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scientists comment on launch of GM science review

The GM science review was launched by the Government amidst encouragements for both scientists and members of the public to take part via the website, and a series of meetings across the country.


Professor Julia Goodfellow, Chief Executive, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, said:

“We welcome this initiative as a way of gauging the full extent of scientific knowledge in this important area and I encourage all scientists working on GM and related fields to take part in this review. Science is not a black and white issue and it is vital that we take the full range of scientific and public opinions into our considerations for the future.”


Professor Chris Pollock, Research Director, Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research, said:

“I welcome any opportunity for open debate around the science of novel agricultural technologies, and I support the format that is being adopted. I believe that there is real value in helping the public to appreciate how scientists deal with uncertainty and differentiate between opposing views. The scientific community will also gain understanding of peoples concerns and perceptions of where the risks and benefits lie.”


Lord May of Oxford, president of the Royal Society, said:

“The Royal Society is strongly supportive of public debate on GM issues and has been at the forefront of this debate since 1998.

“It is crucial that this debate, which will range from the human health aspects of GM foods to the potential impacts of GM crops on the environment, is underpinned by sound science. Personally, I hope the debate will also extend to more general aspects of how new technologies of genetic modification can be best used to produce crops which reconcile environmental friendliness with consumer benefits. The Royal Society is encouraging all scientists to become actively involved in the debate.”


Gordon Conway, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, said:

“We welcome a process that begins to build public confidence in the government’s ability to ensure that the powerful new tools of biotechnology are used thoughtfully and well, particularly to promote more sustainable livelihoods among the rural poor in Africa. Until now, there has been no reliable, trusted source of information, and the public, particularly in Great Britain, has been caught between self-justification and sales pitch on the one side and scare stories on the other. However, although good scientific information is essential, it alone will not make the difference. To build public confidence the public must see how it will benefit from the technology, must see others around the world (particularly the poor) will benefit from it, must feel that it is safe, and must see their governments working to make it safe. The process must be open, and perceived as fair and objective. In other words, public confidence will come with trust. Here there can be no shortcuts. The one thing we have managed to prove conclusively about biotech is that populations cannot be browbeat by business or governments into using it.”


Professor Steve Jones, Professor of Genetics, University College London, said:

“It’s ironic that the British public are happy to accept stem cell research – which clearly may have ethical implications – but seem unwilling to accept GM crops – which are almost certainly safe to eat. In The United States it’s exactly the other way round. This just shows that the perception of science often stands apart from the science itself. Scientists often prefer to rely on the research – but of course the public must have a say – after all they are paying for it.”


Professor John Lawton, chief executive of the Natural Environment Research Council, said:

“I welcome this review which will look at what we know, what we don’t know and what we can agree on. Science is an important part of the GM debate, but it’s not the only issue that society needs to consider – there are many other aspects to it. We need to ensure that we get the right science in the right place to help provide independent advice for this thorny issue.”


Professor Chris Lamb, director of the John Innes Centre, said:

“I welcome this process as an opportunity for careful and thorough discussion about what modern plant science and, in particular, GM as a new breeding tool, can contribute to the economic and environmental sustainability of UK and world agriculture, food safety and security and the development of new “green industries”.”


Stephen Smith, chairman of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC), said:

“We welcome the Government’s determination to stimulate open and balanced debate on the GM issue, for too long the dialogue has relied on “sound bites not sound science”. A rigorous, evidence based evaluation of the science together with thorough economic assessment will provide reliable information to enable the “grass roots public” to contribute fully in the debate process.”


Professor Ian Crute, director of Rothamsted Research, said:

“Coherent presentation of the science behind the production and exploitation of GM crops has been sadly lacking from the moment they first entered the public consciousness. The selective advocacy of politically motivated anti-GM pressure groups working through a scare-mongering media has consciously created a mystifying fog of misinformation embracing, without consideration, such disparate scientific fields as mammalian toxicology, molecular genetics and invertebrate ecology.

“Unlike their opponents, serious scientists have been reticent to pronounce in areas outside their specialism and, not surprisingly, have largely failed to present effective arguments substantiating the benefits of GM crops. But now there is no excuse; scientists and other interested parties are being provided with the opportunity to engage in rational debate and dispassionate analysis of the facts. I expect Professor King’s GM science review panel to be authoritative. Nevertheless, its success will be measured by the clarity with which it can differentiate, for the layperson, substantiated scientific fact from mere opinion and speculation.”


Professor Derek Burke, chairman of the British Government’s Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes from 1989 to 1997, said:

“Foods derived by a process using genetic modification first appeared on the shelves of UK supermarkets in 1994, and since then a very large number of North Americans have eaten such foods with no demonstrable harmful effect. As the OECD Conference said in 2002, “Many consumers eat GM food. No significant effects have yet been detected on human health.” That is still true; we have therefore an excellent baseline from which to conduct the debate.”


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