Blair urged to identify Government scientific advisor who threatened anti-GM scientist
25 JULY 2003
Soil Association director Patrick Holden today wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to launch a formal investigation into the threats made against Dr Andrew Stirling of Sussex University, a member of the Government's Science Review Panel on GM Crops.
Patrick Holden said: "The minutes of the Government's GM Science Review Panel reveal that a scientist advising the Government on GM - who is an individual in a privileged academic or regulatory position - took steps to flatten Dr Stirling's livelihood and academic career because they disagreed with his scepticism about GM crops. It is completely unacceptable that the Government has as yet taken no steps to identify the scientist guilty of this outrageous behaviour."
The Soil Association has formally asked the Prime Minister to launch an investigation to identify the scientist concerned, to ensure that they are removed from any regulatory position that they may hold, and that they are never again asked to give the Government advice about GM issues.
Patrick Holden continued: "This appalling incident throws into doubt the integrity of the Science Review Panel's report, which was already in question after resignation from the Panel of Professor Carlo Leifert (of Newcastle University) because of his concerns about the Panel's pro-GM bias. None of this helps advance the pro-GM case, and the main loser is the integrity of British Science."
Notes to editors:
1) Out of the 25 scientists on the Science ReviewPanel, only 2 were nominated by groups sceptical about or opposed to GM crops.
2) A copy of the letter to the Prime Minister is attached below
25 July 2003
The Rt. Hon Tony Blair MP
10 Downing Street
Dear Prime Minister
I am writing to you about the threats made against Dr Andrew Stirling of Sussex University while serving as a member of your Science Review Panel on GM Crops.
As you will know, the minutes of the last meeting of the Panel made clear that an eminent scientist and possibly someone already involved in the regulatory process made a deliberate attempt to undermine Dr Stirling's reputation and future funding.
I understand from press reports that, to my astonishment, the Government has yet to take any steps to identify the person responsible for this indefensible behaviour. You will be well aware of the extent of the damage that this has done to the reputation of all scientists involved in regulation of GM crops on behalf of the Government. Indeed, this will cast a doubt over the integrity of every individual scientist involved in GM regulation in the UK, until the individual concerned has been identified publicly and asked to resign from any official positions that they hold.
Out of the 25 scientists on the Panel, only 2 were nominated by groups sceptical about or opposed to GM crops. Unlike the GM Public Debate, your own Strategy Unit's investigations into the economics of GM crops, and your Agricultural and Environmental Biotechnology Commission (AEBC), the Science Review Panel was established with an overwhelming pro-GM bias in its membership. The contrast with the AEBC and the Independent Steering Group overseeing the Public Debate could not be greater.
I believe the behaviour of eminent pro-GM scientists, who have campaigned for GM crops and vilified scientists who dared to express views that contradicted the current pro-GM scientific orthodoxy, has further damaged the already poor reputation of scientists working for the Government and industry. This risks completely undermining the role of science in public affairs. I believe it is imperative that you act now to identify and dismiss from any official position they hold, the scientist who behaved in a way which I hope you will agree is both unacceptable and unethical.
Director, Soil Association