THE WEEKLY WATCH number 34 (26/7/2003)

from Andy Rees, the WEEKLY WATCH editor
Dear all

Welcome to WW34 bringing you all the latest news in brief in the week that saw the publication of the report of the Government's GM Science Review Panel (SRP).

Former Environment Minister Michael Meacher called the report a "public scandal".  "This is just a rehash of existing reports and includes no data of systematic trials to test GM food safety.  This is Iraq Mark 2: there is no supporting evidence for action, the public don't like it and the Government seems determined to over-rule all opposition."

The lead author on the report's risk assessment chapter was an employee of Monsanto.  A scientist who quit the SRP in disgust dismissed it as, "Naive, narrow and biased". (TOPIC OF THE WEEK 1)

Unsurprisingly, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that industry-sponsored studies are nearly four times more likely to reach pro-industry conclusions than are studies by scientists who are not industry-sponsored. (FACTS OF THE WEEK)

Hope you enjoy WW34, and please circulate widely!

Andy <[email protected]>

TOPIC OF THE WEEK 1 - GM science review a 'public scandal'
OTHER HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK - GM animal death toll / glyphosate study
ARTICLE OF THE WEEK - Pusztai interview: The Gene Genie
REPORT OF THE WEEK 1 - Biotech money-in-politics
TOPIC OF THE WEEK 2 - EU: green light for GM, red for democracy?

TOPIC OF THE WEEK 1 - GM science review a 'public scandal'
The Science Review Panel's report can be download here:

Even before its publication last Monday, the UK Government's long awaited GM science review was mired in controversy. But no one was quite prepared for the bombshells that started exploding as the Science Review Panel reported.

Here are some headlines of the week:

GM inquiry exposed as top scientist quits

Inquiry call over threat to scientist,9061,1006219,00.html

The GM plot: Scientist tried to sabotage work of top academic

Dissenting adviser quits GM panel,9061,1002057,00.html

Naive, narrow and biased...
Carlo Leifert explains why he resigned from the GM science review panel,12981,1004400,00.html

Back in March, The Observer was already reporting escalating concerns over the review "amid accusations it has sidestepped topics such as potential health effects". It also noted the high number of those on the panel with "strong pro-GM views". These included "consultants to Lord Sainsbury's biotech investment company Diatech Ltd, employees of Monsanto and Syngenta, and those who have attacked organic food - the nemesis of the GM lobby - as poisonous."
[Fury over spin on GM crops, The Observer, March 9, 2003,2763,910628,00.html]

Out of the 25 scientists on the science review panel (SRP), only 2 - Prof Carlo Leifert and Dr Andrew Stirling - were nominated by groups critical of GM crops. This makes a marked contrast with the more balanced composition of the Government's Agricultural and Environmental Biotechnology Commission (AEBC) or of the Independent Steering Board appointed to oversee the Public Debate.

In the March article one of the review panelists was quoted as saying, "The general feeling - including some of those people who are pro-GM - is that the review is clearly designed to achieve something other than an objective assessment of the issues.",2763,910628,00.html

The methods used to achieve that goal have turned out not just to include weighting  the panel in a staunchly pro-GM direction. Of the two sceptical panelists one, Prof Carlo Leifert, subsequently resigned in disgust at the biased and superficial way the review was being conducted and for fear that the funding for his research would be jeopardised if he failed to tow the party line.

Then, within days of the publication of the report, it became plain that Leifert wasn't the only one who'd felt under pressure. The publication of minutes of a panel meeting in late June revealed how an attempt had been made by a leading pro-GM scientist associated with the review - an individual said to be in a privileged academic and/or regulatory position - to undermine Dr Stirling's reputation and future funding.

Even more startling than the atmosphere of fear and intimidation that seems to have prevailed during the review is the role played by the biotech industry's representatives on the panel.

According to one source, "Whenever the information being examined appeared critical of GM, it was just rubbished. The panel had made up its mind before it sat down... Carlo complained about biotech companies being on the science panel because of the risk they would intimidate the others. They have dominated the panel."
[GM enquiry exposed as top scientist quits]

The clearest example of that domination is that the safety assessment section of the review was given to Dr Andrew Cockburn, an employee of Monsanto, to write.,9061,1002057,00.html,12981,1004400,00.html

For Leifert this was, "the last straw... It seemed incredibly naive to me to have someone whose interest is in selling GM to do the risk assessment chapter."

Cockburn, as one might expect, is a staunch defender of the current safety assessments of GM crops and food: "genetically modified crops are as safe and nutritious as those derived from traditional crops." In a published review he claimed, "The lack of any adverse effects resulting from the production and consumption of GM crops grown on more than 300 million cumula


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