EXTRACT: This is actually guess work and personal prejudice being pushed by a pro-GM campaign group, the Science Media Centre. I have absolutely no objection to people campaigning for GM crops, just as I campaign against them. What is both dishonest and dishonourable is scientists and journalists who pretend to be presenting scientific findings when they are simply pushing personal opinions, or worse, opinions shaped by financial and institutional interests which they do not disclose.
Bill McKelvey's assumptions about the future of farming are not science but opinion shaped by institutional interests
The Guardian (Comment is free), April 19 2007 http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/peter_melchett/2007/04/farming_for_the_future.html
Professor Bill McKelvey, the director of the Scottish Agricultural College, has disclosed new scientific findings which show that Britain must further intensify farming practices in order to feed the UK population. The professor has discovered that food prices will soar in the future, GM crops are going to be required to provide enough food, industrial turkey farming, as practised by Bernard Matthews, has been criticised unfairly, and that food shortages are possible in the UK in the next 25-50 years. Europe will have to use GM crops.
These would all be fascinating and, to some of us, surprising new scientific findings but this isn't science. This is actually guess work and personal prejudice being pushed by a pro-GM campaign group, the Science Media Centre. I have absolutely no objection to people campaigning for GM crops, just as I campaign against them. What is both dishonest and dishonourable is scientists and journalists who pretend to be presenting scientific findings when they are simply pushing personal opinions, or worse, opinions shaped by financial and institutional interests which they do not disclose.
The London briefing given by Professor McKelvey yesterday was organised by the Science Media Centre, which is run by Fiona Fox. In the past, Fiona Fox was linked to the Living Marxism network. Martin Durkin, another Living Marxism disciple, made the Channel 4 programme on global warming, The Great Global Warming Swindle, which presented scientific information and the views of scientists in misleading and completely inaccurate ways, to try and disprove the accepted view of human-induced climate change.
Another Scottish professor, Professor David Miller of Strathclyde University, described the Science Media Centre as being "not as independent as it appears". It pushes views "largely in line with government scientific policy". The Centre receives 70% of its funding from business, and is funded by companies with GM interests like Dupont and Astra Zeneca. Professor Miller points out that the Science Media Centre has had to have the "ac.uk" removed from its email address because of its corporate funding. The Science Media Centre has never provided any scientists who are sceptical of GM with a platform. It hosts pro-GM campaigning events, such as the launch of the Agriculture Biotechnology Commission set up by the GM industry. The centre regularly press releases the views of scientists who are part of industry-funded lobby groups as if they were independent university scientists rather than company employees or GM industry funded.
That is exactly what it did in hosting Professor McKelvey's musings on the future of farming. Professor McKelvey has a long history of supporting GM crops. The case he makes rests on a number of political rather than scientific assumptions. For example, he assumes a continuing spread of highly unhealthy, meat and fat rich diets across the globe, something few scientists believe is sustainable in either environmental or human health terms. Bill McKelvey also assumes that we will see a rapid expansion of crops grown for biofuel, despite the fact that huge areas of land are needed to produce these fuels, for almost no environmental gain. The OECD reckons that 72% of the EU's arable land would be needed to provide just 10% of the fuel used in the EU. If we allocated a fifth of Europe's arable land to biofuels, we'd cut greenhouse gas emissions from European transport by just 1-2%.
These assumptions, and the predictions which are based on them, are perfectly valid personal opinions for someone who believes in a future dominated by GM crops and pesticide dependent agriculture, but they are nothing to do with science. My own assumptions about the future are that the human diet must change to a more environmentally friendly and healthy one, relying more on pulses and grains and less on meat. I assume that we will be able to feed the world, even with a rising world population over the next 50 years, but that we will have to do it with farming systems that rely on renewable energy from the sun for fertility, not on oil and gas based artificial fertilizer. I am happy to make these assumptions clear, and to say clearly what my interests are as an organic farmer and someone who works for an organisation dedicated to organic food and climate-friendly food and farming. All I ask is that journalists make sure that those with opposing views are equally clear about their interests, affiliations and funding.