The incestuous world of the GM lobbyist (12/8/2006)

1.Corridors of Power
2.Collusion and Corruption in GM Policy

COMMENT: Ian Gibson, the GM-supporting Member of Parliament for Norwich North (in Norfolk, UK) has had to issue an unreserved apology for suggesting that people in Norfolk are susceptible to diabetes because they are "inbred"!

Gibson is a geneticist and former chair of the House of Commons' Science and Technology committee, a position that he has used to vigorously promote GM (see items 1 and 2 below).

Despite his scientific background Gibson's comments about inbreeding and diabetes display a striking ignorance of the relevant science. Dr Ketan Dhatariya, the consultant diabetologist at Gibson's local hospital, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, has called his remarks "disgraceful". Any genetic component in diabetes, Dr Dhatariya points out, is understood to be multigenic, ie not linked to any single gene. Yet Gibson told his local paper, "There is an inbreeding complex in villages - people inter-marry. That might mean more of them have got the same gene which predisposes them to it." (Norfolk MP apologises for 'inbreeding' comments) http://politics.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,1842506,00.html

This is not the first time Gibson has exposed his ignorance while posing as a scientific expert. Indeed, his arguments in favour of GM have been exposed as not just fanciful but more than a little inbred! The world of the GM lobbyist, it seems, is nothing if not incestuous.

1.Corridors of Power
Alex Gore
Evening News, June 24 2004

Norwich North MP Dr Ian Gibson has been exposed as a parrot in the House of Commons. A speech he made on the demonisation of GM crops in the media sounded remarkably like a speech written by pro-GM campaigner Derek Burke - a former employer of Dr Gibson's as vice chancellor of the UEA [the University of East Anglia]. I'll let Corridors readers judge for themselves.

Gibson: "It is ironic that, over 50 or 60 years, plant breeders have used chemical and radiation mutagenesis to create new varieties, with new modifications and genes leaping about and joining together, with no protest. We must ask why there was no protest then, but there is protest now."

Burke: "It is also puzzling that there has never been any public concern about the fact that, for the past 50-60 years, plant breeders have used chemical and radiation mutagenesis to create new varieties, involving major and quite unknown genetic modifications.... So why is there so much opposition now?"

There are many other parts of the speech which are virtually identical to Prof Burke's article, 'GM Food and Crops: What Went Wrong in the UK?' which was published on exactly the same day.

When pressed Dr Gibson admitted: "We are working together to try and erode the anti-GM debate."

2.Collusion and Corruption in GM Policy
Claire Robinson uncovers some uncomfortable truths about the machinations of the pro-GM establishment in Britain (July 2004)

In a recent debate on genetically modified (GM) foods at the House of Commons, Dr. Ian Gibson, who chairs the all-party Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee, dismissed concerns over GM food safety.

As a scientist, he said, he could "decimate" his opponents. Gibson, MP for Norwich North, said: "The epidemiology studies carried out in every major centre, including in the universities in the States and elsewhere, into the effects of [GM] food ... have shown no effects whatever that correlate with the food - although I understand how difficult that is to prove."

Unfortunately for Gibson, one of the few scientists to have done GM food safety tests, Dr. Arpad Pusztai, responded to his comments in an open letter. Pusztai pointed out that "there have been no epidemiology studies, and certainly none published. This is obvious from the fact that, apart from this generalisation, you could not refer to a single such study. It is not surprising because in the absence of labelling of GM food in the USA such studies could not be carried out! However, it is known from official statistics that in less than ten years food-related illnesses have practically doubled in the USA since the introduction of GM food into the American diet." He went on to add that while the reason for this is unknown, it is blatant bluster to declare that everything is well in the USA and that none of these ill effects correlate with food, including GM food.

Gibson went on to claim that "the evidence is piling up to say that the [GM] food is, indeed safe." But when Pusztai asked Gibson to elaborate on this evidence, Gibson's reply was less confident. He gave just three examples to support his case, including a Monsanto study. Pusztai commented, "I expect what constitutes a pile is a matter of definition. One can reverse this argument by saying that the evidence is in fact piling up to show the health problems of GM foods reported in the published science literature. However, these you and other pro-GM supporters conveniently ignore."

Indeed, Gibson has ignored other recent evidence that further casts doubt on the safety of GM foods. These were raised at an Independent Science Panel (ISP) briefing in Parliament organised by ISIS and Gibson's fellow MP, Alan Simpson. The evidence includes reported illnesses in villagers living near Bt maize fields in the Philippines, recent disclosure in Le Monde of kidney abnormalities and changes in blood sugar and blood cell numbers in rats fed Bt maize resistant to corn rootworm, published scientific papers documenting problems with Bt toxins and transgenic instability in commercial GM lines. Gibson had pointedly declined the invitation to attend the briefing.

The evidence should, at the very least, set alarm bells ringing and prompt scientists and policy makers to take appropriate action. Surely this should mean not approving GM foods unless they can be unequivocally proven safe; and at the same time, conducting serious, independent research into GM food safety. In ignoring all of the evidence, Gibson is adopting an extreme anti-precautionary approach, one that is totally unacceptable and irresponsible, considering that it is human health that is at stake.

In contrast, former environment minister Michael Meacher had, at the briefing, demanded a new, full-scale expert GM enquiry in the UK, in light of the lack of good research into the long-term effects of GM foods on human health and the rubbishing and lack of follow-up on research that turns up evidence of potentially adverse impacts (see "Meacher calls for enquiry into GM safety", SiS 22).

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