A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Open letter about ‘GM’ from UK scientists to HM Government.....

At last the science community has united and fought back against the disgraceful media coverage of the great GM debate. Here, with permission, I am able to reproduce in full, with all 144 signatories, the 'Open letter about ‘GM’ from UK scientists to HM Government' which was delivered, in person, to Number 10 Downing Street yesterday, and which has been fully reported in The Times and on the 'Today' programme this morning. It is worth mentioning that the government did not put up someone to discuss the letter with Professor Burke on the 'Today' programme. We are all indebted to Professor Burke for his hard work in achieving such agreement among so many distinguished scientists. The letter is signed by no fewer than 28 FRS (Fellow of the Royal Society) and a Nobel Laureate. For my part, it is a privilege to have been asked to support this much-needed initiative. Here are news reports on the letter at: BBC News Online and The Independent. [Please note that Baroness Greenfield will be asking a question related to this in The House of Lords on Monday]. Philip.

From Professor Derek Burke and others (full list of 114 names below)

The Right Honourable Tony Blair MP
10 Downing Street
London SW1A 2AS

The Right Honourable Margaret Beckett MP DEFRA, Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 3JR

The Right Honourable Patricia Hewitt MP DTI, 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0ET

Mr Nigel Griffiths MP DTI, 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0ET

30th October 2003

Dear Prime Minister

The results of the Farm Scale Evaluations of three GM crops announced on 16th October were reported across the media as “the end of GM in the UK”. In fact the FSEs did not assess the effects of genetically modifying the crops, but rather the impact of different types of weed control. They had little to do with genetic modification, its processes or potential.

However the government’s reaction to the latest misleading reports on GM was to remain silent. Since 1999, the government has sponsored several protracted deliberations on GM but has consistently neglected opportunities to address any of the unsubstantiated assertions about the process of genetic modification and possible risks.

We feel you should be aware of the consequences of this ongoing failure to respond and to give a lead:

1. Demoralisation
Some scientists are leaving the UK, but many more are thoroughly demoralised by hostility to the work they do, which is continually misrepresented and even sabotaged. This is despite the new scientific opportunities afforded by developments like genomics. Those who have contributed many hours to public communication and government-sponsored deliberations feel undermined by the government’s failure to contradict false claims about ‘Frankenfoods’, health risks and ‘superweeds’.

2. Declining contribution to scientific development
Work on the basic science of genetic engineering and its applications to plants is being scaled down. This will inhibit our ability to contribute to scientific knowledge internationally, and to meet challenges like yield improvement, drought tolerance and reduced reliance on pesticides.

The government’s many initiatives in this prolonged deliberation on GM crops have been structured in a way that makes it impossible to clarify the nature of the scientific work or its opportunities. Genetic engineering of plants has been reduced to a matter of consumer preference; the public has been misinformed; and the efforts of scientists to communicate about genetic engineering have been misused.

For those of us who have spent our lives ‘doing research, publishing research and teaching research’ in the UK, it is distressing to experience such a backward slide; for others of us, and our students just starting out, it is deeply discouraging. More importantly, for society as a whole, if the same framework is applied in future decision-making, we risk seeing other technologies lose out to prejudice and procrastination.

Yours sincerely

Professor Derek C. Burke Professor and Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia (1987-1995) Chairman ACNFP (1987-1997)

Professor Michael Akam FRS Professor of Zoology; Director, University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge

Dr Denis R. Alexander Molecular Immunologist, St Edmund’s College, Cambridge

Dr John Andralojc Senior Research Scientist, Crop Performance & Improvement Division, Rothamsted Research

Professor Michael Ashburner FRS Professor of Biology, University of Cambridge

Professor Janet M. Bainbridge One North East Science and Industry Council; EPSRC Council (1999-2003); Chairman, Foresight Debate in the Food Chain Taskforce (2000-2001); Chairman ACNFP (1997-2003)

Dr Jacqueline H. A. Barker Senior Research Scientist, Crop performance and Improvement Division, Rothamsted Research

Professor David Baulcombe FRS Senior Scientist, The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich

Dr Mike Bayliss Plant Scientist; Independent Consultant

Professor Sir Colin Berry Professor Emeritus of Pathology, Queen Mary, London; formerly Chairman, Advisory Committee on Pesticides

Professor Michael Bevan Professor, University of East Anglia; Head, Cell and Developmental Biology Department, John Innes Centre, Norwich

Dr Tim Bliss FRS Division of Neurophysiology, National Institute for Medical Research

Professor Paul Bolwell Professor of Plant Biochemistry, Royal Holloway, University of London

Professor Donald Boulter Emeritus Professor, School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, University of Durham

Professor Peter Bramley Director of Research, School of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway, University of London

Dr Mark S. Bretscher FRS Senior Scientist, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge

