GENET archive


PEOPLE: CSIRO (Australia) 'dumps' anti-GM expert

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  CSIRO 'dumps' anti-GM expert
SOURCE: The Age, Australia
AUTHOR: William Birnbauer
DATE:   27.05.2007

CSIRO 'dumps' anti-GM expert

ONE of Australia's leading specialists on biological farming says he was
dumped by the CSIRO because of his criticism of genetically modified crops.

Dr Maarten Stapper, a principal research scientist, worked for CSIRO for
23 years and is an expert on soil health which, he says, is the key to
better crops.

He told The Sunday Age that senior CSIRO management bullied and harassed
him and tried to gag his criticisms of GM crops. He left in March after
his position with CSIRO's plant industry division was made redundant.

"I could have continued working for the CSIRO but I would have to give
up all my beliefs about good agriculture and keep my mouth shut about
GM," he said. "I didn't want that because I have a connection with the
farming community and they trust me."

Dr Stapper said experience as a farming systems agronomist had taught
him that most problems started with the soil, and that was where the
solutions were. "GM solutions won't solve our problems," he said.

CSIRO disputed several assertions made by Dr Stapper, who has become
something of a martyr among anti-GM groups since leaving the research
organisation. The assistant chief of plant industry, Dr Mark Peoples,
said Dr Stapper's redundancy had nothing to do with his views on genetic
engineering. A project on the management of irrigated wheat he had
worked on was now finished.

Dr Peoples said a mediator was used in 2004 to resolve a dispute between
Dr Stapper and the then head of the plant industry division, Dr Jim
Peacock, who is now Australia's chief scientist. "I guess it still
preyed on Maarten's mind ... but it went through the due mediation process."

Dr Peoples also denied that CSIRO's research was being hijacked by pro-
GM groups. About $7 million, less than 1 per cent of the total budget,
was spent on GM crops, compared with $45 million on sustainable
agriculture. Co-investment with private corporations on GM crop research
equalled about 0.2 per cent of CSIRO's total budget.

But Biological Farmers of Australia and the Gene Ethics group say Dr
Stapper's dismissal is outrageous as his research is critical to the
organic sector and to thousands of farmers developing better soil biology.

"This travesty of justice shows again that priorities for taxpayer-
funded research are grossly distorted by CSIRO contracts with companies
that direct public funds to private profits," the director of Gene
Ethics, Bob Phelps, said. "Stapper was sacked because GM giants like
Bayer and Monsanto can't patent know-how on healthier soils."

Scott Kinnear from Biological Farmers said: "We have for many years been
concerned at the commercialisation of research within CSIRO whereby
patentable technologies with income-generation potential are favoured.
This applies to their research into genetically engineered foods which
has cost CSIRO many tens of millions of dollars for no commercial food
product to show."

Dr Stapper said he was sceptical about claims that GM plants improved
crop yields and called for more studies on the safety of GM stockfeeds.

"We can learn to use the power of nature rather than fighting it with
synthetic chemicals and unproven new technologies in a war we can't
win," Dr Stapper said.

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                                 PART II
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TITLE:  Risk assessment of harmful GMOs, chemicals in environment tainted
SOURCE: The StarPhoenix, Canada
AUTHOR: Paul Hanley
DATE:   22.05.2007

Risk assessment of harmful GMOs, chemicals in environment tainted

The social license to release products like chemicals, pesticides and
genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment is based on
public confidence that these products have been adequately tested to
ensure safety. In fact, we have no reason to be assured that the risk
assessment process is adequate.

Take the recent decision by a California court, in which the judge
concluded that the U.S. government had failed to follow its own rules
for assessing GMOs, in particular Monsanto's Roundup Ready genetically-
modified (GM) alfalfa.

The court stated that the U.S. Department of Agriculture failed to
discharge its responsibilities by ignoring the fact that there were
doubts surrounding the likelihood of contamination of non-modified
alfalfa by the modified type. It then made a previously temporary ban on
this product in the U.S. permanent.

Failures by regulatory agencies to adequately assess the safety of a
product may result from an ideological rather than truly scientific
approach to risk assessment. This ideology results in part from the undo
influence of industry on government and its regulatory agencies. Another
factor is the belief that technical innovation is, fundamentally, a good
thing because it drives economic growth and progress. This belief
interferes with an unbiased assessment process.

GM alfalfa by Monsanto has been approved for use in Canada since Sept.
7, 2004, using similar criteria to those used in the U.S., which are now

In 2001, the Royal Society of Canada's Expert Panel on Food
Biotechnology warned of fundamental flaws in the adequacy of Canada's
risk assessment process. The panel urged that the system be changed to
strengthen "the scientific basis of the regulatory process by increasing
the transparency and validation of the risk assessments upon which
regulatory decisions are based. Peer review and independent verification
of research findings are principles of the scientific method. The more
regulatory agencies limit free access to the data upon which their
decisions are based, the more compromised becomes the claim that the
regulatory process is 'science based.' Lack of transparency in the
current approval process leads to an inability to evaluate the
scientific rigour of the assessment process, and thus compromises the
confidence that society can place in the regulatory framework."

The panel also stressed the need for regulators to remain independent,
neutral and unbiased.

Canada is now in the process of merging its regulatory system for
products like GMOs and pesticides with that of the U.S. This is a good
idea in principle -- in fact, there should be a uniform, global
regulatory system -- but the U.S. system is currently under attack for
being under the influence of the companies it is supposed to regulate.

It is not just Greenpeace and the like questioning the quality of risk
assessment in the U.S. In 2005, the Governmental Accountability Office
raised the alarm about corporate sway over the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency.

Another leading critic is James Huff, Associate Director for Chemical
Carcinogenesis with the National Institute of Environmental Health
Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health. In a leading
scientific journal, Huff writes, "Traditional covert influence of
industry on occupational and environmental health (OEH) policies has
turned brazenly overt in the last several years. More than ever before
the OEH community is witnessing the perverse influence and increasing
control by industry interests.

". . . corporate-funded science is increasingly common and is
accompanied by a 'substantial tradition of manipulation of evidence,
data and analysis, ultimately designed to maintain favourable conditions
for industry, at both the material and ideological levels.' Industry's
wealth and limitless global reach now extends into all aspects of
academia, government and industry-fronted nongovernmental organizations.
There is little satisfaction to be found with the science of
occupational and environmental medicine, toxicology and epidemiology so
long as much of it is funded and manipulated by industry sponsors and
published in journals that do not require disclosures of conflicts of

Risk assessment of pesticides, chemicals and GMOs is tainted. Citizens
have no sound reason to believe the products released every day into our
air, water and food are safe.

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