Bullsh*t over Africa (2/9/2006)

1.Bullsh*t over Africa - GM Watch commentary
2.Can science feed Africa? - BA Festival of Science

1.Bullsh*t over Africa

'Can science feed Africa?' is one of the big events at the British Association's Festival of Science this summer. But looking at the contributors to next Tuesday's event, you may think Africa deserves better than this.

The speakers include Prof David Baulcombe of the Sainbury Laboratory of the John Innes Centre, who'll be helping his audience, "Discover the technology that promotes environmental sustainability and the development of rural economies."

It was Prof Baulcombe who was the inspiration for our character 'Prof Bullsh*t'. This was after Baulcombe mislead another meeting with a series of wildly inaccurate claims about the scientific research on GM. (see 'Prof Bullsh*t & Associates') http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/pb.htm

Baulcombe's misinformation included a claim that US government research had shown that Bt crops brought "enormous environmental benefits", including "an increase in the diversity of insect life, ... a corresponding increase in the diversity of small mammal life and a corresponding increase in the diversity of birds of prey in those areas of the United States [where Bt crops were grown]." (False reports...)

All of this turned out to be a complete fiction. What Baulcombe presented as official US research due "to be released shortly" has subsequently been shown to have never even existed! Recently published US research, on the other hand, shows Bt cotton produces no benefits in terms of biodiversity - the exact opposite of what Baulcombe claimed. (New studies highlight the failures of GM cotton - podcast and transcript) http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=6904

Chairing the panel discussion that rounds off 'Can science feed Africa?', will be Dr Ian Gibson MP, another highly controversial promoter of GM crops who has been exposed in his local newpaper "as a parrot in the House of Commons." This came after a speech that the MP made on GM crops was shown to be an almost word for word regurgitation of an article "written by pro-GM campaigner Derek Burke - a former employer of Dr Gibson's as vice chancellor of the UEA [University of East Anglia]." (The incestuous world of the GM lobbyist) http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=6881

Kicking off 'Can science feed Africa?' will be former Rockefeller president Gordon Conway, who's now Chief Scientist at the UK government's GM-promoting Department for International Development (DFID).

Conway's talk is titled "a doubly green revolution for Africa" - a title all too obviously intended to pre-empt criticism of the Green Revolution as bad for both the environment and small farmers, by suggesting that the biotech revolution will be much more sensitive to environmental concerns.

Conway's promotion of biotech, however, while far more subtle, appears to be no more soundly based than that of Baulcombe or Gibson. Interviewed in The Guardian newspaper, Conway claimed:

"We support biotechnology in general, but you need to make a distinction between that and genetic modification, which is just one application of biotechnology. A good example of what we support are the new varieties of rice and bananas in Africa, which are produced from tissue culture. Both crops are spreading rapidly and producing results. GM probably will deliver results but it'll take time."'

But, although tissue culture is a largely uncontroversial biotech technique, there is no peer reviewed published evidence that the biotech banana projects in question have produced the kind of positive results Conway suggests. The projects have, though, been massively hyped as a big success story by the Monsanto-trained scientist Florence Wambugu and by the Chairman of Dupont, the company which backs the projects and which, like Wambugu and Conway, sees them as a sideways means of promoting GM as part of a wider biotech revolution.

The claims that the projects are "producing results" lack empirical evidence to support them. According to a careful analysis by James Smith - an African Studies specialist at the University of Edinburgh, the results of the tissue culture biotechnology project appear to have actually been "very mixed" and to have given rise to considerable disappointment amongst farmers. (Biotech's deceptive fiction) http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=5823

So if that's "a good example of what we support" - to quote Conway - it leaves one wondering exactly where the man brought in to make sure the work of DFID was more science based, gets his "science" from!

Meanwhile, this "doubly green" revolutionary's Department has just come in for a pasting from the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC). In a hard-hitting report the Committee is highly critical of DFID's green credentials: "DFID has failed to meet the challenge...of taking a clear and coherent approach to the environment in development and poverty reduction." The EAC also found DFID suffered from a lack of proper integration of the environment into agricultural policy. (full EAC report) http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/environmental_audit_committee/eac_26_07_06.cfm

Given the track record of some of the contributors to next Tuesday's event, a more appropriate title for it might have been, 'Can lobbyists fool Africa?'

2.Can science feed Africa?


Does the application of science to agriculture hold the key to eliminating poverty in Africa?

A series of speakers will examine this question from different perspectives, describing the mechanisms by which agricultural science can help achieve this goal and what can be done to promote them, but also investigating the factors that make it difficu


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