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Chief scientist must apologise for misleading GM claims (17/12/2007)

1.Chief Scientist must apologise for misleading GM claims
2.GM Freeze's letter to King

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1.Chief Scientist's misleading GM claims: GM Freeze calls for a public apology

PRESS RELEASE, 17 December 2007

GM Freeze has written to retiring Government Chief Scientist Professor David King calling upon him to make a public apology after making a 'grossly misleading' comments comment about GM crops on the BBC's Today Programme on 27th November [1]

Professor King finished the interview with the following

'I wonder if I could give you one example and this is the use of intercrop planting in Africa which has increased grain yields already around Lake Victoria very substantially. And this is done by discovering what the pheromone in the root of the grain plant that attracts root borers and destroys them. And if you snip that gene into the grass so that the grass attracts root borers , the root borers does not feed well on the grass and dies. You interplant the grass with the grain and it turns out the crop yield goes up 40-50%. Very big advantage.'

GM Freeze have pointed out to Professor King that the 'push pull' project [2] he described does not involve GM crops at all.

In an article in the Independent on Sunday (16th December) [3], Professor King is quoted as saying his comments were 'an honest mistake'.

In their letter to Professor King [4] GM Freeze point out that the Push Pull project is an excellent example of how scientists have found solutions to a major weed and a significant pest of maize in Kenya without the use of pesticides or GM crops.

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said

'We find it quite staggering that Professor King made such misleading comments on prime time radio. The 'push pull' project in fact illustrates how the problem pest and weeds, which plague farmers in the Global South can be tackled by well researched crop management techniques. These have the advantage of being cheap to apply and being free of the potential environmental and health impacts of GM crops or pesticide usage. If Africa is to become more self reliant in food supply without locking farmer into very expensive GM seeds and their associated herbicides then the Government need to be funding more projects like 'push pull'. In view of the grossly misleading nature of what he said we call upon Professor King to make a public apology'.

ENDS

Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341065

1.Interview with Sarah Montague, 27th November 2007, BBC Today Programme.

2. http://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/bch/CEGroup/ChemEcolGroupArea6.html
http://www.push-pull.net/

3. http://news.independent.co.uk/sci_tech/article3255701.ece

4.Letter available on request to pete@gmfreeze.org

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2.GM Freeze letter to King

Professor David King
Government Chief Scientist
Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
1 Victoria St
London
SW1H OET

17th December 2007

Dear Professor King,

Interview with Sir David King Today Programme 27th November 2007

During your interview on 27th November's Today Programme, you made a series of comments regarding the merits of GM crops which we consider to be either seriously inaccurate or a gross exaggeration of the progress being made.

You finished this interview with the following:

'I wonder if I could give you one example and this is the use of intercrop planting in Africa which has increased grain yields already around Lake Victoria very substantially. And this is done by discovering what the pheromone in the root of the grain plant that attracts root borers and destroys them. And if you snip that gene into the grass so that the grass attracts root borers , the root borers does not feed well on the grass and dies. You interplant the grass with the grain and it turns out the crop yield goes up 40-50%. Very big advantage.'

The impression you gave is that this is a working example in Africa of GM crops delivering higher yields. Nothing could be further from the truth because this project does not involve GM crops at all. It is a classic example of companion planting which diverts pest species away from crop plants or to suppress weeds. The grass (napier grass) is actually grown around the borders of corn plot, whilst desmodium (a small legume) is intercropped. This is part of the 'push pull' project which is lead by International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) at Lake Victoria in Keya and Rothamsted in the UK.

Full details of the project can be seen at http://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/bch/CEGroup/ChemEcolGroupArea6.html

http://www.push-pull.net/

The key contacts are Professor John Pickett at Rothamsted and Zeyaur Rahman Khan at ICIPE who can be contacted on john.pickett@bbsrc.ac.uk and zkhan@icipe.org or zkhan@mbita.mimcom.net.

