Science in Society Archive

The GM National Debate Farce

“What debate?” Asks Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

The great ‘GM National Debate’ in the UK, perfunctory, severely under-funded and poorly publicised, lasted just six weeks from 3 June to 16 July, with simultaneous events in local communities spread across the country. It was supposed to provoke real public debate on whether GM crops should be commercialised.

Several of us at the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) attended some of the public meetings, or was a speaker in local debates. Our overwhelming experience is that the public were asked to debate in an information vacuum, and worse.

No critical, relevant scientific evidence on the problems and hazards of GM crops was presented, as opposed to the potential benefits was presented; nor the many health, environmental and social benefits of sustainable non-GM agriculture, as opposed to GM agriculture. Nor was there any attempt to provide honest answers to public concerns over the safety of GM crops for health and the environment or the social and economic impacts from the commercialisation of GM crops, which have already hit farmers in the United States, Canada, India and elsewhere.

On the contrary, pro-GM scientists, many supported by the biotech corporations, were out in force to spread confusion and disinformation. The ever-present pro-GM scientists were at hand to brush aside any serious concern on the safety of GM crops. And the same individuals were not above using debating tactics to obfuscate and mislead the public, and to intimidate and discredit critical scientists.

On one occasion, I debated Conrad Lichtenstein, who introduced himself as Professor of molecular biology, Queen Mary College, London University, and presumably supported by the taxpayer. But he is actually a member of CropGen, a group funded by Monsanto and other biotech corporations. Just so there could be no mistake, two representatives from Monsanto accompanied Lichtenstein and stayed by his side the whole day, and at a press interview, answered questions on his behalf.

The Monsanto reps had arrived early to demand repeatedly that the organisers of the debate remove a quote from me posted on their website, on grounds that it was “inaccurate”. During question time, Lichtenstein, unable to defend his position, tried to launch a personal attack accusing me falsely of not being able to provide scientific references proving transgenic lines are unstable.

At the end, one Monsanto rep congratulated Lichtenstein, “You were very good to-day!”

We boarded the same train back to London, Lichtenstein and Monsanto reps in first class, I in economy.

Why had Lichtenstein allowed Monsanto to be so intimately associated with him in public? And why had Monsanto allowed itself to be so publicly visible as a controlling influence on a scientist, thus severely undermining his credibility?

Was it intended to intimidate the opponents? If so, it failed.

In another debate, I encountered Paul Mullineaux, ex-member of ACRE and also funded by the biotech industry. He told the audience during summing up – so I was not given the chance to come back - that “DNA is DNA is DNA”, a typical obfuscation intended to perpetrate the lie that GM DNA is no different from natural DNA. He also exclaimed: “DNA is taken into cells because it is very nutritious!” omitting to say that it is transgenic DNA integrating into the cell’s genome that’s at issue, not simply taken up into the cell. And personal attacks on scientists critical of GM are now routine.

For more on the dirty science of the GM debate and the worldwide uprising against GM, read the latest issue of Science in Society. Details here.

Article first published 10/09/03

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