2.Scientists want top security for GM crop tests
EXTRACT: Professor Atkinson is due to meet with the environment minister Phil Woolas in early September and will ask him to consider making changes to the current legislation. (item 1)
GM WATCH COMMENT: We understand that Prof Atkinson apeared on BBC Radio 4's Farming Today this morning comparing GM crop pullers to Nazi book burners!
Nazi book burners, of course, had not just the power of the Nazi Party behind them, but the power of the state. GM crop pulling, by contrast, is occuring in a context of extreme democratic deficit. New Labour have determinedly ignored public feeling on this matter throughout and even the results of its own official Public Debate.
It's no wonder that whenever GM crop pullers have been subjected to trial by jury, they have been wholly acquitted. In the case of the Lyng crop pullers, the jury even waited behind outside the court after the end of the trial to have the chance of congratulating the protesters.
And nothing could underline democratic deficit more clearly than the ready access pro-GM lobbyists have always enjoyed to the Government. As the extract (above) from the BBC piece (below) reveals, Prof Atkinson is due to have a meeting with environment minister Phil Woolas in early September, ie during the parliamentary recess! Woolas, of course, notoriously met with the biotech industry lobby group - the Agricultural Biotechnology Council - just before recently declaring the Government's renewed support for GM.
It's also worth putting Prof Atkinson's views in a historical context. Nobody should believe that he's come to the views he's currently projecting in the media - with the expert help, of course, of the Science Media Centre - simply as a result of the digging up of his recent GM potato trial.
In comments Atkinson submitted to the Government some six years ago - in the context of an economic costs and benefits analysis on GM being run at the time by the Cabinet Office, Atkinson complained not just about crop pulling but even about entirely conventional campaigns of protest and about the giving of information - deemed "misinformation" by Prof Atkinson - to the public, the supermarkets and even to governments.
"NGOs and INGOs have been allowed to use misinformation and scientifically unsound information to scare the general public and build unjustified outrage."
"There has been a political failure to ensure that misinformation of activists used to create outrage is
removed from the debate and not perpetuated by the media."
"[There's been a] failure to prevent activists from targeting supermarkets to force them from stocking GM products."
"Those who misinform developing world governments or people (examples could be
provided) are actually being anti-poor by forcing their dogmas upon them."
There is even the suggestion that within developing countries it may be too "complex" to allow people an informed choice:
"The issue of informed choice is practically complex when illiterate people and informal markets are considered."
Prof. Atkinson's comments raise very serious questions - not least, in the light of his book- burning remark - as to who is really seeking to act as censor.
1.GM crop trials 'should be secret'
By Pallab Ghosh
BBC News, 28 July 2008
Senior researchers have called for the location of small open-air trials of GM crops to be kept secret.
The researchers say that vandalism of GM crop trials is holding back research in the area.
Current legislation requires the exact location of GM crop trials to be publicly available.
But according to those engaged in active research, that information is invariably used by anti-GM protesters to disrupt experiments.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which licenses open air trials commented: "EU legislation says that we must disclose GM trial locations to the public.
"We are awating a European Court of Justice ruling, likely later this year, on a French legal case that should clarify how the EU law in this area can be interpreted by Member States."
Professor Howard Atkinson began a trial of GM potatoes earlier this year which he hoped would be resistant to disease.
The crops were pulled up three weeks after they were planted. Professor Atkinson is due to meet with the environment minister Phil Woolas in early September and will ask him to consider making changes to the current legislation.
"We should follow the same approach as that followed in Canada for very small scale trials of say 400 plants or so - where the risks are looked at by a panel but the location of those sites is not revealed," Professor Atkinson explained.
"The other possibility is to identify some national testing centre or centres where such trials could be run securely without the risk of zealots destroying them".
Professor Atkinson said that open air trials were necessary to develop crops that could not only help farmers in the UK - but also help increase food production in Africa.
