---Top scientist was told his career was over if he dared to speak his mind about GM
Sean Poulter, Consumer Affairs Correspondent
DAILY MAIL, July 25, 2003
A SENIOR academic has revealed how he was threatened in an attempt to rig an official inquiry into GM crops and food.
Dr Andrew Stirling was warned by a leading member of the scientific establishment that his career would be ruined unless he stopped questioning the safety of so-called Frankenstein food. His research and professional standing could be undermined, the supporter of genetically-modified crops told him. He also might find it hard to fund his work.
Last night, Dr Stirling, a respected independent expert on risk assessment, said: 'This type of pressure is very corrosive and threatens to undermine the whole science advice process.
'That is why I was so concerned to get this on the public record.'
Dr Stirling was one of two experts appointed to the Government's GM Science Review Panel after recommendations from organic farming and green groups. The other - Professor Carlo Leifert of the University of Newcastle - recently resigned in protest at the influence of GM supporters on the panel.
Dr Sue Mayer, a friend of Dr Stirling, said: 'This casts a shadow over the UK scientific establishment and the way it deals with GM foods.
'This confirms the worst fears about the way the system operates.'
The handling of the threats has turned the spotlight on Tony Blair's personal scientific adviser, Professor Sir David King, who chaired the GM review panel. Professor King faces questions over whether he tried to delay publicising the allegations in an attempt to put off embarrassing media coverage.
Dr Stirling, who is based at the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex, wrote to Professor King in June, detailing his claims. The professor gave an undertaking that the letter would be attached to the minutes of the review panel when they were published.
Dr Stirling agreed to remain silent until publication.
This meant his claims of bullying were kept secret until the panel's final report was released on Monday. It controversially concluded there was no case for a blanket ban on GM crops.
The Daily Mail contacted the Science Review Secretariat, which is run by the Department of Trade and Industry, on Tuesday to ask for a copy of the minutes covering Dr Stirling's allegations. The DTI's deputy head of news, Marcus De Ville, rang back that day asking why. He said there would be a delay in supplying them.
Within hours of the Daily Mail's call, the DTI had contacted Dr Stirling to say his letter would not be published as promised. He was told the letter came close to identifying the person who had threatened him and the department's lawyers believed it could be libellous.
The minutes of the panel shed light on the threats made against Dr Stirling. These state: 'The chairman reported that Andrew Stirling had pointed out. . . the review panel . . . depended on members being able to contribute in good faith, without fears that clandestine attempts may be made to undermine their research, professional standing or funding.
'The cumulative effect of such fears might easily serve to suppress open discussion.'
The minutes give a clue to the seniority of the scientist responsible. They state: 'Ultimately, such behaviour by individuals in privileged academic or regulatory positions threatened seriously to compromise the credibility and proper functioning of the science advice system.
'The chairman added that he understood from Andrew Stirling that someone with an association with the review had not been acting in this spirit and if this was the case the chair deplored it.'
The threat did not come from anyone on the panel. Last night, Professor King said he had no idea who was behind the threat and had made no attempt to find out. He said it only became obvious on Tuesday that it would not be possible to publish Dr Stirling's letter. The delay in making a decision, he said, was because he had been busy.
DR ANDREW STIRLING: AN EXPERT in the science of risk
Dr Stirling has researched the impact of growing GM crops in the UK. The father-of-three, 42, has also carried out extensive work on the value and use of the 'precautionary principle' in decision-making.
He is a member of the Government's Advisory Committee on Toxic Substances and has sat on a number of Government and EU advisory bodies. His research has been funded by several Government departments.
Dr Stirling's background is in the natural sciences and he has previously worked as an archaeologist and a disarmament activist. In the late 1980s, he co-ordinated the nuclear and energy campaigns for Greenpeace International in Holland.
PROFESSOR DAVID KING
BORN IN South Africa in 1939, Professor King is effectively Tony Blair's personal scientific adviser. He was appointed the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government and head of the Office of Science and Technology in October 2000. He came to prominence two years ago when he was appointed by the Prime Minister to deal with the foot-and-mouth crisis.
This led to the highly controversial policy of a mass cull of livestock. Professor King worked at Imperial College, the University of East Anglia and Liverpool University before moving to Cambridge University in 1988. He headed the chemistry department from 1993-2000 and retains his position as 1920 Professor of Chemistry.
*Naive, narrow and biased...
Carlo Leifert explains why he resigned from the government's GM science review panelhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/life/opinion/story/0,12981,1004400,00.html
This article contains some interesting information about the chronology, particularly concerning the timing of the release of the information about the threats against Dr Stirling. The information was kept secret until after the panel's final report was released and it now appears that the information may only have been released when it was as a result of press enquiries.