Row over paper's biased coverage of GM controversy (21/6/2007)

GMO-free pledge is a huge step

Comment from GM-free Ireland:

The article [below] is typical of the Irish Times's biased coverage on the GM foods controversy.

Its report on Friday's briefing on Food Safety and GMOs at the European Parliament Office in Dublin failed to mention that the short address by the acting leader of the Green Party, Trevor Sargent, was followed by two expert presentations on the scientific evidence of deaths and disease linked to GM food in laboratory animals, livestock and the human population.

While quoting extensively from statements made from the floor by Prof David McConnell, who is Chairman of the Irish Times Trust which owns the newspaper, the article also signally failed to mention the latter's financial ties to the agri-biotech industry (which GM-free Ireland made public at the briefing), and avoided any comment on his oft-repeated attempts to portray those who disagree with his views on GMOs as scientifically illiterate.

The fact that both presentations ‚ not attended by the Irish Times ‚ were scientifically compelling underlines the deplorable lack of journalistic balance in this article.

The briefing was co-hosted by Kathy Sinnott MEP, and Michael O'Callaghan of the GM-free Ireland who said "this Professor reminds one of the Pope who accused Galileo of heresy for discovering that the Earth is not the centre of the Universe, whilst refusing to look through Galileo's telescope."

According to New Scientist magazine:

"Low-tech 'sustainable agriculture,' shunning chemicals in favour of natural pest control and fertiliser, is pushing up crop yields on poor farms across the world, often by 70 per cent or more... The findings will make sobering reading for people convinced that only genetically modified crops can feed the planet's hungry in the 21st century... A new science-based revolution is gaining strength built on real research into what works best on the small farms where a billion or more of the world's hungry live and work... It is time for the major agricultural research centres and their funding agencies to join the revolution." [1]

The two scientific presentations of the health dangers of GM foods clearly challenged the pro-GM assumptions espoused by Prof McConnell, the European Food Safety Authority and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland:

*The first presentation, by bestselling author Jeffrey M. Smith, Director of the US Institute for Responsible Technology [2], summarised the findings of his new book "Genetic Roulette: the documented health risks of GM foods" [3], which was hailed by former UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher MP as "the authentic book on genetic modification that the world has been waiting for: the case presented is absolutely a smoking shotgun that should stop in its tracks any dabbling with GM foods, whether by individual families, food companies, or indeed nations".

*The second presentation was given by the developmental biologist and molecular geneticist Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher, PhD. She is Co-Director of the public interest research organisation and science watchdog, EcoNexus [4]. She is closely involved in the international negotiations and implementation of the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol, the global treaty which regulates international trade in living GM organisms [5], and is part of the ETC Group legal and scientific team which recently got the European Patent Office to revoke Monsanto's species-wide patent on genetically modified soya beans [6]. Dr. Steinbrecher reviewed her landmark paper on the unintended genetic mutations (genome scrambling) found in GM crops as a result of their having been modified) which suggests that all GM foods are inherently unsafe and likely to have both short and long term health impacts that are scientifically impossible to predict [7].

Dr. Steinbrecher also outlined the recent peer-reviewed paper co-authored by Prof. Gilles-Eric Séralini [8] of the Committee for Independent Research on Genetic Engineering and the University of Caen, France, which found that Monsanto's patented GM maize variety MON963, which continues to be sold to Irish farmers following its approval by the European Food Safety Authority, causes hepatorenal toxicity (kidney and liver damage) and other health problems in mammals.

Speaking at a press conference in Paris on 13 March, Professor Seralini said: "These revelations are profoundly disturbing from a health point of view. They are certainly sufficient to require new and more carefully conducted feeding studies and an immediate ban from human or animal consumption of GM maize MON 863 and all its hybrids. This maize cannot now be considered safe to eat. We are now calling urgently for a moratorium on other approved GMOs while the efficacy of current health testing methods is reassessed." [9]

In the interest of transparency, the Irish Times article should also have mentioned the fact that the Irish Times Trust chairman, Prof McConnell, (whose Department of Genetics at TCD is part-funded by the agribiotech industry), is also the co-chair (along with a former Vice President of the World Bank) of the biotech industry lobby group EAGLES (European Action on Global Life Sciences) which promotes GM food and crops in the developing countries.

This biased coverage has been going on for a number of years.

In Debating GM: An analysis of GM coverage in the Irish Times and the Irish Farmers Journal from March 2004 to February 2006, a Dublin Institute of Technology thesis by journalism student Emma Somers made a quantitative analysis of the sources, and a qualitative analysis of GM coverage in these two papers. The study revealed significant bias towards the biotech industry.

