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PEOPLE: Commercial Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation(Australia) axes GE crop critical expert

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  CSIRO axes outspoken expert
SOURCE: The Canberra Times, Australia
AUTHOR: Rosslyn Beeby
DATE:   20.03.2007

read more from Dr. Maarten Stapper in his publication "Soil Fertility
Management - Towards Sustainable Farming Systems and Landscapes"
CSIRO Sustainability Network, Update No. 61E, Sep. 2006:

CSIRO axes outspoken expert

One of Australia's top organic farming experts, Dr Maarten Stapper, has
been dumped by the CSIRO, amid allegations he was bullied by executive
management for criticising genetically modified crops.

The chief of CSIRO's Plant Industry division, Dr Jeremy Burdon,
confirmed Dr Stapper had recently filed complaints alleging instances of
bullying and harassment but these had been " appropriately dealt with
and dismissed".

Dr Stapper is researching carbon loss in soils, restoring soil fertility
by improving soil microbiology and use of biological farming methods to
improve wheat yields in south-western NSW. He has been retrenched from
CSIRO Plant Industry in Canberra and will leave at the end of the month.

CSIRO sources say Dr Stapper, a farming systems agronomist and popular
public speaker on soil biology and health, was "carpeted" by management
after he was overheard explaining criticisms of some aspects of GM crops
while mingling with audience members after a public forum.

They claim he received an official warning after the incident, but had
argued he was entitled to express his views as a private citizen as long
as he made the clear distinction they were his opinions and not those of
the organisation.

Dr Burdon said he was unaware of any ill-treatment or antagonism towards
Dr Stapper, and "as far as I'm aware he was not censured for commenting
on GM during the 312 years I have been chief of plant industry".

In emails obtained by The Canberra Times, Dr Stapper wrote to a
colleague that he had been "isolated" by CSIRO management and there was
no support for his area of research. "The doctrine goes that genes will
solve all the problems and CSIRO gets patents and payments from
corporations etc through so-called sound science," he wrote. "It's
difficult for me to work in the Commercial Scientific and Industrial
Research Organisation. However, I persist as I am working for the
taxpayer and I have a lot of support outside."

Dr Stapper worked as an agronomist in Canada, the US and Iraq before
joining CSIRO as a principal research scientist. He developed new
irrigation scheduling programs and methods of calculating nitrogen in
the soil before switching his focus to soil biology and health.

In a brief biographical statement on a conference website, Dr Stapper
says working in irrigated wheat paddocks made him aware " most problems
start with the soil, and thus solutions should commence there".

He argued that the use of "fertilisers, pesticides and other synthetic
chemicals to address problems in agricultural production has been
leading to poor soil health and resistance in insects, diseases and weeds".

Dr Burdon said CSIRO had a large national team working on sustainable
agriculture issues such as integrated farm management systems but Dr
Stapper's research had been "more at the organic end". He confirmed that
Dr Stapper was the only CSIRO scientist working on organic and
biological farming systems and the research program would end when he left.

Asked about further research on increasing carbon uptake of soils, Dr
Burdon replied, "We won't be doing any more of that."

He said CSIRO did not consider biological and organic farming to be "a
long-term viable strategy" and Dr Stapper's research was "not an area
the division feels it can support any more".

Opposition primary industries spokesman Senator Kerry O'Brien said
Australia's farmers could not afford to lose such valuable scientific
expertise and dumping Dr Stapper's research showed "particularly poor
planning" by CSIRO.

Australian Democrats leader Senator Lyn Allison described Dr Stapper's
retrenchment as "an extraordinary loss of expertise on a critical
greenhouse issue".

Senator Allison raised questions about CSIRO's continuing support for Dr
Stapper's research at last month's Senate Estimates committee hearing,
but was told by CSIRO representatives that they were unaware of any
research being conducted on organic or biological farming systems within
the organisation.

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