Keeping Westminster on the front foot

January 2013
 
Clarification (posted February 2013).
In this article we do not suggest any unethical action on the part of Professor Glover (or George Freeman, or Sam Dryden). They are all very talented people with an outstanding ability to talk and be heard coupled to a rare level of commercial awareness. It is regrettable however, that these talents are wasted on a profit-oriented system, which intently ignores the holistic value of life.
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Does it seem far-fetched to suggest that Westminster's current GM campaign is riding on some very smart and insidious PR (see WESTMINSTER'S GM PUSH - January 2013)?

GM Watch has drawn attention to at least one body which definitely has a foot in both camps, government and biotech industry, and is perfectly placed to feed GM-friendly sound-bytes into government ears.

The APG for Science and Technology in Agriculture

All-Party Groups (APGs) are informal, cross-party, interest groups that have no official status within parliament. They are run by and for Members of both houses, and may involve individuals and organisations from outside Parliament. APGs can and are a means to lobby on their pet subjects. Besides this, they can usefully act as a conduit for lobbyists who can't get a foot in the parliamentary door, or can provide a front for lobbyists who don't want to be seen.

The APG for Science and Technology in Agriculture was formed in 2010 by newly-elected MP, George Freeman. The purpose of the Group is “To provide a forum for parliamentarians and other interested parties to debate and highlight the value of science and technology in agriculture”, and it aims “not only to understand the role of science and technology in 21st Century agriculture, but also to identify any policy, knowledge-based or regulatory barriers to its adoption”. The debaters consist of 25 lords/baronesses and 26 MPs. All very respectable and worthwhile.

Publications and the website of the APG for Science and Technology in Agriculture put minimal emphasis on “GM”. For example, in its Report on “Support for agricultural R&D is essential to deliver sustainable increases in UK food production”, GM is mentioned in only one single paragraph in a 26-page report.


'Support for agricultural R&D is essential to deliver sustainable increases in UK food production' (excerpt)
67. For the future, biotechnology will be required increasingly across crop species to introduce new traits which increase yields and reduce environmental impacts. These traits will include nitrogen fixation ability, increased efficiency of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium use, improved water use efficiency and increased resistance to pests and diseases. GM technology will be necessary as an important means of delivering these benefits, but will first have to over come the negative influence generated by lobby groups, and the associated political and regulatory issues.
(Prof. David Leaver, November 2010
See Comment End Note.


Note, however, that that one paragraph makes it clear that GM is very central to everything the report says need to be achieved.

And there are lots of other signs that, at the very top of this APG's agenda, is the promotion of GM crops.

For example, the first two items highlighted in the introductory pages of the APGs Annual Report 2011-12 are:
  • the appointment of the very pro-GM Anne Glover, to the position of Chief Scientific Advisor to the European Commission (Glover previously held the equivalent post in the Scottish government).
  • the global scale of GM crop cultivation.

Front Foot Communications

The APG for Science and Technology in Agriculture has acquired the administrative services of consultancy firm, Front Foot Communications.

Front Foot Communications is run by the Secretary of the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC).

Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC),

SCIMAC was established in 1998 “to support the carefully managed introduction of GM crops in the UK”. Its members are all, of course, very pro-GM organisations:
  • The National Farmers Union (NFU)
  • the British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB) whose functions are “royalty collection and industry representation”, and whose senior executives are drawn from its 12 company members which include Monsanto and Syngenta.
  • The Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) which is “the leading voice of the agricultural supply industry” and provides agri-chemicals and seed assurance schemes.
  • The Crop Protection Association (CPA) which is “a key voice of the UK Plant science Industry” promoting the development of “pesticides, seed and plant breeding” and “agricultural biotechnology”.


Front Foot Communications' clients include:
  • The Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC) which represents all the major GM crop companies (BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, Pioneer/DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta)
  • SCIMAC members the NFU, CPA, and AIC (described above)
  • The Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) which is an independent statutory levy board funded by farmers, growers and other in the supply chain. Its purpose is to increase competitiveness and sustainability through “factual, evidence-based advice, information and activity”.
The APG for Science and Technology in Agriculture is funded through Front Foot Communications by its above-mentioned clients and SCIMAC-member, the BSPB (described above).

