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expert reaction to the Science and Technology Select Committee report on GM regulation

The Science and Technology Select Committee of the House of Commons has released a report on the regulation of GM techniques in agriculture, suggesting that they should be regulated in a similar way to other technologies.

 

Prof. Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, said:

“The debate on GM is too often hampered by myths and misinformation. That is as true of the debate among legislators as it is of public debate. To have a good discussion people need to be able to assess the actual evidence, free of the ideology. The Select Committee is right that it is time for that discussion to happen.

 

Prof. Jackie Hunter, Chief Executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), said:  

“The report reflects BBSRC’s position on advanced genetic techniques in its call to consider all of the tools at our disposal to feed a growing population and its focus on social, political and economic factors in addition to technological solutions.

“BBSRC has a long and continuing history of engaging the public in conversations about science and so welcomes the recommendation for a constructive conversation about what we want from food and agriculture.”

 

Prof. Ottoline Leyser, Director of The Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge, said:

“I particularly welcome the call to reframe and widen the debate around how best to ensure the integrity, sustainability and security of our food supply chain. The so-called GM debate has shed much heat but very little light on these issues, which surely must be top of the agenda for the 21st century.”

 

Prof. Johnjoe McFadden, Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Surrey, said:

“A recent study1 estimated that the cost of the eco lobby’s opposition to Golden Rice has been about 1.4m life years lost last decade in India alone. The committee’s new report rightly urges Greenpeace and other eco-activist groups to cease their ideological-motivated opposition to this potentially life- and sight-saving crop.”

1 http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S1355770X1300065X

 

Prof. Jonathan Jones, Plant Scientist at The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich, said:

“The committee has conducted a careful and thorough analysis of those crop improvement methods usually referred to as “GM”. Its main conclusions are indisputable. There is nothing intrinsically risky about the GM method, EU regulation of the method is not fit for purpose, we should regulate traits and not the method by which they are delivered, and do so at the EU nation state level.

“It is now time for EU and UK policymakers to act on these recommendations with alacrity.”

 

Prof. Mike Bevan, Deputy Director of the John Innes Centre, who gave evidence to the committee, said:

“European GM policy has been made on the basis of unfounded fear rather than reasoned scientific evidence. Policy makers must focus on the new features and benefits of genetically modified crops when making decisions and not be swayed by exaggerated, emotive claims.”

 

Prof. Joe N. Perry, Chair of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) GMO Panel, who gave evidence to the committee, said:

“I welcome this incisive and insightful report and agree with most of its findings. The Report makes it clear that the delays in GMO approvals occur largely at the risk management phase, after the GMO has been risk assessed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Approvals for GMOs are based on evidence and data and are written into scientific opinions published by EFSA. These opinions are written by a panel of 20 independent academic experts. As a result, half a billion European consumers can be assured that when an opinion declares food from a GM crop plant to be safe, it can be consumed with confidence. The Report makes clear that the current delay in approvals to import and cultivate GM crops within the EU is due to political disagreements, not due to disagreements over the quality of the risk assessments, for which there is a strong consensus amongst scientists across a range of disciplines including genetics, toxicology and ecology.”

 

Advanced genetic techniques for crop improvement: regulation, risk and precaution” will be published at 00.01 on Thursday 26 February 2015.

 

Declared interests

Prof. Leyser:

Employment and paid consultancies

Director, The Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge

Company of Biologists, Editor of “Development”

European Research Council, grants board member

Ad hoc payments for one off consultancies for universities and research institutes, funders etc.

Gatsby Foundation, Plant Science Advisor

Norwich Research Park Science Advisory Board

Current Opinion in Plant Biology, Co-Editor in Chief

Biotechnology and Biological Science Council occasional committee work

Other organisations (unpaid)

Umea Plant Science Centre: Advisory Board Member

Gregor Mendel Institute, Vienna: Advisory Board Member

Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Tubingen: Advisory Board Member

European Molecular Biology Organisation: Member

Athena Forum: Chair

Clare College, Cambridge: Fellow

Society of Biology: Fellow and Education, Training and Policy Committee member

Royal Society: Fellow and Council member, Chair, Science Policy Advisory Group

National Academy of Science, USA: Foreign associate

Leopoldina: Member

International Plant Molecular Biology: President

British Society for Developmental Biology: Chair

Sense About Science: Plant science panel member

Science and Plants for Schools: Grant holder

International Plant Growth Substances Association:  Council member

Numerous academic Journals: Advisory Editorial Board member

Science Media Centre: Trustee

Current Research Funding

Gatsby Foundation

European Research Council

 

Prof. Perry:

“I declare no conflicts of interest.  All of my interests are declared on the EFSA website and may be downloaded freely.  I have never received a penny piece for any of my work on GM from any commercial company.”

