May 6 2008 by Steve Dube, Western Mail
FIRST Minister Rhodri Morgan is being urged to sack the National Assembly’s Chief Scientific Adviser following critical comments by the adviser in a Sunday newspaper.
Professor Chris Pollock, who retired last year as director of the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research in Aberystwyth, told the Observer newspaper last week that it was “perverse” to rule out the cultivation of GM crops.
The campaign group GM Free Cymru has written to the First Minister complaining that the statement is “a clear assault on the Assembly’s carefully considered and long-standing commitment to keep GM crops out of Wales”.
Group spokesman Dr Brian John said: “This statement from Prof Pollock is a breach of the code by which scientific advisers keep quiet on issues where their opinions differ from those of their employers.”
Dr John said Professor Pollock, who was appointed last September, is a well-known proponent of GM technology, and chairman of Defra’s pro- GM Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment.
“That involved an obvious conflict of interests, but when we raised this with the First Minister we were assured that Prof Pollock would not seek to challenge the Assembly’s opposition to GM crops in any way,” said Dr John.
But he drew attention to an Observer article entitled, “As the world begins to starve it's time to take GM seriously”, where Prof Pollock was quoted as saying: “To stop widespread starvation, we will either have to plough up the planet’s last wild places to grow more food or improve crop yields.”
Professor Pollock went on: “GM technology allows farmers to do the latter – without digging up rainforests. It is therefore perverse to rule out that technology for no good reason. Yet it still seems some people are willing to do so.”
Dr John said the statement was “plainly absurd”, since the biggest risks to the planet’s wild places come from industrial monocultures involving GM crops.
“GM plantings of soya, maize and canola do not improve yields, and studies show that in areas where GM crops are widely grown yields go down and chemical use goes up,” said Dr John.
“Much of the output goes into animal feed and biofuels. What is that scenario going to do for the hungry people of Africa?”
“More to the point, Prof Pollock is effectively saying here that those who ‘rule out the technology’ – including the Welsh Assembly – are behaving perversely, since they have ‘no good reason’ for their opinions and policies.
GM Free Cymru says that given such a calculated criticism of the Welsh Assembly position, Prof Pollock should be invited to either support the Assembly’s GM policy on the record, or resign his position.
“If he will do neither he should be sacked, thereby freeing him to say what he likes in the future about the supposed merits of GM crops and foods,” said Dr John.
Invited to comment, the First Minister’s office made no reply.