Mr Graham Brookes Agricultural Economist, Brookes West Research

Professor Mike Burrell Animal and Plant Sciences, Sheffield University

Dr Geoff Butcher Principal Research Fellow (semi-retired), Department of Biological Sciences, Imperial College, London

Professor Chris Calladine FRS Emeritus Professor, Department of Engineering,
University of Cambridge; Co-author of “Understanding DNA: the molecule and how it works”, 1992

Professor Peter N. Campbell Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry, University College London

Mr Mark Cantley Former Head, Biotechnology Unit, Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry, OECD

Dr John P. Carr Senior Lecturer (Investigation of Plant-Virus Interactions), Plant Sciences Department, University of Cambridge

Professor Rod Casey Plant Molecular Biologist, Management Board, John Innes Centre, Norwich

Dr Andrew Cockburn Fl Biol Registered Toxicologist; Director Scientific Affairs Europe/Africa, Monsanto; Visiting Professor, Dept. of Agricultural & Environmental Science, University of Newcastle

Dr Claire E. Cockcroft Co-Director, Masters in Bioscience Enterprise; Branco Weiss Society in Science Fellow, Institute of Biotechnology, University of Cambridge

Professor Edward Cocking FRS Plant Sciences, University of Nottingham

Professor David J. Cove Emeritus Professor of Genetics, University of Leeds; Clark Way Harrison Professor, Washington University, St. Louis, USA

Professor John Cummings Professor of Experimental Gastroenterology, University of Dundee

Professor Chris F. Curtis Professor of Medical Entomology, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Professor Philip Dale Leader of the Genetic Modification and Biosafety Research Group, John Innes Centre, Norwich

Dr Edward C. Dart CBE FI Biol Chairman, Plant Bioscience Ltd, (former R&D Director of Zeneca Seeds)

Professor Kay E. Davies Head of Department, Human Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford

Professor Caroline Dean Associate Research Director, John Innes Centre, Norwich

Dr Alan M. Dewar Senior Entomologist, Broom’s Barn Research Station, Suffolk

Professor Ray Dixon FRS Department of Molecular Microbiology, John Innes Centre, Norwich

Professor Allan Downie Molecular Microbiology Department, John Innes Centre, Norwich

Professor Malcolm Elliott Director, The Norman Borlaug Institute for Plant Science Research, Leicester

Professor Reginald J. Ellis FRS Emeritus Professor, Department of BiologicalSciences (chloroplast biogenesis, plant biochemistry) University of Warwick, Coventry

Professor Michael W. Elves Formerly Director of Scientific and Educational Affairs, Glaxo Wellcome plc

Professor Martin Evans Professor of Mammalian Genetics; Director of the Cardiff School of Biosciences, Cardiff University

Professor Sir Alan Fersht FRS Herchel Smith Professor of Organic Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge

Dr Elaine Fitches Biological Sciences, University of Durham

Professor Mike Gale FRS Emeritus Fellow, John Innes Centre, Norwich

Dr Angharad Gatehouse Reader in Invertebrate Molecular Biology, University of Newcastle

Dr John Gatehouse Reader in Biological Sciences, University of Durham

Dr Ruth Gordon-Weeks Senior Research Scientist, Biological Chemistry Division, Rothamsted Research

Professor Alan Gray Retired Director CEH Dorset; Retired Chair ACRE

Professor Don Grierson OBE, FRS Pro-Vice-Chancellor, University of Nottingham

Dr Nigel Halford Programme Leader, Assimiliate Partitioning, Rothamsted Research

Dr Wendy Harwood Group Leader, Crop Genetics Department, John Innes Centre, Norwich

Professor Chris Hawes Director, Research School of Biological & Molecular Sciences, Oxford Brookes University; Vice-President, Royal Microscopical Society

Professor Sir Brian Heap FRS Master, St Edmund’s College, Cambridge

Professor Peter Hedden Programme Leader, Signalling & Development, Rothamsted Research

Professor Sir David Hopwood FRS Emeritus Professor of Genetics, University of East Anglia; Emeritus Fellow, John Innes Centre, Norwich

Dr Roger Hull Emeritus Fellow, John Innes Centre, Norwich (molecular plant virology, biosafety risk assessment, developing countries)

Dr Tim Hunt FRS ICRF Clare Hall Laboratories

Mr Yousouf Ismael Research Fellow, University of Reading

Professor David J. James Emeritus Fellow, Horticulture Research International, Wellesbourne

Professor Jonathan D. G. Jones FRS Head, Sainsbury Laboratory, John Innes Centre,

Professor Michael J. Kearsey School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham

Professor Julian Kinderlerer Sheffield Institute of Biotechnological Law and Ethics, University of Sheffield

Professor Sir Peter Lachmann FRS Emeritus Professor of Immunology, University of Cambridge; Biological Secretary, Royal Society (1993-1998); President Academy of Medical Sciences (1998-2002)

