GM inquiry exposed as top scientist quits

Daily Mail, 22 July 2003

A key member of the Government's GM Science Review has dramatically
quit. Dr Carlo Leifert, professor of ecological agriculture at the
University of Newcastle, resigned amid claims that the panel was
hijacked by biotech supporters.

It is dominated by scientists either employed by biotech giants such as
Monsanto and Syngenta or dependent on them for goodwill or funds.

An insider said Dr Leifert was frustrated by the pro-GM bias and quit
after an executive of a biotech giant was asked to draw up the panel's
Dr Andrew Cockburn, a director of Monsanto, was asked to write the first
draft of the report.  The GM Science Review was set up by Tony Blair to
tell the British public whether or not biotech crops and food were safe.

It is chaired by Mr Blair's scientific adviser, Professor David King.
But there are concerns that its conclusions, to be published today,
cannot be trusted.

The insider said: "The panel refused to critically evaluate what the
problems with GM might be. Whenever issues arose, they were brushed
aside. The pro-GM people would get up and say those who make these
criticisms are not proper scientists.

"Carlo was put under an awful lot of pressure for pointing out gaps in
the GM food and crop safety approvals process  -  for example, failure
to check for certain types of allergens.

"Whenever the information being examined appeared critical of GM, it was
just rubbished. When the man from Monsanto was chosen to write the first
science panel draft, that was too much for Carlo."

Dr Leifert, head of the Tesco Centre for Agriculture, has refused to
discuss his resignation.

But the insider said: "The panel had made up its mind before it sat
down. They were trying to find reasons to say to the public, 'You don't
need to be worried about GM'. When Carlo realised that, he decided it
was impossible to put his name to its report."

The revelations are highly embarrassing for the Government. The source
said the problem was that the scientists who understand GM are too close
to the biotech companies who fund research.

"Too many molecular biologists depend directly on biotech companies for
their funding or goodwill. Consequently, it is very difficult for those
scientists who really understand the issues to be critical.

"Carlo complained about biotech companies being on the science panel
because of the risk they would intimidate the others. They have
dominated the panel."

As well as Dr Cockburn, the panel included Dr Simon Bright, head of
European genomics at Syngenta. Other GM enthusiasts included Professor
Chris Leaver, head of plant sciences at Oxford University, Dr Mike Gale
and Professor Philip Dale, both of the John Innes Research Centre in
Norwich, and Professor Mike Gasson, of the Institute of Food Research in