The GM plot - Scientist tried to sabotage work of top academic
2.Alert on spread of GM seeds - Inquiry call over threat to scientist
1.The GM plot: Scientist tried to sabotage work of top cademic who is a sceptic
By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor
The Independent, 26 July 2003
Secret moves were made by a senior pro-GM scientist to sabotage the career of another academic who was sceptical about GM crops and food, it was alleged yesterday.
The pro-GM scientist tried to get the sceptic, Andrew Stirling from Sussex University, dropped from a research project by approaching the project's funders and rubbishing Dr Stirling's work. He failed, and Dr Stirling was later informed of the approach.
The source of the allegation was remarkable. It came from the website of the government's official GM science review, in minutes endorsed by the review chairman and the Government's chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir David King.
The accusation is one of the most serious in the past five years of bitter public and scientific disputes about genetically modified organisms. It has sometimesbeen suggested that pressure has been brought to bear on GM sceptics to moderate their views, by senior GM-supporting scientists.
The fact that Sir David takes the new allegation seriously gives it added force. Dr Stirling, 42, an expert on risk assessment at Sussex's science policy research unit, is a member of the GM science review panel. The panel published a report earlier this week which concluded that GM foods posed little isk to human health but warned that GM crops posed potentially serious risks for wildlife.
Dr Stirling was appointed on the recommendation of environmental and organic-farming pressure groups. The panel of 24 scientists and policy advisers includes members from both sides of the debate and others who could be described as neutrals. Their report, however, was unanimous.
The name of the man who allegedly attempted to damage Dr Stirling's career has not been made public - although it is known that he is not a member of the review panel - and yesterday Dr Stirling refused to disclose it.
But he did say the person concerned, who had not approached or threatened him directly, had made a clandestine approach to a "senior official of a major research-funding body".
He told The Independent: "It was an approach in which my research was disparaged in strong terms and my professional standing was undermined. And this was because of the sceptical position I was taking on the science review panel."
When he learnt of the approach, he thought it should be made public and accordingly informed Sir David before the panel's last meeting on 24 June. Sir David then informed the other panel members during the meeting.
Dr Stirling said: "This type of thing threatens to undermine the whole science advice process, and I hope that the public attention may help deter this type of pressure in future. As far as I am concerned, this particular attempt to exercise pressure has failed. It has been dealt with in the right way and it is time to move on."
But the sober language of the minutes published yesterday only serves to reinforce the dramatic nature of the allegation.
The minutes state that the panel "depended fundamentally for its success on members being able to contribute in good faith, without fears that clandestine attempts may be made to undermine their research, their professional standing or their funding.
"The cumulative effect of such fears might easily serve to suppress open discussion, reasoned argument and substantive criticism of the kind whose importance the chairman had many times emphasised. 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 panel strongly endorsed this.
"The chairman added that he understood from Dr Stirling that someone with an association with the Science Review had not been acting in this spirit and that if this was the case the chair deplored it. The panel concurred."
The minutes give several clues as to the person at the centre of the allegation, suggesting the person is in a "privileged academic or regulatory position" and has an "association" with the GM science review.
This implies a senior pro-GM scientist, perhaps involved in regulation of GM crops and foods.
Dr Stirling sent a letter to Sir David in which he gave further details of the incident and its alleged perpetrator, although not naming him.
It was thought that the letter would be published alongside the minutes but it was omitted on the advice of government lawyers.
Sir David said last night: "I strongly abhor any attempt, which may have been made to undermine Dr Andrew Stirling's professional standing.
"Together with others, Dr Stirling made an important contribution to the work of the panel, not least in the structured way in which we addressed the issues.
"He ensured that each issue was carefully and methodically considered. I have the highest respect for him, and indeed have expressed this to him on several occasions before he raised this issue with me.
"The panel's deliberations were based on scientific evidence. No single individual or view was allowed to exert undue influence, or was ignored. "Conclusions were reached by valid scientific argument and an evidence-based approach, properly accounting for uncertainties and gaps in knowledge.
"This produced an honest and unbiased report whose findings should be judged on their merits."
2.Alert on spread of GM seeds
Inquiry call over threat to government scientist
Paul Brown, environment correspondent
The Guardian , Saturday July 26, 2003
Farmers who have grown genetically modified oil-seed rape on their land as part of the government's trials have been warned not to grow conventional oil-seed on the same land this autumn for fear of contaminating it.
The Department of Environment issued the warning yesterday to prevent farmers growing crops that might become unsaleable in Britain because they contained too much GM material.
In a statement the department said research showed that seeds persisted in the soil in greater quantities than previously thought.
The environment minister, Elliot Morley, said: "There is concern that seeds remaining in the ground from the GM trial will germinate and that the harvested crop might exceed the new EU thresholds on GM-free crops."
Pete Riley, of Friends of the Earth, said: "This is further proof of the damage that GM crops can cause, and another reason why the government must not allow them to be commercially grown in the UK."
Meanwhile the Soil Association has written to the prime minister asking for an investigation into who threatened a member of the government's review panel into GM crops.
Andrew Stirling, an expert in science and risk, complained about being threatened with losing his research budget and professional standing if he was critical of the technology.
He made a formal complaint to Sir David King, the government's chief scientist, who is chairman of the review panel. Sir David made the threat public, describing it as deplorable.
The letter that Dr Stirling wrote to complain about the threats was due to be published along with the minutes of a committee meeting, recording its disquiet at the attempt to suppress academic freedom.
But the Department of Trade and Industry vetoed this claiming the letter came too close to identifying the person who made the threat and that it may attract a libel action. Dr Stirling made it clear that the threat was not made by a member of the science review team.
Dr Stirling, who works at the science policy research unit at Sussex University, has refused to name the person who made the threat and was "on holiday" yesterday but is known to have insisted that the undue pressure on him should be made public. His colleagues on the committee agreed.
The minutes of the last meeting report Sir David as saying that the committee "depended fundamentally for its success on members being able to contribute in good faith, without fears that clandestine attempts may be made to undermine their research, their professional standing or their funding.
"The cumulative effect of such fears might easily serve to suppress open discussion, reasoned argument and substantive criticism. 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 panel strongly endorsed this."
The panel made its review of scientific research into GM crops public last Monday without any mention of the threat to Dr Stirling. It was revealed that another member of the committee, Professor Carlo Leifert, an organic farming expert, had resigned but no reason was given.