[For further information on the Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and
Agriculture see Forum website.
Note, participants are assumed to be speaking on their own behalf, unless they state otherwise.]
Sent: 04 February 2005 10:13
Subject: 78: Experiences from the UK
I am Derek Burke, living in Cambridge UK, now retired from my last position as a University Vice Chancellor. I have followed this debate with interest, since this issue has been active here.
Helen Chambers (Message 75) asks (in response to a comment by Anne Bridges, Message 72) what evidence is there about the safety of GM foods and I refer her to two exhaustive reports produced by the UK Government at http://www.gmsciencedebate.org.uk/ . The introduction states: "Government has been promoting a national dialogue on genetic modification (GM) issues. One part of this was a review of the science of GM, led by Sir David King (the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser) working with Professor Howard Dalton (the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), with independent advice from the Food Standards Agency. This 'GM Science Review' has now concluded its work".
This e-mail conference has identified the need to consult consumers in a balanced way, still a major difficulty in the UK. I was chairman of the Government’s Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes from 1989 to 1997, and it was our responsibility to advise Ministers about the safety of all novel foods, including those derived by genetic modification. I was not allowed to have any connection to any food company and all members of the Committee had to declare any such interest annually. The Committee was made up of experts plus a consumer representative and an ethical adviser, in order to bring societal and ethical views to bear on the advice we were giving. We published an Annual Report, held an annual press conference, and I was available to radio, TV and press at all times. This procedure worked well until GM soya came to Europe when public confidence in Ministerial decisions, already damaged by the BSE affair, coupled with a vigorous campaign run by several newspapers and the failure of Monsanto to offer consumer choice persuaded the public that GM soya was unsafe to eat. The Advisory Committee has continued to experiment with ways of establishing public confidence, meeting in public, publishing its minutes on the web immediately after the meeting, and adding a second consumer representative, but consumer concerns continue.
A further experiment, initiated five years ago, was the formation of the Agricultural and Environmental Biotechnology Commission, chaired by a lawyer, made up of scientists, drawn from both universities and businesses, together with four senior members of anti-GM NGOs. This group has produced a number of reports, available on the web, but little agreement was reached, and the Government has very recently decided to discontinue this Commission. My view is that since the anti-GM NGOs have a non-negotiable position, placing them on a committee which was intended to work by consensus effectively gave them a veto on decisions, and it is unsurprising that agreement could not be reached. So the Government is now looking for other ways of trying to assess the true state of public opinion, influenced as it is by claim and counterclaim, and in a situation where the safety of GM foods comes about number 25 on the list of public concerns.
So in summary, we in the UK have been unable to find a mechanism which leads to conclusions satisfactory to companies, scientists and NGOs. The public has become confused and I think rather bored by the whole debate, and my judgement is that GM foods will slowly enter the British market, as and when they offer a consumer advantage since the evidence from the United States is that GM soya can be eaten safely. But we have not solved the public acceptance issue.
Professor Derek Burke
13, Pretoria Road
Cambridge CB4 1HD
Tel/Fax 01223 301159
dcb27 (at) cam.ac.uk
Sent: 04 February 2005 10:24
Subject: 79: Re: Pertinent points on this subject
This is from David Steane, a retired FAO officer in Animal Production and Animal Genetic Resources, now living in Thailand.
I am enjoying this conference and, once again, congratulate FAO on providing the opportunity for debate on a crucial issue. Much of the debate addresses how information should be transferred but, from reading submissions and experience, it is clear that there is very little good information on GMOs despite some vague assertions to the contrary. The issues are not simply with food safety but also with the growing of crops. Very few countries have carried out comprehensive trials of sufficient replicates to allow even a reasonable statistical view to be taken on the affects of growing GM crops. The UK (Royal Society) has reported some trials with very interesting results showing the necessity for careful study of each GM crop in the environments relevant to that country. For most countries, the situation is that there is no proper scientifically relevant information on which they can base a long-term decision taking into account all aspects of agricultural production.
My original comment on the pressures has just been well made by Javier Claparols (Message 77) who added some points to those of Jeffrey McNeely (Message 76). The issue of who should provide information and to whom is well addressed by Jeffrey McNeely but his proviso regarding government agencies "when that agency has proven its credibility over time" is absolutely crucial - particularly given the recent experiences with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and with Avian Influenza in SE Asia. [Point 4 of Jeffrey McNeely's message was "The key factor is to provide objective information from a credible source (or multiple sources), in languages that are relevant to the local people. With the improvement in communications technology, this should not be an overwhelming task for a government agricultural agency. It needs to be recognised, however, that government sources will also be augmented by the private sector agro industries promoting GMOs and non-governmental organisations who are arguing against GMOs. A government agency is probably the most appropriate intermediary and likely to be trusted by the local people, when that agency has proven its credibility over time"...Moderator].
The question of who pays is also difficult but not beyond solution. Field trails to study the effects and on a scale which can allow reliable statistical analysis should be shared by the interested parties - government on behalf of its agricultural community and its own self interest and by the GM companies who wish their crop to be considered for use in that country. They, after all, will benefit from the years of protection they are given by patents unless their crop is shown to create too much harm relative to the benefits - in which case the company should not benefit other than having a good scientific evaluation of its product (and at a subsidised cost!). [Question 6.k in the background document about "who pays" was however about participation i.e. "Involving the public in decision-making processes can be costly. Who should pay?"...Moderator].I look forward to further debate on this subject,
99 Moo 7 Baan Rong Dua, Thakwang,
SARAPHI, Chiang Mai 50140,
Tel/fax (66) 53 42 99 18
desteane (at) loxinfo.co.th
Sent: 04 February 2005 11:53
Subject: 80: 'Knowledge is power' and 'power is knowledge'
I picked up a text on action research this afternoon when I was meeting with another supervisor and 'our' Post Grad student. The book fell open at a chapter by Andrea Cornwall who is well known in the Farmer-First/bottom-up extension circles. I was struck by 2 headings which may be relevant to this debate 'knowledge is power' and 'power is knowledge'. I intend reading this chapter as I am sure it will have a bearing on if and how farmers inputs to deciding on GMO release happens. Action Research is about what changes, not what the scientific facts may or may not be. After all the facts do change with the people and what use is made of them.
School of Agriculture
Charles Sturt University
Locked Bag 588
Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, 2678
e-mail: adunn (at) csu.edu.au
[Work by Andrea Cornwall was referred to previously in Message 53. The farmer first extension model emphasises the important role that farmers have to play in research and extension from the bottom up (e.g. Foster et al, 1995, http://www.joe.org/joe/1995august/a1.html). Action research is a family of research methodologies which pursue action and research outcomes at the same time, having therefore some components which resemble consultancy or change agency, and some which resemble field research. (e.g. Dick, 2000, http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/arp/guide.html ...Moderator].