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7-Business: UK dossier about links between GE advisers and drugcompanies

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TITLE:  Anger at advisers' biotech links
        Dossier reveals Ministers' worries over connections between science
        experts and leading drugs firms
SOURCE: The Observer, UK, by Antony Barnett and Mark Townsend,6903,997205,00.html
DATE:   Jul 13, 2003

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Anger at advisers' biotech links
Dossier reveals Ministers' worries over connections between science
experts and leading drugs firms

Dozens of the Government's most influential advisers on critical health
and environmental issues have close links to biotech and drug
corporations, according to a dossier of Whitehall documents obtained by
The Observer.

Internal papers from the Department for the Environment, Farming and
Rural Affairs (Defra) reveal for the first time the extent of the close
connections between big business and scientists hired to give independent
advice to Ministers. Many work as consultants for the firms, own shares
in the companies or enjoy lucrative research grants from them.

Confidential documents disclose that former Environment Minister Michael
Meacher and Food and Farming Minister Lord Whitty, were deeply concerned
that scientists with industry links were dominating committees on
everything from food safety and air quality to the imminent arrival of GM
crops. Both Meacher and Whitty were alarmed that the scientists'
commercial links jeopardised the independence of the advice they gave.

- A key member of the committee advising Ministers on the safety of GM
products has received research funding from biotech giants Monsanto and
Syngenta. Professor Phil Mullineaux also works for the John Innes Centre
- the GM research centre funded by Science Minister Lord Sainsbury;

- More than three-quarters of the members of the committee which advises
Ministers on food safety have direct links to major food companies and
drug giants including Novartis, Astra-Zeneca and Syngenta. Its chair,
Professor Ieuan Hughes, has personal interests in Pharmacia - which in
April was bought by Pfizer to create the biggest drugs company in the
world - and owns shares in BP Amoco where his daughter works.

- A former deputy chairman of the committee which examines the safety of
pesticides, Professor Alan Boobis, received research funding from
GlaxoSmithKline for his department at Imperial College but never declared
it. Other members of this committee have links to agrochemical firms like
Aventis, Astra Zeneca and Monsanto. The current head of the body,
Professor David Coggon, was a close friend of Esso's chief medical
officer and received a gift from the oil giant.

- The chair of a group examining air quality in Britain, Professor
Stephen Holgate, is a consultant to drug giant Merck. His university
department has received grants from Glaxo and Astra Zeneca. Others work
for biotech and drug giants like Novartis and Schering-Plough.

- Almost three out of four members of the committee advising Ministers on
the cancer risks of chemicals in food and other consumer products either
own shares in or work for major biotech and drug corporations;

While the scientists openly declare their interests, Meacher was so
exasperated by the structure of committees advising him that he
personally intervened on a number of occasions in an attempt to get more
environmentally friendly members on them.

Last week it emerged that Whitty was so alarmed about the industry links
on the committee advising him on the safety of farming chemicals that he
broke official rules and hired a toxicologist, Dr Vyvyan Howard, who is
known to be more sensitive to environmental issues.

In one internal Defra document, Meacher scribbled his concerns in the
margins: 'I do not agree with this. No member of the Advisory Committee
on Pesticides should have current commercial considerations because this
fundamentally undermines their integrity and judgement.'

Alongside his comments, a government official admits that Whitty shares
his concerns and will be writing to the relevant parties to make his
concerns clear.

Last night Meacher told The Observer: 'These committees are absolutely
critical. They give definitive advice which Ministers at their peril seek
to overturn. I constantly argued that nobody with significant commercial
links should be allowed to sit on these bodies. It is vital they are
truly independent.'

Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, said: 'It is now crystal
clear how big business is setting the agenda right at the heart of
government. The whole process needs to be opened up and made transparent.
How can the public trust what Ministers say if their advice is coming
from those with vested interest in the biotech or pharmaceutical industry.'

A Defra spokesman said the committees publish their members' interests.

He went on: 'Defra has full confidence in the capability of independent
advisory committees across the range of issues the department deals with
to provide high-quality, well-informed advice and support.'

The Observer contacted many of the Government's scientific advisers, who
denied that their links to industry compromised the impartiality of their

Professor Boobis, who took legal advice on which interests he should
declare, summed up their view: 'It is almost inevitable that any
scientists of international repute will have some current or past links
with industry.

'To say we would risk our professional integrity because we own a few
shares in a company is ridiculous.'


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