- Two scientists responsible for independently verifying
the safety of the government's controversial GM food trials are also being
paid by a leading GM company, it emerged last night.
- Bob May and Alan Dewar of the Institute of Arable Crops
Research, an organisation subsidised by the government, were appointed
in June to help lead a team of "world-class scientists" to look
at the potential adverse impacts of the farm trials.
- They had earlier been commissioned by Norfolk-based GM
company AgrEvo to look for the environmental benefits of the company's
crops. Dr May and Dr Dewar are testing AgrEvo's crops for the department
of the environment.
- In the past year the government has made great play that
all official GM committees should be seen to be completely independent,
after it was shown that many of its advisers had direct involvement with
the biotech industry.
- Yesterday the cabinet office, now handling all GM matters,
was unrepentant. "It is inevitable that some of them will have worked
on industry funded projects," said a spokesman.
- But Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace called for the
scientists' resignation and the winding up of the farm-scale trials, several
of which have been partly destroyed by anti-GM activists and one of which
was abandoned by the farmer.
- "How can scientists be working for the biotech companies
on the benefits of the crops even as they are supposed to be carrying
out independent research on their risks?" said Adrian Bebb of Friends
of the Earth. "The farm-scale trials are becoming a farce."
- But Dr Les Firbank of the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology,
the overall leader of the scientific team drawn from three of Britain's
leading research institutions, defended his team: "There are individuals
doing work funded by companies but that does not detract from the independence
of the science."
- He added that Dr Dewar and Dr May "are part of the
overall scientific leadership but the independence of the tests is guaranteed
by the independent steering group [which includes representatives from
the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and English Nature]. They
have managerial and scientific input but they themselves do not have primary
responsibility for writing the report."
- Earlier this week Dr Dewar, an entomologist, was furious
that some of his research for AgrEvo had been destroyed by activists. He
helped devise experiments to show that bugs and insects could be attracted
to GM crops, which need less weedkiller.
- "One sixth of a site was destroyed," he said.
"We decided to harvest it two months early. Destroying these crops
is destroying knowledge. We can answer some of the questions asked by the
green lobby if we are allowed to. I do not exactly think they are benign."
- AgrEvo has appealed to the government for help protecting
the crops from activists. Another of their small trials was destroyed yesterday
morning in Hertfordshire. Three activists from Genetix Snow ball admitted
- Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth said yesterday that
the government farm trial tests were inadequate.
- Mr Bebb said: "These trials are creeping commercialisation.
They are not going to answer the questions people are asking. It will be
difficult to find their effects in the few years they have allowed for
the trials. They need to be longer and it will be difficult to establish
their full effects without full commercial growing, by which time it will
be too late for the environment."
- Anti-GM activists are concerned that the trials will
be dramatically expanded next year. Letters from AgrEvo to the government
suggest it may test 12,000 acres of GM crops, compared with less than 100
this year. The company says this is the scale of trials government scientists
suggested might be needed. "It doesn't mean that we will grow that
much," said a spokeswoman.