Hate mail forces cuts on GM work (24/10/2003)

Prof Anthony Trewavas is complaining to the press about unpleasant e-mails from "a very vociferous group". He claims they say things like "we don't want you"!

This sounds pretty small beer in contrast to the good professor's own track record.

Prof Trewavas, it will be remembered, publicly circulated an e-mail attack on the UC Berkeley scientist Dr Ignacio Chapela, calling for him to be forced to hand over his samples of Mexican maize for independent checking or be sacked!

In the same e-mail Trewavas accused Dr Arpad Pusztai of acting out of a political rather than a scientific motivation, claiming incorrectly that he had certain specific political affiliations.

Trewavas also circulated material written by a Monsanto PR operative attacking the integrity of Peter Melchett and Greenpeace. he sent it to another PR operative who had it inserted in a Scottish newspaper as a letter from Trewavas. Trewavas then failed to publicly disclaim authorship until there was adverse publicity after the newspaper had to publicly apologise in the High Court and make a financial settlement because of the misleading nature of the allegations.

Prof Trewavas also advised US scientists to engage with the racist US Senator Jessie Helms in order to engage his support by persuading him that opposituion to GM was unpatriotic.

Prof Trewavas is quoted in the article below as saying, "It's a debate, but it's not a civilised debate. There's a very vociferous group on one side."

We can all agree with that, and Prof Treweavas is among the most unpleasant and most vociferous of that group's cheerleaders.

These complaints are clearly part of an orchestrated campaign by Sense About Science. The other scientists making these claims (including the supposed bomb threat) are both close allies of Trewavas and both connect to the controversial GM lobby group Sense About Science. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=1646


Hate mail forces cuts on GM work

A LEADING GM expert is being forced to cut back on his work because of threatening letters sent to his city home.

Anthony Trewavas, professor of applied biochemistry at Edinburgh University, said the antagonism and harassment he faced was pressuring him to reduce his involvement in the public debate on genetically modified foods.

The academic described the intimidation tactics used by anti-GM lobbyists as similar to those used by animal rights activists.

He said he had received letters at his home containing personal insults, some calling for him to leave the country.

Now the professor has decided to cut back some of his public work - including writing letters to newspapers and speaking at events - in the wake of the harassment.

He said: "I've found taking part in the debate quite stressful. Having to deal with letters, which I throw away, saying things like , 'we don't want you', it gets personal in part.

"You wonder, when you throw them away, what's behind them. They can be sent to my personal address and that leads to uncertainty, especially when you hear about crops being destroyed and farmers being harassed.

"Quite a few scientists have been through this. I know of one who received a bomb threat, and whether it's a hoax or not, it's clearly intimidating.

"My wife doesn't like me doing this at all because of all the antagonism.

"I'm a scientist not a politician. Politicians can take the rough and tumble, but I'm not that kind of person and I don't deal with these situations easily."

Prof Trewavas added that intimidation tactics were preventing the public getting proper access to all the relevant scientific information about GM crops.

He said the behaviour of activists made it difficult to appear in public debates on the subject - something he felt was an important part of his job.

"As a scientist my own view is always that policy should be based on the best possible knowledge.

"I recognise that people feel deeply about this, but it's exchange of information that is important.

"It's a debate, but it's not a civilised debate. There's a very vociferous group on one side."

The strength of anti-GM feeling is also creating a major brain-drain in Scotland, according to Prof Trewavas. He said many experts in the field had already gone to work abroad.

"There have been people leaving the country and going to the US where they don't have the same attitude. The US seems to value knowledge more.

"We are also going to see this affecting education. It is becoming too controversial for people to go into.

"Scotland has no heavy industry left, all it has is its brains and if we are not prepared to use that because of antagonism then Scotland has no future.

"All technologies have good and bad sides, but you don't throw away good technology, just because of some bad things."

Prof Trewavas added he did not know why the anti GM lobby was so strong in the this country.

"They have been growing GM maize in Spain for five years and there has been no controversy in the newspapers or crop trashing there."

And he condemned the press coverage of the GM debate in this country. "What on earth is all the fuss about? We,Äôre only talking about a group of plants," he said.

But anti-GM campaigner Anthony Jackson said he had heard of GM crops being destroyed by protesters, but was not aware of objectors using intimidation tactics against scientists.

Mr Jackson, a member of the Munlochy GM Vigil, which opposes GM crop trials held at Munlochy, in the Highlands, said: "This campaign is backed by groups like the Women’s Institute and the local people who live in communities [close to GM trial areas]. It is not a nasty campaign."

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