Open Letter 12th November 2007
Professor Sir David King Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government
Dear Sir David
You may recall that we exchanged some correspondence some years ago, when we expressed our grave concern about the role played by the Royal Society in the vilification of Dr Arpad Pusztai following his discovery that GM potatoes had a damaging effect upon the health of laboratory animals. His findings were deeply uncomfortable to the Government of the day, and to the GM multinationals, and the "shoot the messenger" strategy effectively destroyed Dr Pusztai's career and (of course!) turned him into a hero of NGOs and consumer groups worldwide. The treatment meted out to him was truly appalling, and should have had no place in a society that truly respects good science. His science WAS good, and Dr Pusztai remains one of the most fastidious and careful scientists I know.
My reason for writing now is to express my support for your new initiative which is called by the media the Science Ethics Code. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6990868.stm It is heartening indeed that UK science-trained civil servants (all of them?) have signed up to the code, and that you hope to encourage scientists from industry and the universities to join them. However (and I have made this point more than once to the Government and the Royal Society) it is all very well to look for improvements in the behaviour of individual scientists, and to root out mavericks, but it is vastly more important to get rid of the corporate and institutional scientific corruption which is largely responsible for giving science such a bad name. In your role as the Government's Chief Scientific Advisor, is this something that you are taking on?
In the field of GM research, we have tracked the behaviour of Monsanto and Syngenta in particular, and what we see is an ongoing and systematic disregard for scientific ethics. They have never denied their involvement in lies, bribery and corruption of various sorts, and seem to take it for granted that government regulators find their behaviour quite acceptable. We have recorded some instances on our web site:
You may argue that we are hunting high and low for examples of corruption and unethical behaviour, and indeed we are, because we believe it is in the public interest for us to do so. Somebody has to do it, because it appears to us that both the UK government and the regulatory bodies are incapable of opening their eyes to what is going on beneath their noses, and are frightened to death of upsetting the gigantic corporations which promise to bring multi- million corporate biotech investments into the country. Commerce and a blind faith in the merits of biotechnology win over scientific ethics every time.
One of the despicable tactics used by the biotechnology corporations is the blocking of scientific research into health and safety issues through the withholding of test materials. Monsanto killed off research in Hungary by Professor Darvas and colleagues by withholding MON810 test materials as soon as it became apparent that environmental damage was being demonstrated. In Australia, neither Monsanto nor Bayer will provide GM canola seed for official field trials in Western Australia because it is "not in their commercial interests to do so." In other words, they know that yield results will not be to their liking, and that environmental damage will be documented. Other scientists (including Manuela Malatesta, Irina Ermakova, Gilles-Eric Seralini, Allison Snow and Judy Carman) have been refused GM reference and test materials for their experiments -- again simply because they are independent and careful, and will not allow the patent owners to control their experiments, veto publication or manipulate their results.
We have tried to get EFSA to address this issue of "research blocking" in a letter to Dr Harry Kuiper (and more recently to the Executive Director, Catherine Geslain-Laneelle), but we have simply been ignored.
Another tactic, used by the Government and the Royal Society among others, is the vilification of scientists who turn up test results which the GM corporations (and scientists who have made their careers in the GM field) find uncomfortable. Pusztai knows all about this, as does Ignacio Chapela, Manuela Malatesta, Mae-wan Ho, Angelika Hillbeck, Judy Carman and many others. The latest scientist to be set up for a premeditated attack by representatives of the GM industry is Irina Ermakova, with the connivance of Nature Biotechnology:
I am writing to you at your Cambridge Email address because I hope that this way there is a chance that you might see my letter and read it! I have learnt from bitter experience that letters to DEFRA and other ministers with an interest in GM matters are simply diverted by civil servants and seldom if ever reach their destinations. So DEFRA controls the mail as it controls the GM "information flow" and the GM agenda!
Will you please move on from looking at the dangers posed by "scientific mavericks" to the far greater dangers posed by scientific corruption within the large companies which want to open the floodgates to GM crops and foods, and by civil servants and regulatory bodies like ACRE which appear to have no regard for scientific ethics, public opinion, or the precautionary principle?
In our organization, we now feel that while the Government and bodies like ACRE and FSA protest that they always base their opinions on "sound science", their priorities and their opinions are actually based upon politics and ideology.
I look forward to hearing from you, and would, of course, welcome an opportunity to talk these matters over with you if you can find the time.
Yours is not an easy job!
Dr Brian John GM Free Cymru
Note: Sir David has chosen not to respond to this letter. That is strange, given his professed great interest in GM matters. On the day of his valedictory lecture to the great and good of the scientific world, he spoke on BBC's Today programme about the importance of GM science -- we should all be concerned that Sir David, as the Government's chief scientific adviser, should apparently be completely unwilling to recognize that there are any defects in the GM enterprise and any corruption at the heart of GM research as conducted by the biotech multinationals. It appears that he is happy for his trumpeted science ethics code to apply to some, but not to others. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7113199.stm