In November 2012, the AIC (member of SCIMAC, client of Front Foot Communications and funder of the APG) was inspired to publish a report arguing that the AHDB (another client of Front Foot Communications and funder of the APG) should have much greater control over the research agenda and fund more work on GM crops. The report was timed to feed into the government consultation on technology in agriculture (see WESTMINSTER'S PRO-GM PUSH - January 2013).

COMMENT If you've managed to follow all that, it seems to describe a whole raft of pro-GM organisations moving in concert with Front Foot Communications holding the reins. Very cosy. The APG for Science and Technology in Agriculture may be providing a forum for debate, but it seems to ensure a very one-sided debate indeed.

George Freeman

Then, what about the person behind the APG for Science and Technology in Agriculture?

George Freeman is currently Government Life Science Advisor. It seems that 'Life Science' Westminster-style means industries with end-user products in “healthcare, food and agriculture, environmental goods and services, and chemicals” (Comment. That's a spectacular range of expertise for one man to advise on)

Freeman describes himself as an “MP, Entrepreneur, Campaigner, MP” (sic.). His election to parliament comes after “a 15 year career in biomedical venture capital (i.e. talking people into investing in high-risk, high-tech business start-ups).

Before this, Freeman worked as Parliamentary Officer (i.e. communications) for the NFU, and was a campaigner for a “more vibrant rural economy and renaissance of local government”. “In recent years he has developed a growing interest in the potential (presumably the commercial potential?) of UK agriculture and plant science.”

OUR COMMENT



If George Freeman has any actual qualifications, he keeps very quiet about them, so they're probably irrelevant to the commercial ventures he's so successful in promoting. There's no sign of any expertise in the fields of agriculture or food and no sign of any appreciation of biology. He is, however, clearly top notch at selling himself to the electorate and to Ministers, and at selling high-risk novel business ideas to anyone who'll buy them.



Interestingly, George Freeman is not alone:

  • Anne Glover, whose new position gives her direct access to the ear of Brussels, is qualified in biochemistry. Her success has been in engineering genes, creating GM bacteria, and turning these novel bacteria into commercial products.
  • Sam Dryden was recently appointed head of agriculture in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Dryden is an economist and worked for the giant and infamous chemical company, Union Carbide where he set up its biotech branch which is now GM giant Dow Agrosciences. He has headed two of the world's largest GM seed companies, and advised the World Bank. Dryden was also involved in the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) until he realised it was coming to the wrong (anti-GM) conclusions, and withdrew.
These individuals have talked their way into powerful positions due to a talent for dreaming up successful money-making schemes. The worry is they haven't the background in biology to grasp the harm their product's interference in the natural order might bring. Such a level of ignorance coupled to an outstanding ability to mis-sell novel foods to the guys in charge is dangerous.



Has Westminster noticed it may have a snake-oil salesman-come- ENRON-entrepreneur in its midst?



You might have to draw its attention to this, especially since George's little circle of friends may not be the only ones.

Note on the Leaver Report, paragraph 67. The crop aspects identified in the Leaver report as needing GM to achieve (nitrogen fixation ability, increased efficiency of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium use, improved water use efficiency) are all highly complex traits very unsuited to the simplistic insertion of genes, while pest and disease resistance from inserted genes have a limited shelf-life and are not sustainable options.

SOURCES
  • GM industry funds UK parliamentary group to promote GM, GM Watch, 27.11.12
  • All-Party Groups (APGs), www.parliament.uk/about/mps-and-lodrs/members/apg/
  • APG for Science and Technology in Agriculture, www.appg-agscience.org.uk/
  • Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops SCIMAC, www.scimac.org.uk
  • Front Foot Communications, www.frontfoot.uk.com
  • Professor David Leaver, Support for agricultural R&D is essential to deliver sustainable increases in UK food production, November 2010
  • Anne Glover, Aberdeen University Institute of Medical Sciences, http://abdn.ac.uk
  • Professor Anne Glover www.ukcds.org.uk, www.publicserviceevents.co.uk
  • Chief Scientific Adviser for Scotland, www.theukrc.org, 12.09.08
  • Dean Carroll, The new EU chief scientists - in her first major interview, www.publicserviceeurope.com, 17.02.12
  • George Freeman MP, www.georgefreeman.co.uk/blog/home, www.parliamentaryrecord.com 
  • Department for Business Innovation and Skill - BIS economics Paper 2 2010

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