6 March 2003
UK FOOD WATCHDOG FAVOURS BIOTECH
*LOBBY GROUPS SAY UK FOOD WATCHDOG FAVOURS BIOTECH
*TRANSCRIPT of Today programme on Krebs and FSA
If anyone was in any doubt about Sir John Krebs, yesterday's interview on the TODAY programme clearly exposes the man for what he is.
He told TODAY: "Of course disagreement and strong views are (indistinct) essential to a debate but what I find very disappointing and perhaps somewhat ironical is that there are those who would like to suppress views, censor views with which they disagree. If you look at our website you'll find that we not only put out our views but we cross refer to all those who hold different views, the Soil Association, Greenpeace etc."
But the FSA only put those links on its website in the previous 24 hrs, ie after it knew that Sir John would be appearing on the TODAY programme.
This is not the only example of deceit as this exchange shows:
JN: Well why not participate in the Government's debate on GM?
JK: Well we are participating but the whole point of creating the Food Standards Agency was to have an independent voice within Government, not led by Ministers...
But the public debate, although sponsored by government, is being organised by the AEBC and an independent steering board precisely to stop it being led by Ministers, so how come Sir John is so keen to operate independently of that steering board?
His claim that the FSA will have a different focus and is seeking the views of marginalised groups is also disingenuous as the debate is broad and an effort has been made from the beginning to draw in less commonly articulated views.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Chairman of the Food Standards Agency is pursuing an agenda, promoted via spin and deceit, that wouldn't bear the scrutiny of the an independent body.
LOBBY GROUPS SAY UK FOOD WATCHDOG FAVOURS BIOTECH
March 5, 2003
Reuters [via Agnet]
LONDON - Several UK green organisations, joined by the powerful Women's Institute and a major trade union, were cited as accusing Britain's Food Standards Agency on Wednesday of bias in favour of genetically modified (GM) food, saying in a statement that, "There is a strong consensus amongst consumer and environment organisations that the published views and statements of the FSA and its Chair (Sir John Krebs) are indistinguishable from those of the pro-GM lobby "
The letter said the FSA was willing "to rely on unpublished or confidential corporate data that is neither independent, nor peer reviewed or available to the public."
The agency, which advises consumers and the government, rejected the allegations and said it was neither for nor against GM crops. It accused the lobby groups of censorship.
Apart from the Women's Institute -- the largest women's organisation in Britain whose members include many housewives -- the letter came from the public service trade union Unison, organic farming body the Soil Association and environmentalist groups including Greenpeace.
Programme(s) The Today Programme Radio 4
Date & time Wednesday 5th March 2003 0751
Subject / interviewee Food Standards Agency and the GM debate - Guy Collis, Peter Melchett & Sir John Krebs
Prepared by: Sarah Mouncey
Contact numbers: 020 7276 1080 - Pager 07659 137 572 - 24hrs, every day
James Naughtie: The Food Standards Agency's (indistinct) accused of prejudice in favour of genetic modification and the critics say that its bias is undermining the public's confidence in the Agency's role, it's supposed to be after all the champion of the consumer. Now this allegation comes from eight organisations. They include the Soil Association representing organic farmers and so on, UNISON, the National Federation of Women's Institutes. The gang of eight have written to the FSA's board of management and our Science Correspondent Tom Fielden's got the letter. Now Tom what are they saying?
Tom Fielden: Well it is pretty strong stuff actually. I mean the letter basically claims that the position of the Food Standards Agency is indistinguishable from that of the biotech industry that is promoting and, and looking to make money from, from GM crops. It's failing to properly represent public health and consumer interests and far from remaining neutral or impartial it says the Agency's highly prejudiced and that this bias greatly undermines its credibility. And I think it's, it's worth noting here that this is not the usual suspects if you like, it's not just Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, the signatories also, as you say, include the WI and UNISON, Britain's biggest union. And I spoke to their Policy Director Guy Collis, who's particularly concerned that the Agency has chosen not to take part in this public debate on GM crops we're going to be having this summer but to hold its own alternative debate.
