Nukes, GMOs and dead badgers - David King's policy wish list (27/11/2007)

1.Chief scientist says atomic power and GM crops are the future
2.World-Renowned Journal Condemns Government Advisor

EXTRACTS: Sir David [King] has long been known to support GM crops and nuclear power (item 1)

Professor Denis Mollison describes the King report as 'unbalanced and inexpert', 'muddled', 'wishful thinking' and 'a textbook example of special pleading' (item 2)

Nature says: 'King's motives remain unknown but his actions are likely to encourage speculation...' (item 2)


1.Chief scientist says atomic power and GM crops are the future
Mark Henderson, Science Editor The Times, November 27 2007

Gordon Brown should approve a new generation of nuclear power stations immediately and give active government backing to genetically modified crops, the departing chief scientist will say today.

Professor Sir David King, who steps down as the Governmentís chief scientific adviser next month, will use his valedictory speech to urge the Prime Minister to support both controversial technologies. A day after Mr Brown told business leaders that nuclear power has a role to play in Britain's energy future, Sir David will say that the time is already right to give the go-ahead to new atomic plants.

He will infuriate green activists further, many of whom oppose nuclear power, by suggesting that ministers should abandon their official neutrality on agricultural biotechnology and campaign actively for the development of GM crops.

He believes that nuclear power is essential if Britain is to make significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

'Alternative technologies and energy-efficiency gains will certainly help the UK to achieve our target of reducing emissions by 60 per cent by 2050,' he will tell the Foundation for Science and Technology. 'But we will also need to look at other low-emission ways of making energy. It is now the time to give the green light to nuclear energy. While I have high hopes for new zero-emissions technologies in the future, efficient nuclear-fission power stations are already available. I am also hopeful that fusion power stations, without the problems of nuclear-waste disposal, will emerge over the coming three or four decades.'

The chief scientist, who was appointed by Tony Blair in 2000, says that GM crops should play an important part in Britainís agricultural future, despite public misgivings about their likely environmental effects.

Sir David has long been known to support GM crops and nuclear power, but this will be the first time that he has asked ministers to take explicit action on these issues. His successor is Professor John Beddington, a population biologist from Imperial College, London.


2.World-Renowned Journal Condemns Government Advisor's Call For Badger Cull
RSPCA, 1 Nov 2007

The RSPCA welcomes today's damning editorial in Nature1 criticising a senior Government advisor's call for a badger cull. The prestigious scientific journal states: 'A government that asks for independent scientific advice had best be ready to take it.'

Dr Rob Atkinson, the RSPCA's Head of Wildlife Science, says: 'This is a measure of the shock waves which have hit the scientific world since the King report was published last week.'

The call by Sir David King, the Governmentís chief scientific advisor, directly contradicts the most robust scientific study ever produced on the impact of badger-culling on bovine TB (bTB) in cattle.2 This peer-reviewed scientific study by the Independent Scientific Group (ISG), chaired by Professor John Bourne, took nearly ten years and cost the taxpayer GBP34million.

Nature concludes that: 'it would be a good idea if the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs* based its policy on the unfettered advice offered by Bourne's committee.'

'Why bother carrying out scientific research for public decision-making if it is simply discarded?' says Dr Atkinson. 'A badger cull would be senseless, counter-productive and scientifically bankrupt. Nature is reflecting widespread anger in the scientific community that impeccable science should be so casually dismissed.'

Sir David King admitted to a committee of MPs recently that his report was the result of less than two daysí discussion, compared with nearly a decade of research which led to the ISG's conclusions. He also told MPs that he had not considered whether badger-culling on the scale he proposed would be either practical or cost-effective.

Nature's editorial is unequivocal about 'the mishandling of the issue by David King' as 'an example to governments of how not to deal with such [scientific] advice.' It finds that 'King's insistence that the 'conclusions in my report are not very different from those that the ISG reached' ring hollow'.

The King report has also provoked comment from top statistician Professor Denis Mollison. Professor Mollison commended the ISG report to ministers in June as 'an exemplar of how to bring high quality science into public decision-making.' In stark contrast, he describes the King report as 'unbalanced and inexpert', 'muddled', 'wishful thinking' and 'a textbook example of special pleading', adding that it would not have passed his audit.

'The RSPCA is not a bunch of badger-huggers,' Dr Atkinson explains, 'and we care as much about cattle welfare as badgers. Our opposition to a badger cull is based on solid science not sentiment.'

The RSPCA supported the ISG's research, despite the large numbers of badgers that died in the process, because the Society recognised the need for firm scientific evidence. The resulting ISG report is thorough, robust science which effectively rules out a badger cull as a sustainable and practicable solution to the bTB problem.

Nature says: 'King's motives remain unknown but his actions are likely to encourage speculation that his report was written to please the farmers.'

Dr Atkinson concludes: 'We know that there has been enormous pressure from those who favour a badger cull. But the Government has consistently promised that it would make a decision based on the scientific facts. The Government should keep that promise.'

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