of pro-GM propaganda."
Liberal Democrat food and rural affairs spokesman Andrew George said: "This exercise will be counter-productive. The public need more information on GM crops. To make an informed decision, people must know all the results including fields scale trials. The Government is in danger of putting the cart before the horse."
"By focusing on the detailed scientific and technical issues, much of the debate over GM food is missing the real point. The deep-seated causes of this and previous controversies are the political and ethical difficulties of handling the uncertain effects of new technologies. Over many years, governments have mishandled such issues because they and their advisors have misunderstood or denied the character of the problems."