GM scientists flee UK as 5 to 1 oppose GM crops in biggest ever public survey (25/9/2003)

The claimed exodus of GM scientists below is brilliant news for the UK, for its farming and its economy, that should help start to redirect the massive waste of public resources on this type of research.

We need research for UK and developing country farmers on approaches that are effective, have a public mandate and that develop products for which there is a market. GM crops totally fail on all these counts, so good riddance...

"The blow to the government comes as a Guardian investigation reveals a crisis looming in GM science in Britain. A stream of leading GM crop researchers have quit the country, while others are preparing leave in the next few months..."

You can read more about the brain drain at the url below, although be warned that some of this is spin. It actually appears to boil down to 7 scientists - at least 1 of which, Dick Flavell, left the UK some 5 years ago!!! But if it encourages others to go or else to explore non-contentious areas of food biotechnology like marker assisted selection, then all well and good.
5 to 1 against GM crops in biggest ever public survey
John Vidal and Ian Sample
Thursday  September 25, 2003
The Guardian

The widest formal public debate ever conducted in Britain has found an overwhelming percentage of people uneasy, suspicious or outrightly hostile to the introduction of genetically modified crops in Britain.

More than 650 public meetings were held around the country, and about 37,000 people responded to questionnaires, with 54% saying they never want to see GM crops grown in the UK. A further 18% said they would find the crops acceptable only if there was no risk of cross-contamination; 13% wanted more research.

In a clear message to government and supermarkets, only 2% of people said GM crops were acceptable "in any circumstances" and just 8% said they were happy to eat GM food.

"Every single group was broadly negative in its feelings about every GM issue," said the report which found the numbers opposed to GM outweighed those who may support it by 5 to 1.

The environment secretary, Margaret Beckett, promised to take the results seriously, but said the government would give its formal response to the consultation at a later date.

"I will reflect carefully on the findings of today's report, along with those of the science review and our costs and benefits study, before publishing our response. We said that we will listen, and we will," she said. 

Sue Meyer, of Genewatch, said the debate had confirmed that the country is sceptical about GM food. "The public believe it is being driven by profit and don't trust the government to act fairly. People see possible dangers for themselves and for the environment, while industry reaps the benefits. The more people learn, the more anxious they become."

The blow to the government comes as a Guardian investigation reveals a crisis looming in GM science in Britain. A stream of leading GM crop researchers have quit the country, while others are preparing leave in the next few months, threatening to damage Britain's world-class reputation in the field.

"The really committed people who have underpinned our excellence are moving out and that's a real worry," said Professor Chris Leaver, head of plant sciences at the University of Oxford.

Scientists said weak leadership from the government and public opposition to GM, stirred up by anti-GM pressure groups, were largely to blame. 

The plant biotechnology industry has already taken a big hit in Britain. High-profile GM research companies such as Monsanto, Bayer and Dow have all closed down research facilities in Britain in recent years, drastically diminishing the career prospects of scientists working on GM crops. Only one multinational company, Syngenta, remains.

Yesterday's report uncovered deep suspicion about government motives, with people following earlier studies which suggested there were few economic benefits from growing the crops, and increasing concerns by its own scientists. 

The authors - a team drawn from universities, business and consumer groups - found that "people believe that the multinational [GM] companies are motivated overwhelmingly by profit rather than meeting society's needs ... People are suspicious about any information or science which emanates from GM companies."

The prime minister had hoped the national debate on GM crops would soothe widespread anxieties over their safety, paving the way for their commercialisation in the UK.

The report comes on the back of an economic analysis by the No 10 strategy unit, which showed little benefit from growing the crops to Britain, and a scientific analysis which urged more caution.

A decision on whether to allow the crops was to have been made within the next month but has been put back to the new year following impasse on legal liability and whether they can be grown next to conventional crops. A report on their environmental effects is expected in mid-October.   
"the GM Debate has given the loudest public raspberry conceivable to GM technology" - The Independent

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