The disruption of trials, he said, has already led to companies moving away from the UK and academic research in the area has begun to decline.
"Academically, there has been a reduction in the attempt to do work of this type - they've found other problems to look at - but these are not generating practical benefits immediately and certainly not facing up to the big issue of food security in Africa," he said.
"As far as companies are concerned, they can do this sort of work elsewhere"
Jim Dunwell of Reading University and a member of ACRE, the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment, said there had been a sharp drop in the number of GM crop trials in Britain over the last few years with just one application for this year, down from about 20 to 30 per year in the late 1990s.
Wayne Powell, who is the director of the National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge, was engaged in a trial of a crop that had the potential to benefit banana growers in Uganda. It was disrupted by protesters last year.
As a result, he said: "We now have 24-hour security, we have fences around materials."
However, anti-GM campaigners, such as Claire Oxborough of Friends of the Earth, believe that the trials should be stopped altogether.
She commented: "Friends of the Earth would have deep concerns about making them secret because of the potential risks that they pose.
"They are at the very early stages of development - we don't know the impact they'll have on the environment and on health and very often these trials are not set up to look at that."
She added: "What you don't want to do is get into a situation where in rural communities you have an air of distrust - rumours, speculation going on because no one knows what their neighbours might be growing.
"We need transparency - we need to know where these field trials are taking place so that farmers and the public can be adequately protected."
2.Scientists want top security for GM crop tests
The Guardian, 29 July 2008
Trials of genetically modified crops should be conducted within a national high-security facility or in fields at secret locations across the country to prevent them from being attacked and destroyed by anti-GM activists, scientists said yesterday.
Researchers spoke out after protesters ripped up crops in one of only two GM trials to be approved in Britain this year, and ahead of a meeting with government ministers, which has been called to discuss ways of providing better protection for crop trials in future.
Scientists claim the repeated attacks on their trials are stifling vital research to evaluate whether GM crops can reduce the cost and environmental impact of farming, and whether GM variants will grow better in harsh environments where droughts have devastated harvests.
Since 2000 almost all of the 54 GM crop trials attempted in Britain have been attacked to some extent.
In a meeting planned for early September environment ministers will be asked to consider establishing a secure GM crop facility at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (Niab) in Cambridge, where the last remaining GM crop trial - of a blight-resistant potato developed by the German company BASF - is being conducted. Security for that trial, which includes a perimeter fence and 24-hour security guards, has cost more than £100,000. An identical trial at the site last year was damaged by activists in a night raid. In other proposals scientists will be seeking permission to conduct small-scale GM crop trials at undisclosed locations, and possibly a secure register to hold full details of their trials, instead of making them public. Under an existing EU directive GM crop trials in Britain can only go ahead once a full description of the crop, along with a six-figure grid reference that effectively pinpoints the planned location of the trial, have been made public.
Last month a Leeds University trial of cyst-resistant GM potatoes was destroyed by anti-GM activists. Howard Atkinson, who led the research, said the trial, which involved only 400 plants, was too small to be considered a threat to the environment, and that paying for costly security "to protect against zealots" was hard for a university to justify.
Atkinson called on the government to adopt a strategy similar to that in Canada, where small experimental trials of a few acres and less can be conducted in secret, with full disclosure only required for larger commercial trials. "We demand the academic freedom to gain knowledge and a society that doesn't allow scientists to do that has got a problem," he said.
Wayne Powell, director of Niab, backed the calls for greater security of GM trials, adding that the exact locations of trials was originally required to inform local farmers and growers that GM crops were being planted close by. "We have to look at the way we're doing trials in a way that ensures they don't get vandalised," he said. "The consequence of not having field trials is you reject these crops before society has had a chance to consider the benefits."
While North America and other countries have adopted mass growing of GM soya, cotton and maize, there are no GM crops grown in Britain.
Clare Oxborrow, a food campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said: "The government must stand firm and resist this attempt to keep the public and farmers in the dark over GM crop trial locations."