Deplorable Attack on GM Critic (25/7/2003)

Press Release
For Immediate Use: Friday 25th July 2003

Deplorable Attack on GM Critic

Friends of the Earth have described an attempt by a leading scientist to undermine the standing and research funding of a key member of the Government's GM Science Review panel who challenged GM safety assessment and procedures as "deplorable" and likely to further undermine the public's confidence in the regulatory process and science.

The "clandestine attempt" to undermine the research, professional standing and funding was targeted at Dr Andy Stirling of the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex. It emerged when the minutes of the Science Review meeting on 24th June were published yesterday.  Dr Stirling was one of two scientists nominated by environment and GM campaigners to sit on the science review panel. He played an important role in developing the panels' approach to reporting on the scientific uncertainties and gaps in scientific knowledge surrounding GM foods and crops. Dr Stirling is a specialist in risk assessment.

The minutes make it clear that the scientist who sought to undermine Dr Stirling was not a member of the science review panel but a scientist with an "association" with the review.  The chair of the review panel Government Chief Scientist Professor David King "deplored" the action and this view was supported by all members of the panel.  The minutes state [1]:

"Ultimately, such behaviour by individuals in privileged academic or regulatory positions threatened seriously to compromise the credibility and proper functioning of the science advice system".

Another member of the panel was reported to have resigned because of concerns that future research funding may be threatened by his views challenging GM crop approvals [2].

Friends of the Earth's Executive Director Tony Juniper commented:

"This is not the first time that UK scientists who have expressed legitimate concerns about the safety of GM food and crops have been attacked.  The fact that on this occasion it has been done behind the scenes makes it all the more deplorable and represents a serious abuse of power. Whoever is responsible owes Dr Stirling a public apology. Scientists must not be threatened or silenced for speaking what they believe to be the truth.

"The Government needs to act quickly to ensure that scientific research is free of corporate influence, regulatory committees are balanced and the public has a direct role in decision making."


1. The full minutes read:

"6. The Chairman reported that Andrew Stirling had pointed out, that, in relation to the freedom of Members to contribute fully, as with any advisory committee, the GM Science Review Panel by its nature involved engagement from a number of divergent scientific perspectives. It depended fundamentally for its success on members being able to contribute in good faith, without fears that clandestine attempts may be made to undermine their research, their professional standing or their funding. The cumulative effect of such fears might easily serve to suppress open discussion, reasoned argument and substantive criticism of the kind whose importance the Chairman had many times emphasised. Ultimately, such behaviour by individuals in privileged academic or regulatory positions threatened seriously to compromise the credibility and proper functioning of the science advice system. The Panel strongly endorsed this.

7. The Chairman added that he understood from Andrew Stirling that someone with an association with the Science Review had not been acting in this spirit and that if this was the case the Chair deplored it. The Panel concurred. Andrew Stirling subsequently made it clear that the individual concerned was not a member of the Science Review Panel."

2. The Observer Sunday 20th July 2003


Pete Riley:    0113 389 9955    07712 843210 (mobile)
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