We find it quite staggering that you should make such misleading comments on prime time radio. The 'push pull' project in fact illustrates how the problem pest and weeds which plague farmers in the Global South can be tackled by well researched crop management techniques. These have the advantage of being cheap to apply and being free of the potential environmental and health impacts of GM crops or pesticide usage. If Africa is to become more self reliant in food supply without locking farmer into very expensive GM seeds and their associated herbicides then the Government need to be funding more projects like 'push pull'.

In view of the grossly misleading nature of what you said, may we respectfully suggest that you make a public apology.

You also made a number of other claims about GM. For instance that food could be made safer by 'snipping out' allergenic proteins and that GM will be able to produce 'more crop per drop' implying that GM crops would some how allow crops to thrive in drier conditions. Both claims greatly exaggerate the progress achieved so far in genetically modifying crops.

As you know the removal of allergens was covered by the GM Science review (which Professor King chaired) in 2003. This quote deals with the problem of removing allergenic protein from peanuts.

'Efforts to remove the allergen from peanuts would be beneficial to a substantial fraction of the population whose sensitivity to the protein can expose them to life threatening situations and work to this end is underway (Bannon et al.2001). Although this would be beneficial, it is not simple to achieve. Peanut contains potentially more than 20 allergenic proteins. The removal of one or two of them are unlikely to make the peanut safe to eat for all peanut allergy sufferers.'
http://www.gmsciencedebate.org.uk/report/pdf/gmsci-report1-pt3.pdf

Paragraph 5.3.

The snipping of gluten genes from wheat , as you will know, would greatly damage the bread making quality of wheat and therefore would be unlikely to be economically viable even if it was effective

From the perspective of the allergy sufferer the existence of a non allergenic GM version of the crop would not necessarily lead them to eat this product given the high risk of cross contamination with conventional products all along the food chain from seeds to plate. This would be particularly true of people who suffer nut allergies because reactions can be triggered by very limited exposure to the allergenic proteins.

You also spoke about rainfall patterns and getting more 'crop per drop', which implied that GM provided the answer to growing food crops in very dry areas. This is misleading because seeds (GM and others) will not germinate in the absence of soil moisture. Secondly it implies that the production of drought tolerant crops is close to being achieved. Your views are in marked contract to those of one practitioner in this field who feels that GM drought tolerant crops will take much longer:

Professor Ossama El-Tayeb, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus of Industrial Biotechnology at the University of Cairo

'I read with interest and respect Friderike Oehler's message (nr. 56) and fully appreciate her concerns and am similarly convinced of the potential of 'alternatives'. I wish to add that transgenicity for drought tolerance and other environmental stresses (or, for that matter, biological nitrogen fixation) are too complex to be attainable in the foreseeable future, taking into consideration our extremely limited knowledge of biological systems and how genetic/metabolic functions operate.

Those who propagate the ideas that any biological function could be genetically manipulated are optimists who are probably victims of a consortium of 'arrogant' scientists and greedy business who have strong control on policy making and the media. Having said that, I feel we should not lose hope of reaching such noble goals and should continue to fund such research whose fruits may be reaped by a future generation. These goals have been used by the proponents of currently available genetically modified organisms (GMOs) under the control of big business, who propose that GM crops will alleviate poverty soon while in fact currently available ones mostly contribute negatively to poverty alleviation and food security and positively to the stock market. The holders of intellectual property rights for present day GM crops keep teasing us about the potential of GMOs resistant to abiotic stresses and the like while doing nothing about developing such crops for this generation. These are simply not easily exploitable in a business market and are accordingly not on their agenda. Basic research in this area is being funded almost exclusively by public funds.'

See http://www.fao.org/biotech/logs/C14/280307.htm

I look forward to hearing from you on how you intend to address righting the inaccurate and misleading information which was broadcast on 27th November 2007.

Yours sincerely
Pete Riley
Campaign Director

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