2.Editorial - Pat Thomas
3.Scientist who claimed GM crops could solve Third World hunger admits he got it wrong
NOTE: 2 excellent items (1&2) from the current edition of The Ecologist.
EXTRACTS: The Government has been unable to substantiate public remarks made by its outgoing chief scientific adviser Sir David King that not investing in GM agriculture has cost the UK economy GBP4bn... Earlier in 2007, Professor Howard Davies, of the Scottish Crop Research Institute, estimated the entire worldwide GM industry to be worth only GBP2.5bn. (item 1)
...what is this piddling amount of money (roughly equivalent to eBay's annual turnover, or that of the video games industry) held up next to the GBP9 billion being spent [by the UK] on the Olympics, the GBP100 billion we will be spending on the nuclear weapons programme over the next 50 years or the GBP135 billion our Government spends in procurement of everything from paperclips to fuel?
The GM push is a short-term gamble on the future value of our 'knowledge economy' - our ability to generate profit by selling ideas to other (usually poorer) countries as a 'solution' to their problems never mind the long-term cost to biodiversity and human health.(item 2)
King controversy - evidence doesn't support chief scientist's claim for GM crops
THE ECOLOGIST, February 2008
The Government has been unable to substantiate public remarks made by its outgoing chief scientific adviser Sir David King that not investing in GM agriculture has cost the UK economy GBP4bn.
Sir David made the claim before the Government Select Committee on Innovation, Universities and Skills. He also accused BBC Radio 4's Today programme and the Daily Mail of stirring up 'gut fears' about GM.
In a statement to the Ecologist, his office said: 'Sir David's estimate was not based on the current market for GM crops, but was intended to reflect the potentially much larger European and global markets he considers would have existed had public concerns about the new technology been understood and addressed. Before hostility to GM crops, [the UK was] in a prime position to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by GM technologies and UK companies could have expected to take a significant share of the global market. This expertise, and the associated competitive advantage, has now been largely lost.'
Earlier in 2007, Professor Howard Davies, of the Scottish Crop Research Institute, estimated the entire worldwide GM industry to be worth only GBP2.5bn. In fact, the Soil Association estimates that investing in GM crops may have cost the US some $12bn between 1999 and 2001.
Sir David's comments came as veteran MP Michael Meacher proposed an Early Day Motion in Parliament calling on MPs to voice public regret at 'continuing attempts to silence or misrepresent scientists whose research indicates possible health problems from GM crops.'
At the time of going to press, 23 MPs had signed the motion, which was in part a response to attacks on campaign group GM Watch by Canadian Government employee Shane Morris, exposed on the GM Watch website for rigging research into GM crops (Comments, Dec/Jan 2008).
Meacher told the Ecologist he found the bias towards GM technologies within government and industry 'very worrying', and hoped the EDM would 'open people's eyes to the interplay between science and politics'.
His comments came in response to the first public appearance of Sir David King's successor, Professor John Beddington, who said he saw no safety reasons for opposing the growth of GM crops on UK soil. Shortly before Christmas the Daily Mail exposed one of David King's 'examples' of the benefits of GM crops as being false.
THE ECOLOGIST, February 2008
'We'd really like a woman to talk about this,' said the researcher from BBC2's The Daily Politics show. I marvelled that TV was even more crass behind the scenes than on screen, and wondered did they perhaps imagine me wearing my pinny and brandishing a rolling pin, like Hilda Ogden? Or with cleavage a-popping and a warm apple pie on my lap, a la Nigella?
In any event the show, which focused on Government plans to push GM food back on to the marketplace, was an all-male affair, with the Soil Association's Patrick Holden isolated in a remote studio in Bristol while three pro-GM pundits (two in the studio, one on film) made their case.
The media's renewed interest in GM has been sparked by comments apparently made by departing chief scientific adviser Sir David King, to the effect that the public's attitude to GM is 'softening' and that acceptance of GM is now necessary and unavoidable if we are going to feed the world in the future. His successor John Beddington agrees.
The latter point is based on a widely held, but erroneous, assumption that people go hungry because we don’t produce enough food. In fact, the UN estimates that we produce about one and a half times the amount we need to feed the entire world. People go hungry because of the unsustainable structure of our political and economic systems. They starve because of the free market, where everything goes to the highest bidder rather than to those who need it most.
The former point was worrying, though. Was the public going soft on GM? If anyone would know, our supermarkets all of which retain market research that can predict what you will have for breakfast next Tuesday would. We phoned around. All said they have no plans to introduce a GM 'choice' because there is no consumer demand.
The push is on, however, to create that demand, and the best argument our politicians can muster is the scientific equivalent of 'where's the harm?'. They can say truthfully that they have never seen any data showing that eating GM is harmful to humans, because, of course, the research has never been done. But lack of evidence does not equal evidence of safety. Indeed, from a scientific perspective, GM breaks every sacred tenet of science.
