GM research collapses in UK - or does it? (4/7/2004)

According to the article below, in the light of the biotech industry's pull out of the UK, there is doubt that "the [British] Government would continue to plough public money into research that had no application in Britain".

However enjoyable the wailing and gnashing of teeth by the GM propagandists quoted in the article (Prof Anthony Trewavas and Prof Mike Wilson) may be, don't be fooled. And don't think the answer is necessarily to replace biotech industry money with public finance so they are less dependent on commercial funding.

The UK's GM lobby have been working flat out for some time on not just shoring up but actually increasing public investment in GM research. The strategy aims to achieve this by making sure that Third World countries continue to be targeted with the crops that nobody else wants.

And this strategy has a strong track record of success. Don't forget that the British government has already quietly sunk over GBP13m of public money into such projects via DfID during the period of public disquiet over GM. It has also sunk further money, along with USAID, into The Nairobi-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) project to push GM crops into Africa.

The recent update of the Nuffield Council's report on GM crops, courtesy of the UK's GM godfather Derek Burke, the John Innes Centre's Mike Gale etc. - was in part designed to establish a "moral imperative" in the mind of the British government and public institutions for *far greater* public investment in this area.

And since early 2003 the pro-GM lobby group Sense About Science, seeing which way the wind is blowing, has been running a campaign called 'Public-Good Plant Breeding: what are the international priorities?'.

A collaborator in the lobby group's project, is the UK's industry-friendly public funding body for the bio-sciences the BBSRC. Until recently the BBSRC was headed by a Blair crony and director of Syngenta, Peter Doyle. Its new Chief Executive, Professor Julia Goodfellow, is married to the head of discovery research at botech/pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline.

The BBSRC was recently given a clean bill of health by the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology, under the chairmanship of Dr Ian Gibson MP. The only serious fault that the committee found with the BBSRC was that it was not being pro-active enough in communicating with the public about GM in such a way as to gain public trust for such research. ech/6/609.htm

The BBSRC already puts public money into the biotech industry backed ISAAA which promotes GM crops in developing countries.

Another collaborator in the Sense About Science 'Public-Good Plant Breeding' project is the UK's leading biotech plant research institute the John Innes Centre. The JIC, whose financial support is acknowledged by Sense about Science, would benefit greatly from an increase in public funding, given the rapidly diminishing investment coming to it from the biotech industry, as with the pull out from the JIC by Syngenta part way through its GBP50m investment programme.

To gain a sense of what a small and self-interested clique is actually involved in propelling forward this technology, it's worth remembering that Prof Anthony Trewavas is currently on the JIC's governing body, as previoulsy were Derek Burke and Ian Gibson. Prof Wilson used to work in the JIC's Sainsbury Laboratory.

According to Sense About Science, their 'initiative is now being taken on and developed in the UK by the national plant research institutes with ongoing input from the Sense About Science network of scientists and NGOs.'

The Sense About Science project openly aims to raise *more* public and foundation money for the introduction of plants "developed through biotechnology" into the developing world.

What is so insidious about this -- as Dr Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, the head of Ethiopia's Environmental Protection Authority, has noted with regard to The Nuffield report's "moral imperative for investment into GM crop research in developing countries" -- is: "the moral imperative is in fact the opposite. The policy of drawing funds away from low-cost sustainable agriculture research, towards hi-tech, exclusive, expensive and unsafe technology is itself ethically questionable. There is a strong moral argument that the funding of GM technology in agriculture is harming the long-term sustainability of agriculture in the developing world.'

Nobody should be in any doubt that the GM lobby's real aim has precious little to do with feeding the hungry. It is to shore up GM research in the UK in the face of industry's current retreat, to associate the technology in the official mind with the public interest, and to give GM a charitable face via targeting it at developing countries. This also has the effect of providing  industry with a highly desirable PR lever for the technology.

GM research collapses in UK as last big firm quits
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
The Independent on Sunday, 04 July 2004

Research into genetically modified crops in Britain is set to collapse, following the withdrawal of the last major biotech company, pro-GM scientists, the industry and environmentalists have all told The Independent on Sunday.

Last week Syngenta, the only big firm still working on genetically modified agriculture in the UK, announced it was moving all its operations to the United States.

The Anglo-Swiss company will stop all GM research at its site in Berkshire and move it to North Carolina, with a loss of 130 jobs.

Yesterday leaders of both sides of the debate predicted that the development of GM crops in Britain was doomed for the foreseeable future. They said university research is increasingly financed by businesses, and doubted the Government would continue to plough public money into research that had no application in Britain.

Professor Anthony Trewavas, the Professor of Plant Biochemistry at Edinburgh University, told The Independent on Sunday: "This is a sad retreat. Work in universities will probably cease as well."

He said it would have "long-term" effects because "once teams are dispersed it takes a long time to get things back together again".

Professor Michael Wilson, Professor of Plant Biology at Warwick University and


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