With regard to May's claim that the FSE GM trials proved GM maize would be good for biodiversity, which Dr John refutes, even some of the researchers involved in the FSE have been willing to concede that the maize part of the trial will need redoing because a key herbicide used (atrazine) is being phased out.
Indeed, the FSE report specifically says:
"This finding gives us confidence that the findings would represent what would actually happen under large-scale growing, unless the management regimes altered somewhat, for example if... atrazine was no longer allowed on maize crops..."
See: GM test results already in doubthttp://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3197480.stm
FSE scientist Professor Geoff Squire told BBC News Online: "With atrazine, it kills so much of the wildlife because of its persistence and its toxicity. Obviously, if atrazine is withdrawn, we'll have to look at maize again."
---Subject: Lord May -- did you know that the GM maize trials were fraudulent?
Date: Wed, 26 Nov 2003 13:12:10 +0000
To: Josephine Craig
Please pass to Lord May for his personal attention
Lord Robert May
26 November 2003
Dear Lord May,
I heard your piece on the BBC Today programme yesterday, and was saddened by the manner in which the Royal Society is still intent upon promoting GM technology whenever an opportunity presents itself. It was, I fear, difficult to sort out what it was that you were trying to say, but the overall message appeared to be that since modern farming uses nasty chemicals all the time, and since GM crops also use nasty chemicals, then we might as well commercialize GM crops since they are only slightly worse than the others.
There were many things in your interview that were wide of the mark, but the thing which really upset me was your continuing attempt (1) to flag up the GM maize trials as showing that future GM maize plantings would bring benefits for wildlife. Wrong. Totally wrong, and I suspect that your scientific advisors and you probably know it. You talk about scientific objectivity, but the manner in which the GM maize trials were conducted does NOT allow any sort of positive conclusion to be drawn from them. The non-GM maize plots were sprayed for the most part with ATZ, which is now banned in Europe, and the GM maize plots were sprayed with Liberty, which is ineffective on its own for weed control and which is hardly ever used on its own on GM maize crops in the USA. The herbicide regime used in these trials does not even replicate current practice, let alone future practice.
This fact was known to DEFRA, SSC, SCIMAC and ACP before the maize trials even started, and became public knowledge when the BBC Newsnight programme and the Times newspaper exposed the scandal in June 2002.
These trials were scientifically fraudulent, and we are saddened that the Royal Society also now appears to be signed up to this fraud.
Will you now look at the evidence on this (2), and make a statement to the effect that the GM maize trial results from the FSE research programme were interesting but irrelevant for any decisions on future GM crop commercialization?
We look forward to hearing from you, or receiving a copy of any medie release which you issue.
Dr Brian John
GM Free Cymru
(1) This is what you wrote in The Guardian yesterday:
"But the results for maize demonstrated that, in principle, if farmers adopt the right strategy with herbicide-resistant GM crops, they can have a less damaging effect on farmland biodiversity than when they use existing conventional methods of controlling weeds."
With all due respect, you cannot, as a scientist, draw that conclusion from the maize trial results. Farmers are interested in yield above farmland biodiversity. Yield was not measured on the GM maize plots, and the low yields achieved would not have been acceptable commercially. The Liberty herbicide regime was devised by SCIMAC specifically to encourage wildlife and to "skew" the trials towards a result favourable to GM technology.
(2) You need look no further than Hansard, with a host of recent PQs and detailed deliberation in recent weeks by the Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee.
---More response to May
Wednesday November 26, 2003http://www.guardian.co.uk/letters/story/0,3604,1093209,00.html
Trials and tribulations
As a former agricultural researcher, I am appalled at the choice of crops for the GM field trials (GM warriors have killed the debate, November 24).
Rape and sugar beet are totally dependent on CAP price support and would not be grown without it. Weed control in these crops is an essential aid to monocultural farming. Asking for more work on herbicide tolerance is tinkering with a system which has been disastrous for biodiversity, landscape and a robust farm structure.
Give us a blight-resistant potato and we might pay serious attention to the case for GM, but supporting the herbicide industry is not on.
Robert May says that the anti-GM campaign is built on opposition to big business and that the campaign should instead be debating the results of the farm trials. There is the suggestion that the "peer-reviewed" published research is impartial and so campaigners should "change tack". Science only answers the questions that are posed.
Anti-GM campaigners are against it for a number of reasons, only one of which is concern about its effects on biodiversity. Only the naive are anti-GM because they are anti-business. However, some of us of are both anti-GM and anti-big-business.
University of Wales, Cardiff
Here's a very succinct and effective response to Lord May of the Royal Society from Dr Brian John.