Where are the double-blind, randomised, controlled human trials and especially those involving pregnant women and children, the ones most likely to be harmed by the toxins present in GM foods? The animal data is truly frightening, showing sterility and increased neonatal deaths; not to mention cancer, systemic organ failures and allergic reactions. Why would any government sanction such madness?
The push for GM isn't because it will increase crop yield, or because it will reduce pesticide use, or because it will provide more nutritious food - GM delivers none of these things. The push for GM is about money. Indeed, David King suggests that by not embracing GM food our economy has already ‘lost’ between GBP2 billion and GBP4 billion a figure that appears to have been plucked out of thin air (see News, page 8).
And honestly, what is this piddling amount of money (roughly equivalent to eBay's annual turnover, or that of the video games industry) held up next to the GBP9 billion being spent on the Olympics, the GBP100 billion we will be spending on the nuclear weapons programme over the next 50 years or the GBP135 billion our Government spends in procurement of everything from paperclips to fuel?
The GM push is a short-term gamble on the future value of our 'knowledge economy' - our ability to generate profit by selling ideas to other (usually poorer) countries as a 'solution' to their problems never mind the long-term cost to biodiversity and human health.
Over the next few years you are going to be bombarded with a lot of stage-managed information about things such as GM, nuclear power and incinerators (see stories pages 28 and 44). This PR onslaught is the action of a Government that has been near-paralysed by the sheer scale and complexity of the problems we face, and as a result has resorted to PR instead of policies to 'fix' things. It’s going to take people of character, intelligence and tenacity to keep saying no - and mean it.
Now, where exactly did I put my rolling pin...?
3.Scientist who claimed GM crops could solve Third World hunger admits he got it wrong
By SEAN POULTER The Daily Mail, 18th December 2007
A claim that GM technology is helping deliver higher crop yields in Africa was wrong, the Government's chief scientist has been forced to admit.
Professor Sir David King recently caused uproar with his assertion that GM crops could help feed the hungry of the Third World.
He called on the Government to campaign for the adoption of GM technology and said the Daily Mail's campaigning stance against it was holding up progress.
Yesterday however he was accused of 'letting off blasts of hot and sometimes rancid air' after it emerged his latest GM crop claims were wildly innaccurate.
Dr Richard Horton, the editor of medical journal The Lancet said Sir David took his faith in science into 'the realms of totalitarian paranoia'.
Writing in his online blog he said: 'If he lost the debate on GM, it was because his arguments failed to convince people.
'King seems biased and even antidemocratic. It seems he would prefer the media not to exist at all. That is a troubling position for the Government's chief scientist to adopt.'
Critics of Sir David suggest he has become 'demob happy' following his decision to stand down.
Since the announcement, he has taken a more outspoken line on controversial issues such as GM, global warming and the need to innoculate children with the MMR vaccine.
Dr Horton said Sir David was 'letting off blasts of hot and sometimes rancid air to relieve the dyspeptic frustrations of seven years in the most uncomfortable job in science'.
The chief scientist had used the example of crop trials around Lake Victoria in Kenya to boast how useful GM farming could be in feeding the Third World.
He claimed scientists had discovered the identity of a chemical in food plants that attract pests such as root borers.
Sir David suggested it had been possible to 'snip' the gene responsible for this chemical out of the food crop and then insert it into grass that is grown alongside it. He said the pests then eat the grass rather than the food.
He told Radio Four's Today programme: 'You interplant the grass with the grain and it turns out the crop yield goes up 40-50 per cent. A very big advantage.'
The only problem is Sir David failed to accurately describe the research in Africa, which did not involve the use of any GM technology at all.
The research actually involved finding plants that can be cultivated alongside food crops and provide a natural solution to boosting yields.
Researchers identified one set of plants that naturally deters parastic weeds, while another set, a species of grass, attracts the pests.
The net result of this 'push and pull' regime is that the food crop can grow more easily and produce a much higher yield.
Green pressure groups are demanding a public apology from Sir David, whose credibility has been shaken by the error.
Director of the GM Freeze campaign, Pete Riley, said: 'We find it quite staggering that Professor King made such misleading comments.
'The 'push pull' project in fact illustrates how the problem pest and weeds which plague farmers in the Global South can be tackled by well researched crop management techniques.
'These have the advantage of being cheap to apply and being free of the potential environmental and health impacts of GM crops or pesticide usage.
'If Africa is to become more self reliant in food supply without locking farmers into very expensive GM seeds and their associated herbicides then the Government need to be funding more projects like 'push pull'.'
A spokesman for the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills admitted Sir David simply got it wrong.
He said: 'Sir David has said this was an honest mistake.'
Sir David has described the Daily Mail's campaigning stance on GM food as 'brilliant journalism'.
However, he complained it had held up the introduction of GM technology. This line has been rejected by Dr Horton.
Dr Horton praised Sir David for his 'boldness' in persuading the Government to take climate change seriously. However, he criticised his outspoken attacks on the media as 'a sorrowful end to a not undistinguished term of office'.