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Aid agencies and environmentalists have deceived the public over genetically
modified crops by deliberately ignoring scientific evidence that supports
the technology, according to a new book, March 2005 by David Harrison.
The March of Unreason, by Dick Taverne, the Liberal Democrat peer, accuses
Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and other green groups of turning their
opposition to GM plants into a "religious crusade", based on "blind faith
and deep bias" rather than serious research.
Lord Taverne, a member of the House of Lords science and technology
committee, accuses environmentalists and aid agencies of ignoring "solid
science", citing each others' reports, and using discredited studies to push
the case against GM crops.
He also argues that the green lobby has whipped up public hysteria with
scare stories and emotive terms such as Frankenstein foods when the science
shows overwhelmingly that GM crops will help to ease world hunger and
poverty, help the environment and improve public health.
The peer, who is also the founder-chairman of the charity Sense about
Science, said that the green lobby's activities had done enormous damage to
Britain's biotechnology industry, a field in which it was a world leader.
As a result of the opposition, the Government imposed a five-year moratorium
on GM crops - from 1999 until last year - and has still to approve their
full-scale commercial production.
In the book, which has been published ahead of tomorrow's announcement by
the Government of the results of its latest field-scale evaluation of GM
crops, Lord Taverne gives many examples of the green lobby's "misuse" of
evidence and research.
He highlights how a report by the charity Action Aid in 2003 quoted studies
by Greenpeace, other green pressure groups and its own "branches" before
concluding that GM crops would not benefit the Third World.
Lord Taverne said, however, that the study ignored the findings of
independent experts, the National Academy of Sciences USA, several other
national academies of science, the Third World Academy of Sciences, four
Royal Society reports and two reports by the Nuffield Council. "But because
it is published by an aid agency and relies on reports by green lobbies to
which most newspapers are sympathetic, the press treats it with deference,"
The book also refers to the case of the Monarch butterfly (Danaus
plexippus), a species said by one study to be at risk from GM crops. Its
cause was adopted by green groups and received widespread media attention.
Soon afterwards, however, eminent plant biologists rejected the research
when field studies found that the impact on the butterfly was negligible.
Despite this, green groups still say that GM crops kill the Monarch.
Another report, Feeding or Fooling the World - Can GM crops really feed the
hungry? - published in 2002 by the Genetic Engineering Alliance, a coalition
of 120 British-based organisations calling for a ban on GM crops, applies "a
similar lack of rigour", according to Lord Taverne.
"Every possible quotation that supports or might appear to support the case
for a freeze is cited, irrespective of its academic worth; no evidence
against is mentioned, however eminent and independent the source... in
places this report seems almost deliberately designed to mislead," the
Lord Taverne mentions another report by Action Aid, this time on the Golden
Rice project. This involved genetically modifying rice to produce Vitamin A
in the body - a breakthrough hailed by scientists as an important step
towards helping 14 million children under five years old who suffer from
Vitamin A deficiency, which can lead to measles and blindness.
The charity's report dismissed the project as worthless and cited a
"finding" by Greenpeace that a child would have to eat about 7kg of cooked
Golden Rice to obtain the required amount of Vitamin A.
The report failed, however, to quote the conclusions of the project's
original researchers, who said that a child would benefit by consuming 200g
of rice a day.
Lord Taverne said that to dismiss the project on the basis of Greenpeace's
claims was "like quoting the Pope as an unbiased authority on
Most of the media have swallowed the green lobby's line, he said. A
genetically modified tomato puree was popular until the press began a
campaign against Frankenstein foods in 1999, prompted by publicity given to
a study in The Lancet.
The research highlighted the adverse effect of GM potatoes on rats, but was
discredited as "flawed" by the Royal Society.
It said that no conclusions should be drawn from it, but Greenpeace, Friends
of the Earth and their allies, continued to stress health hazards from GM
crops, Lord Taverne said.
To illustrate the green lobby's "eco-fundamentalism" Lord Taverne cites the
response of Lord Melchett, then the director of Greenpeace, to a question
asked by the Lords select committee on GM crops, which reported in 1999.
Asked about his opposition to GM plants Lord Melchett replied: "It is a
permanent and definite and complete opposition based on a view that there
will always be major uncertainties. It is the nature of the technology,
indeed it is the nature of science that there will not be any absolute
The European Commission encourages GM crops, which it has declared to be
safe, but EU member states, except Spain, are reluctant to license them.
Lord Taverne's book says, however, that GM technology will lead to more
efficient land use and produce more nutritional, varied and cheaper food.
The crops will be able to grow in arid and saline areas, survive drought,
eliminate the need for pesticides and free land for wildlife.
He highlights the widespread use and success of GM crops in countries
including the US, China, South Africa, India and Argentina and expresses
puzzlement that the public accepts biotechnology for medicines such as
insulin, but not plants.
Green groups rejected the peer's accusations. Tony Juniper, the executive
director of Friends of the Earth, said that the green lobby took science
"very seriously" and studies so far had failed to prove the long-term safety
of GM crops.
"Science has its limits. We have concerns about the social, economic,
environmental and ethical impact of this technology," he said.
Action Aid also denied that it had ignored scientific evidence, while Pete
Riley, the spokesman for the Five-Year Freeze Campaign, another anti-GM
lobby group, said.
"Dick Taverne and his friends should get out and find real solutions to the
world's problems, and not just help those who want to profit from new
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