Science serving politics

March 2014
A poster with the slogan stop gmo
Photo Creative Commons (by Stephen Melkisethian on Flickr)
The UK Environment Minister, Owen Paterson, was in Brussels recently apparently enacting the latest instalment of the Paterson/Westminster GM soap opera [1,2].

Paterson's mission was to take back GM regulatory powers from Europe in order that the UK can unilaterally approve GM crops, grow them and make us eat them.  He was armed with a report specially commissioned by the Council for Science and Technology (CST), the Government's own science advisers. 

Conveniently, the report “...makes a series of recommendations that would allow a safe and sustainable agriculture to use GM varieties for the benefit of the farmer, consumer and the environment.”

Details of the CST report were sent to David Cameron back in November 2013, but it wasn't rolled out until March 2014 when its 'science' was needed to serve the Westminster political agenda in Brussels.

In case he'd missed the point first time round, the report's publication was accompanied by a letter from the CST to the Prime Minister drawing on its findings and recommendations.  Also, a well-timed press briefing ensured that major propaganda-laden coverage appeared in the Guardian and Observer, including an article written by the report's lead author.

A much more sceptical (and researched) article appeared in the Daily Mail.  It pointed out that all the report's authors seemed to have been hand-picked for pro-GM bias: directly or indirectly, all of them had biotech industry connections, financial dependence on continuing GM research, a need to maintain professional credibility and status, and interests in patents on GMOs.


 The CST report included some classic examples of propaganda-dressed-up-as-science.  Here are a couple of tips on how to spot them: 
  1. Look out for any statement to the effect that GM has been proven safe because an enormous number of people have eaten GM foods with no credible link to any harm.  (For more, see [3]). In over a decade, lots of people must have died or become ill after eating GM food.  No link can possibly be made between the two because no scientific tests have ever been developed to identify what signs and symptoms to watch out for: Arpad Pusztai in Scotland was on the case in the 1990s, and more recently Gilles-Eric Séralini in France, but both were silenced [4].
  2. Look out for your concern about GM being rewritten as “unconvinced by the benefits”, or  “doubt about the motives behind it”, or “Luddite”, or “ignorance of the science” etc., etc.  The concern is that GM food is NOT SAFE, and that nobody's checking it.

 Feel free to dismiss any article (even one written by a top science adviser to the Government) if it contains either of the above fanciful notions.

[1]  THE NEW YEAR GM PEP TALK - February 2014
[4]  TORCHING THE SCIENCE - January 2014

·       GM Science Update slammed as “unadulterated propaganda”, GM-Free Cymru Press Notice, 14.03.14
·       There's no choice: we must grow GM crops now, Observer Editorial, 16.03.14
·       David Baulcombe, It's time to rethink Europe's outdated GM crop regulations, Guardian 14.03.14

·       David Carrington, David Cameron's science advisers call for expansion of GM crops, Guardian 14.03.14

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