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9-Misc: UK Minister of Environment at lauch of Independent SciencePanel

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TITLE:  ISP Special Michael Meacher At Launch of Independent Science Panel
SOURCE: The Institute of Science in Society, UK
DATE:   May 19, 2003

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ISP Special Michael Meacher At Launch of Independent Science Panel

UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher addressed an historic gathering
at which dozens of prominent scientists launched themselves as an
Independent Science Panel (ISP) to counteract what they see to be a
concerted campaign by the government and the scientific establishment to
promote genetic modification (GM) under the guise of 'sound' science.

"This amounts to open scientific rebellion, possibly unprecedented in
history," said Mae-Wan Ho, Director of the Institute of Science in
Society, who initiated the move, and confessed to having been taken by
surprise, and delighted, by the positive response of the scientists contacted.

Many scientists are frustrated at the lack of open public debate on a
whole range of scientific and other issues. The 'discussion meetings'
organised by the government are invariably stacked with pro-GM scientists
hyping the potential benefits of GM, and giving the public bland
assurances that "there is no evidence of harm".

But the move to set up an Independent Science Panel (ISP) was
precipitated by the interview with Meacher, published in the March issue
of The Ecologist, in which Meacher suggested that GM technology is not
necessary to solve world hunger and could prove dangerous over the longer
term, something that the scientists have been saying for years.

The twenty-five strong ISP on GM was officially launched 10 May in King's
College, London University, at a special public conference, GM Crops: Do
We Need Them? Are they Safe? The launch coincided with the release of
their much awaited draft report, The Case for a GM-Free Sustainable World
, published on the ISIS website (, which
calls for banning GM crops to make way for all forms of sustainable

Imagine their collective delight, when within days of the conference,
Meacher's office rang up to say that he would be attending the conference.

Meacher arrived punctually at 1:25pm on the day, full of smiles as usual;
and was met at the door by an ad hoc welcoming committee of several ISP

Peter Saunders, Prof. of Applied Mathematics, King's College, who chaired
the conference, welcomed Meacher with the words: "One good thing the
present Labour government has done was to appoint an environment minister
who took the job seriously; and when they discovered that he actually
took the job seriously, left him in the post."

Meacher addressed the conference, and made clear that the GM Science
Review will not be making their final report until after the public
debate, and welcomed the ISP's input into the national GM debate. He
hoped his presence at the launch would demonstrate that the government
was keen to hear as many viewpoints as possible to inform policy-making,
and stressed, "contributions from scientists of all shades of opinion are
being included, in what is intended to be a fully participative process".
He said, "I do believe that this launch today is an important
development, and I look forward to its contribution to what needs to be a
balanced, rigorous, thoughtful and comprehensive scientific debate..."

Meacher stayed for the next hour to hear the first two talks, by David
Bellamy and Arpad Pusztai. As he left, Meacher said privately he was
"very pleased" to have met and heard Pusztai, apparently, for the very
first time. History is being made indeed, in more ways than one.

Scientists Rebelling with A Cause

"Miraculous", "Event of the year", "Brilliant" and "Wonderful" were some
of the praises heaped upon the launching conference of the ISP by the 200
enthusiastic participants.

"All too often, debates on GM begin by taking it for granted that science
is as industry and the other supporters of GM say it is," said Peter
Saunders, as he opened the 5-hour long conference, "and that no one
except anti-science Luddites are opposed to GM".

Not any more; the launching of the Independent Science Panel, its draft
report released on the day, and the conference itself, all bear witness
to the fact that it is the science of GM that's most debatable, and
that's why the ISP is needed.

When independent scientists in molecular genetics and other relevant
disciplines come out with evidence of GM hazards, that for far too long
have simply been ignored and dismissed, the pro-GM establishment can no
longer get away with sweeping assurances: "Trust me, I'm an expert."

The conference was not due to start until 1:30pm, but people started
arriving at noon, and by the time Meacher came, there must have been at
least 200 in the lecture theatre.

David Bellamy, Britain's best-loved botanist, broadcaster, and campaigner
for Mother Earth, gave the first lecture, which, uncharacteristically, he
read out from a prepared text, showing just how seriously he took the
event. Bellamy decried the folly of the human race that put us at odds
with Nature, and lamented the trappings of modern universities, with
knowledge commodified and subject to market forces. He called for a
return to the original meanings of education and philosophy, which are
essentially teaching about life in a holistic manner. "We are doing that
today; we are discussing no small matter, of how we ought to live," he
said. He noted that the issues (including GM) are complex, and "that's
why we need this panel of independent scientists".

Arpad Pusztai, formerly of the Rowett Institute, Scotland, and then
Stanley Ewen, consultant histopathologist, Grampian University Hospitals
Trust, followed with the clearest most damning evidence that GM food is
by no means safe, in the still only systematic investigation ever carried
out in the world. Pusztai, Susan Bardocz and Ewen had just published
their most up-to-date and comprehensive paper in a book on food safety.
The 'growth factor' effects found in young rats fed GM potatoes may be
early warnings of a progression to cancer, according to Ewen. There were
also non-specific signs of viral infections. Michael Meacher was clearly
impressed as he left after Pusztai's talk.

Malcolm Hooper gave a galloping review on the hazards of the broad-
spectrum herbicides, glufosinate ammonium and glyphosate, that together,
are used with more than 75% of all GM crops grown today. These broad-
spectrum herbicides not only kill plants indiscriminately, they are also
harmful to practically all species of animal wildlife and to human
beings. Both of them are systemic metabolic poisons that affect many
vital functions.

Gundula Azeez, Policy Manager of the Soil Association, made clear that GM
crops cannot co-exist with non-GM crops without risking large-scale
contamination with all the attendant problems, especially for organic farmers.

Vyvyan Howard, toxico-pathologist, University of Liverpool, exposed the
'fact-free' anti-precautionary risk assessment that industry and
regulators routinely use, that's based on little or no relevant data, but
often on models that have no contact with reality. He gave examples of
early warnings being ignored and the late responses of regulators (e.g.
in the case of radiation, asbestos and greenhouse gases). Given the
potential serious impacts of GM technology and the long time lags
involved, caution is warranted, as this is "self-replicating pollution".

Brian John, geomorphologist, environmental scientist and member of the
coordinating group for GM Free Cymru, gave an eloquent and rousing speech
attacking the corruption of science by commercial imperatives, which
makes this science no longer fit for public consumption. He spoke for the
sentiment of the ISP as well as for the audience. There was a standing
ovation for Brian John.

Mae-Wan Ho gave the final talk, and displayed her penchant for play and
the unexpected by images of "A time and a place for gene transfer", which
makes the point that genetic engineering is breaking all the rules of
evolution by increasing the scope and the tendency for horizontal gene
transfer and recombination, precisely the processes that generate new
disease agents that cause major epidemics and trigger cancer.

And as the conference was in progress, so was an "indefinite hunger
strike", which begun 22 April in the Philippines, led by a member of the
ISP, Roberto Verzola, Secretary-General of the Philippine Greens, in
protest of his government's approval of Bt maize. "We will continue the
hunger strike for as long as necessary to convince the government to hold
in abeyance the commercial sale of Bt corn in the Philippines." Verzola
said. An electronic copy of the draft ISP report was dispatched to the
hunger strikers, to present to the Philippine President, together with a
letter of support from the ISP.