Professor Chris Lamb Director, John Innes Centre, Norwich

Dr David J. Leader Senior Research Scientist, Rothamsted Research

Professor Christopher J. Leaver CBE,FRS,FRSE Sibthorpian Professor of Plant Science, Head of Department of Plant Science, University of Oxford

Professor Roger A. Leigh Professor of Botany, University of Cambridge

Professor Conrad Lichtenstein Chair of Molecular Biology, Queen Mary, University of London

Professor Michael Lipton The Poverty Research Unit, University of Sussex

Dr Martin Livermore Plant Scientist; Independent Consultant

Dr Robin Lovell-Badge FRS Head of Division of Developmental Genetics, MRC National Institute for Medical Research, London

Dr Peter J.W. Lutman Head of Weed Ecology Group, Rothamsted Research

Professor Julian Ma Hotung Chair of Molecular Immunology, St. George's Hospital Medical School, London

Dr Bill Macfarlane Smith Former plant breeder and geneticist, Scottish Crop Research Institute; Managing Director, Biomac Consultancy Ltd

Professor John MacLeod Formerly Director of NIAB, Cambridge; past member ACRE

Professor Alan Malcolm Chief Executive, Institute of Biology

Professor Anthony Maxwell Head, Department of Biological Chemistry, John Innes Centre, Norwich

Mr Mike J. May Deputy Director, Broom’s Barn Research Station, Suffolk

Professor Simon McQueen-Mason Chair in Materials Biology, CNAP, Department ofBiology, University of York

Professor Nicholas A. Mitchison FRS Professor of Immunology, University College, London (Expert on mutation and natural selection of immunological genes)

Dr Stephen Morse Applied Biologist; Reader in Development Studies, Department of Geography, University of Reading

Professor Bevan Moseley Member, ACNFP (1988-1999); Member, EC Scientific Committee on Food (1997-2003)

Professor Vivian Moses Department of Life Sciences, King's College, London

Dr Phil Mullineaux Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre, Norwich

Professor Denis J. Murphy Head, Biotechnology Unit, University of Glamorgan

Dr Jim Murray Reader in Biotechnology, Institute of Biotechnology, University of Cambridge

Professor Sir Kenneth Murray FRS Formerly Biogen Professor of Molecular Biology, University of Edinburgh

Professor Noreen E. Murray FRS Emeritus Professor of Molecular Genetics, University of Edinburgh

Professor Dame Bridget Ogilvie FRS Vice Chairman, 'Sense about Science'; Visiting Professor, University College, London

Dr John Ollerenshaw Head of the School of Biology, University of Newcastle

Dr Matthew J. Paul Assimilate Partitioning, Rothamsted Research

Professor Sir Keith Peters FRS Regius Professor of Physic, University of Cambridge

Dr Richard Phipps Principal Research Fellow, University of Reading

Dr John Pidgeon Director, Broom’s Barn Research Station, Suffolk

Dr Guy Poppy ARCS, DPhil, C.Biol, F.I.Biol Reader in Ecology, Head of Biodiversity & Ecology Division, University of Southampton

Professor Jack Pridham Plant Biochemist, Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry, Royal Holloway, University of London

Professor W. Paul Quick Department of Animal & Plant Sciences, University of of Sheffield

Dr Stephen Rawsthorne Associate Head, Department of Metabolic Biology, John Innes Centre, Norwich

Dr Matt Ridley Author ‘Genome’; Chairman, Centre for Life, Newcastle

Professor Keith Roberts Plant Cell Biologist, Department Cell and Developmental Biology, John Innes Centre, Norwich

Professor Willie Russell FRSE Emeritus Research Professor, University of St Andrews

Professor J. Howard Slater Business Fellow, University of Exeter; Chief Executive Officer, BioElf Ltd

Professor John W. Snape Head of Crop Genetics, John Innes Centre, Norwich

Professor Philip Stott Emeritus Professor, University of London; Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Biogeography

Sir Richard Sykes FRS Rector of Imperial College, London

Dr Mark Tester Senior lecturer, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge

Professor Brian Thomas Head of Crop Improvement and Biotechnology, Horticulture Research International, Wellesbourne

Professor Anthony Trewavas FRS Academia Europea; Professor in Plant Biochemistry, University of Edinburgh

Professor Lord Leslie Turnberg House of Lords

Dr Roger Turner Chief Executive, British Society of Plant Breeders

Professor Mike Wilson Chief Executive, Horticulture Research International, Wellesbourne

Professor Lord Robert Winston Professor of Fertility Studies, Imperial College; Director of NHS Research and development, Hammersmith Hospitals Trust

Dr Greg Winter FRS CBE Joint Head, Division of Protein & Nucleic Acid Chemistry, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology

Professor Lewis Wolpert FRS CBE Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine, Anatomy and Developmental Biology, Royal Free and University College Medical School, London

This letter has been signed by the 114 individuals above in a personal capacity and not on behalf of their institutions or funding bodies.

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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