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scientists comment on BBC GM drama

These comments follow the screening of the new BBC drama ‘Fields of Gold’, written by Ronan Bennett and Alan Rusbridger (Editor of The Guardian), at the Science Media Centre.

Dr Mark Tester, Senior Lecturer in Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge, and a former consultant for the drama, said:

“It is important to engage in a balanced and informed debate about GM crops. This is not the approach encouraged by the new BBC drama, ‘Fields of Gold’, which presents ridiculous errors of facts to inflame uninformed anti-GM hysteria. This is a pity, as such a drama could easily have raised legitimate questions about GM crops that are worthy of debate, whilst still retaining an exciting screenplay.

“If rich westerners do not want GM crops, then I don’t give a stuff. But if in the process we prevent people who really need this technology in the Third World from getting it, then that is immoral.”

Lord May, President of the Royal Society, said:

“It would indeed be a very welcome development if the BBC were to stray beyond the usual hospitals and police stations for its prime time dramas, to cover the tremendous excitement and social impact of the work carried out in our scientific laboratories.

“However, this ludicrous piece of alarmist science fiction, which is presented as a realistic examination of the issues surrounding GM, is a disgrace. It makes the new star wars film look like a piece of cinéma-vérité. This hysterically inaccurate treatment of an important and many sided public issue show the same lack of sensitivity as, say, a drama that portrayed asylum-seekers as murderous aliens form Mars.

“The BBC will be abdicating its responsibility to its viewers by broadcasting this error-strewn piece of propaganda, which most certainly does not help to promote informed public debate around the issues.”

Professor Vivian Moses, Chairman of Cropgen, said:

“The film itself is rather a fatuous sci-fi thriller – about as believable as ‘Spiderman’. It’s hard to credit that anyone would take it as fact. In my view, the BBC has a special responsibility to treat current major public issues seriously not as science fiction or a goad to violence. Just now, when the Prime Minister has spoken so forcefully in favour of rational discussion, it is particularly important to keep the debate firmly on a realistic footing.”

Professor Ian Crute, Director of the Institute of Arable Crops Research, said:

“This is entertainment – a piece of fiction on a par with the X-files. The notion that infectious diseases can move from GM crops to infect animals and people, is barely wanting of serious comment. It is a great pity that this opportunity to raise the debate has been missed.”

Professor Phil Mullineaux from the John Innes Centre, said:

“This drama is the BBC’s answer to the X-files, where the science is complete fantasy. However, in other dramas and serials, the BBC generally gets the science and technology more or less correct. We have to ask why the BBC chose to ignore scientific advice which pointed out how appalling the science in this drama really is.

“At a time when the scientific community was hopeful that at last a rational debate could take place, this drama sadly contributes nothing to that debate.”

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