 

Prof. Bevan:

“I have no consultancies at the moment, but I provided independent scientific advice to Syngenta and Monsanto up until the mid- 1990s.

“My grant funding is from the BBSRC and EU.

“I am a named inventor on several patents and I receive income from the JIC for these in the rewards to inventors scheme.

“I serve on several grant review panels for the BBSRC, EU and Royal Society.

“I am a Director of John Innes Enterprises, a wholly owned JIC subsidiary company.

“I have shares in a variety of companies, none of which is involved in agriculture or food production.”

 

Prof. Jones:

“Professor Jonathan Jones did his PhD at the Plant Breeding Institute in Cambridge, and then worked on symbiotic nitrogen fixation at Harvard. He began making GM plants in 1983 at a startup agbiotech company, Advanced Genetic Sciences (now defunct) in Oakland California, where he worked for 5 years.  He used the GM method to make discoveries about what regulates gene expression in GM plants, and about plant transposable DNA.

Since 1988, Jones has been a researcher at the Sainsbury Lab in Norwich (www.tsl.ac.uk), funded largely by David Sainsbury’s private charity the Gatsby Foundation. He has led a well-regarded basic research program into mechanisms of plant disease and plant disease resistance, for which he was elected EMBO member in 1999 and FRS in 2003. He is one of the highest cited plant scientists in Europe ((http://www.labtimes.org/labtimes/ranking/2013_04/index2.lasso).

“Jones is cofounder of (in 1997) and science advisor to the biotech company Mendel Biotechnology. Monsanto was a major client, but no longer is. As of July 2010, Mendel had been granted over 20 biotechnology and GM patents. In its 2008 Annual Report it listed as one of two lines of business that were central to its growth a collaborative project with Monsanto on soybean yield, “the basis of which is a Mendel technology”.  However it is not clear if this trait will be brought to market. Mendel’s 2009 Annual Report noted two collaborative partnerships: one with Monsanto and the other with Bayer CropScience.

“Jones also co-founded Norfolk Plant Sciences in 2007 with Prof Cathie Martin of JIC, with the goal of bringing flavonoid-enriched tomatoes to market (www.norfolkplantsciences.com).  Regulatory constraints in Europe mean that the benefits of this product are likely to be brought to market in Canada before this happens in Europe.

“He is also on the Science advisory board of Nomad Biosciences in Halle, Germany, which aims to produce human pharmaceutical and other valuable proteins using plant viruses rather than GM plants.

“He recently became a science advisor to start-up Scottish biotech company Synpromics (http://www.synpromics.com).

“Jones is on the board of www.isaaa.org and the science advisory board of David Sainsbury’s 2Blades foundation (www.2blades.org).

“In addition to his basic science programs, Jones has isolated and is isolating new resistance genes against potato late blight from wild relatives of potato, with the goal of using them to deliver market-favoured potato varieties that are protected from late blight by genes, rather than by chemistry.  Patents have been filed on the Rpi-vnt1 gene, which was trialled in Norfolk, and the gene is being commercialized in the US by Simplot (www.simplot.com).

“Because of his 30+ years of experience with using the GM method, his distinguished academic career, his commitment to public engagement, his familiarity with the seeds and agbiotech industry, and his concern that the potential benefits of using GM methods be brought to public use and not carelessly spurned, he is sporadically called upon to provide advice to government.  He was a coauthor on http://royalsociety.org/policy/publications/2009/reaping-benefits/ and on the annexe to a recent report about GM requested by the Council on Science and Technology (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/genetic-modification-gm-technologies).”

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