This is the second bite of the cherry for what the Observer's pro-GM science correspondent, Robin McKie, terms in the article below 'Britain's most respected scientific ethics group'.
However, the last Nuffield report on GM was described by George Monbiot, writing in The Guardian, as 'perhaps the most asinine report on biotechnology ever written. The stain it leaves on the Nuffield Council's excellent reputation will last for years.'
That May 1999 report claimed there was a moral imperative to make GM crops available to developing countries - exactly the claim apparently to be made in the new report. Unsurprisingly perhaps, as the new report has essentially been drawn up by exactly the same people who drove the first report.
Though the panel that drew up the original report was presented as 'a group of independent scientists', this does not bear examination. In fact, it is the least independent-minded members of the original group that have been brought together to form the small working group that has produced the Son of Nuffield.
Both panels included:
Mike Gale FRS: biotechnologist and former acting director of the John Innes Centre (JIC), which at the time of the original report was negotiating a deal with biotech giants Zeneca (later part of Syngenta) and DuPont promising some GBP60-70m in investment. Gale has said of the impact of a GM moratorium, 'It would be very, very serious for us.' Now Syngenta has pulled the plug on its JIC investment so it is particularly timely that the new report "will urge Ministers this week to pledge millions of pounds to help develop GM crops for poor countries". In fact, the JIC sees this as such a good idea that it is running a campaign with the controversial lobby group Sense About Science (SAS) to support the idea of much bigger public investment in GM. And it is prepared to put its money whewre its mouth is - SAS thank both the JIC and the John Innes Foundation for their financial support.
Derek Burke: former vice chancellor of the University of East Anglia (UEA), and former chair of the governing council of the JIC (see above), both of which have benefited from biotech industry funding. Burke was chairman for nearly a decade (1988-97) of the Advisory Committee for Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP), the regulatory body which approved the UK's first GM foods. He has worked for biotechnology companies and describes himself as a pro-GM campaigner.
Michael Lipton: development economist at the Poverty Research Unit, University of Sussex. Lipton is a strong supporter of GM and of genetically modified 'golden rice'. He warns that it is threatened by 'a great anti-scientific wave' and that NGOs which oppose it should have their charitable status brought into question. He doesnt appear to consider the large amount of money being invested in 'golden rice' could better be spent on the cheap and effective approaches already available, nor that those likely to be most directly affected by this technology should be centrally involved in decision making about it.
For more on Nuffield and those involved in its reports:
For more on all of those mentioned see our directory:
Britain 'has moral duty to fund GM research'
Robin McKie, science editor
Sunday December 28, 2003
Britain's most respected scientific ethics group will urge Ministers this week to pledge millions of pounds to help develop GM crops for poor countries.
In a report on 'The Use of Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries', the Nuffield Council on Bioethics says Britain is ignoring a moral imperative to promote GM foods suitable for tropical and sub-tropical nations.
GM varieties of rice, bananas, sweet potatoes and soybean, the report says, could save these countries' crumbling economies. However, their benefits are not being investigated by Western agricultural companies.
'Most GM crops have been developed by companies to suit the needs of large-scale farmers in developed countries,' says the report, which is to be released tomorrow. 'Only a limited number - a few varieties of cotton and maize - are currently suitable for developing countries.'
Action is desperately needed, says the report. The Government, through the Department for International Development, and the European Commission should therefore fund 'a major expansion of public GM-related research into tropical and sub-tropical staple foods'.
Such foods could provide lifelines for small farms whose survival offers 'the best means of achieving a substantial reduction of food insecurity and poverty' in the developing world.
The authors analysed a range of GM crops already used in the developing world and concluded that these offer major benefits. For example, many varieties of cotton have been modified by Chinese scientists to produce pesticides in their roots. Last year half of all cotton grown in China was modified this way. As a result, there has been a reduction by as much as 50kg per hectare in pesticide use, a 10 per cent increase in yields, and a reduction in the numbers of farmers being poisoned by their own pesticide sprays.
The report dismisses the alleged ecological dangers of GM crops. There is not enough evidence to support the claim that they threaten 'actual or potential harm', it says. Instead, it criticises European nations for their obsession with pinpointing tiny traces of GM crops in our food chain.
Tough new EU import and labelling restrictions, introduced in the wake of anti-GM campaigns, are merely likely to cripple farming in the developing world, it says.
Not only would these countries find their GM crop exports blocked but their non-GM produce could also be rendered unsaleable. Small amounts of GM produce are likely to be mixed with non-GM produce during storage because these nations do not have the infrastructure to keep them separate, states the report, whose authors include Professor Michael Lipton of the Poverty Research Unit at Sussex University.
The Nuffield scientists also strongly criticise anti-GM campaigners who claim modified plants should not be developed because they pose a slight risk to human health. Such a view is impractical and harmful, they say.
Food security and environmental conditions are deteriorating across the developing countries, the report says. The world cannot afford to wait for years to be sure GM crops are safe. Millions are likely to go hungry. It is a fallacy to think the policy of doing nothing is itself without risk.
'We are not saying GM technology will save the world on its own,' added Sandy Thomas, director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. 'Measures to limit the effects of climate change and war are probably going to be more important. However, modified crops clearly have a key role to play. We have to judge each plant's use on an individual basis, of course, but it is clear this technology has an awful lot to offer.'
* 'The Use of Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries' will be available at www.nuffieldbioethics.org