Of the 48 articles published in the Irish Times, 84% quoted official sources (including the EC, Irish politicians, the Dept. of Agriculture, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, biotech corporations and biotech industry lobby groups); 21% quoted Non Governmental Organisations; only 10% quoted farmers. Most articles framed the issue as scientists versus Luddites.

The Irish Times' reliance on pro-GMO sources and biased framing of the GMO controversy reflects the paper's special relationship with the biotech industry via the Chairman of the Irish Times Trust, who promotes the commercial interests of the agribusiness biotech corporations which fund his Department of Genetics at TCD and his EAGLES biotech industry lobby group.

This conflict of interest and biased coverage provides a legal basis for the Revenue commission to revoke the Irish Times Trust's status as a registered charity, because the paper clearly violates the core object of the Trust's Memoranda and Articles of Association, "to publish an independent newspaper primarily concerned with serious issues for the benefit of the community throughout the whole of Ireland, free from any form of personal or of party political, commercial, religious or other sectional control."


1. New Scientist magazine editorial, 3 February 2001.

2. Institute for Responsible Technology: www.responsibletechnology.org.

3. Genetic Roulette: the documented health risks of GM foods. By Jeffrey M. Smith. Yes! Books. Fairfield, Iowa, USA, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9729665-2-8. Available from www.geneticroulette.com).

4. EcoNexus: www.econexus.info.

5. The Cartagena Protocol, to which the EU and Ireland are a party, clearly recognises Ireland's right to prohibit the imporation of live GMO seeds, crops, livestock and other genetically mofified organisms, based on the Precautionary Principle. For details see www.gmfreeireland.org/resources/documents/cartagena/index.php.

6. Revoked! Monsanto Monopoly Nixed in Munich: http://www.etcgroup.org/en/materials/publications.html?pub_id=619.

7. Genome Scrambling ‚ Myth or Reality? Transformation-Induced Mutations in Transgenic Crop Plants. By Allison Wilson, PhD, Jonathan Latham, PhD and Ricarda Steinbrecher, PhD. Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews, Vol 23, December 2006. Download Summary: www.econexus.info/pdf/ENx-Genome-Scrambling-Summary.pdf (88 kb pdf file) Download Report: www.econexus.info/pdf/ENx-Genome-Scrambling-Report.pdf (628 kb pdf file)

8. New Analysis of a Rat Feeding Study with a Genetically Modified Maize Reveals Signs of Hepatorenal Toxicity, Journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. Publisher Springer New York. ISSN 0090-4341 (Print) 1432-0703 (Online). DOI 10.1007/s00244-006-0149-5. By Gilles-Eric Séralini, Dominique Cellier, and Joel Spiroux de Vendomois. Download paper: www.gmfreeireland.org/health/SeralinPaper2007.pdf (124k pdf file.]

9. See CRIIGEN press release at www.criigen.org/cp_march2007.pdf and video of press conference at www.criigen.org


2.Ireland: Sargent says GMO-free pledge is a 'huge step'
The Irish Times, 16 June 2007. By Ronan McGreevy.

A commitment to make Ireland a genetically modified organism (GMO)-free zone represents "a huge step forward which gives us a clear policy objective", Green Pary acting leader Trevor Sargent said yesterday.

Mr Sargent said Ireland's status in terms of GMOs had been a "key issue" in the negotiations between his party and Fianna Fáil on the programme for government and was evidence of his party's influence on it.

The programme states that the Government will "seek to negotiate the establishment of an all-Ireland GMO-free zone."

Mr Sargent told a conference on food safety, hosted by the European Parliament Independence/Democracy Group and the GM-free Ireland Network, that the aspiration for a GM-free Ireland opens up a "whole new policy for government" and represents clarity in relation to the issue.

"As spokesman on Agriculture in the Dáil before this one, there was a belief that co-existence [conventional crops growing beside GM crops] would keep everybody happy. I for one do not believe that co-existence will deliver GM-free status to parts of Ireland where GM crops are not growing," he said.

Mr. Sargent said the use of GM animal feed in Ireland was damaging the country's reputation as a food island, especially given the number of major retailers across Europe, including Tesco, Carrefour and Monoprix, which have banned such foods.

Mr. Sargent was challenged by Prof David McConnell, Professor of Genetics at Trinity College Dublin, who denied any allegation of bias in favour of GMOs and accused Mr Sargent of "a total misunderstanding of the scientific community."

Prof McConnell, who is chairman of the Irish Times Trust, suggested that the Green Party should look at all the scientific advice relating to GM foods before making judgement.

"I'm really asking ultimately that the Green Party should not pin its colours to one view or one expectation of scientific evidence. Science proceeds by an entirely different method and that has proven itself to be extraordinarily successful.

"I'm speaking as a scientist. I find it rally unfortunate that the people who are claiming to be interested in science simply don't understand it. That is really quite serious."

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