Guy Collis (Policy Director, UNISON): We are concerned that a, a genuinely independent debate process takes place and the public perception of the FSA as being pro-GM is likely to compromise the credibility of the process. What we want is something that the public and UNISON members can have faith in and that's what we fear is under threat here.
JN: Well that's the UNISON view. Now Tom of course we've had some of these criticisms before, I mean this, it's very strong stuff but it's not entirely new is it?
TF: No there's been a long standing feud, if you like, between the Food Standards Agency and many environmentalists and environmental groups who in a sense I think feel that the Agency has, has let them and let consumers down. Now that sort of came to a head at the end of last year when Sir John Krebs, who we'll hear from in a moment, refused to endorse organic food and that was despite a Government campaign to try and promote it and obviously the row seems to have flared up again over genetic modification now. And interestingly in the letter it points out that they're, they're writing to the FSA board and that the board has already felt it necessary to caution officials over appearing to be too GM, to pro-GM. Peter Melchett is the Soil Association's Policy Director.
Peter Melchett (Policy Director, Soil Association): The board have gone
out of their way to say it's important that the Food Standards Agency doesn't represent industry. They haven't said and by the way they mustn't represent Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth or the Soil Association, so there's obviously some concern in the board. I think absolutely rightly and the Food Standards Agency is not seen as neutral in this debate, it's seen as partial on the pro-GM side, indeed leading the pro-GM campaign to get these crops and this food accepted in this country after consumers rejected it.
JN: Peter Melchett. Tom Fielden thanks very much and as you indicated we're joined now by the Chairman of the FSA, Sir John Krebs. Sir John, good morning.
Sir John Krebs (Chairman, Food Standards Agency): Good morning.
JN: Now what do you (indistinct) make about this; I mean it's a pretty straightforward accusation really?
JK: I think the notion that the Food Standards Agency's pro-GM is complete rubbish. We are neither pro nor anti. The board of the Agency, appointed from the general public to look after the interests of consumers is pro rigorous assessment of the safety of GM foods, and we've looked at that issue very carefully, and we're pro consumer choice. The difficulty with this debate is that people disagree and some people hold very strong views. Of course disagreement and strong views are (indistinct) essential to a debate but what I find very disappointing and perhaps somewhat ironical is that there are those who would like to suppress views, sensor views with which they disagree. If you look at our website you'll find that we not only put out our views but we cross refer to all those who hold different views, the Soil Association, Greenpeace etc. We think an open, lively, vigorous debate is the way to get to the bottom of these issues.
JN: Well why not participate in the Government's debate on GM?
JK: Well we are participating but the whole point of creating the Food Standards Agency was to have an independent voice within Government, not led by Ministers but (indistinct) led by a board which looks after the interests of consumers and that's why the board, which I Chair, decided to add value to the Government debate by asking a slightly different question, what's people's attitude towards GM food as opposed to the issue of cultivation of GM crops, and particularly important to listen to different views. Our work is all about listening to the views of young people and low income consumers.
JN: One of the difficulties here is about the science, it's sometimes said well look let science sort this out, the trouble is that different sorts of scientists have different sorts of attitudes to GM don't they? I mean you might get someone who's interested in the science of the environment, balanced environment, who'll say look this is bad. Another scientist who's perhaps interested in simply, you know, growing safe food to feed the world will say, no GM is good. I mean the science in a way can't sort out the, sort of, cultural problem can it?
JK: I absolutely agree and I agree with you that there are those two issues, the safety of food and the safety of the environment and the FSA's responsibility is the safety of food but I quite agree this is a debate which goes beyond science. Science can provide a factual basis, a platform of knowledge but ultimately this is a debate about the values that society wants.
JN: And in that respect do you have to make a decision about those values or do you simply give us the equipment with which to make our own decisions, that's the key point and in a sense that's what they're addressing isn't it?
JK: Yes, our aim is to listen to the views of members of the public, not the familiar views of the, entrenched views of the, the, the well worn path of those who always talk about this but particularly to listen to the views of young people, that's why we're sponsoring the schools' debate in Durham later this month, and the views of low income consumers who don't normally have a voice in this debate. But it is about understanding what the (indistinct) society is and what people actually want.
JN: Sir John Krebs of the FSA thanks very much.
JK: Thank you.End