Suspicion of science has reached a peak and the public is tired of being given patronising reassurances about safety by ‘experts’, only to be told later that they were wrong.

The intellectual arrogance of scientists offends those whose daily lives are affected by their research. It has happened repeatedly from thalidomide to BSE to ‘flesh eating’ bugs in hospitals and now it is happening again with genetically modified crops.

Proponents of Genetic Modification insist that all GM products on the market have passed rigorous safety tests but refrain from stating they stand to make millions of pounds from their sale! Yet, as they push ahead, researchers are uncovering fresh doubts, which were not picked up in these supposedly stringent tests.

 We are assured at every turn that “There is no evidence that Genetic Modification of plants and animals can cause harm to humans”, or words to that effect. Before starting work each day, those uttering such assurances ought to be made to repeat ten times, out loud, that “Lack of evidence is not evidence of lack”,     

 The issue is a matter of trust and the public have good reason to be suspicious as big business buys up science. The geneticist, Mae Wan Ho recently stated, “Science has been placed under corporate control by successive governments. Scientists are much more dependent on corporations for research funding. We have been sold out.”

The same pressures apply in Whitehall; the Ministry of Agriculture seems to have ignored warning signs over BSE in a misguided bid to protect the farming industry. Those who had early evidence of the risks to human health say they had trouble getting their work published.

The biotech industry is funding a panel of ‘independent’ scientists whose ‘mission’ is to make the case for GM crops. The head of the panel, Professor Vivian Moses, of King’s College, London stated recently, “I think you will find that most molecular biologists who understand the issues are sympathetic to GM foods.” It seems to me he is saying the public is too ill educated to grasp the technology’s benefits!

But he has also been quoted as saying, “Scientists will always agree that the truth might change tomorrow”. Such reassurance! I detest this haughty attitude. They have a moral obligation to inform and involve the public in the debate, because we have to live with the consequences.

For scientists to say, “We know best”, is just not good enough.

  Besom

I think you make some very valid points, here, Besom.

I would add that I think it important to highlight the disgraceful way in which Arpad Pusztai was treated (see below): In fact, it was his employers, not he, who went public with his findings. He was simply the scapegoat, or 'whipping boy'.

ISTM that this incident was clear confirmation to all working in scientific research (as if confirmation were needed!) that security of employment depends on telling their employers (or, in this case, the UK government) what they want to hear.

Subsequent pronouncements by 'scientific advisers to the government' to the effect that 'there is no danger whatever from consuming GM foodstuffs' amply illustrates the meretriciousness of some scientists. "Pay me enough and I'll say whatever you want people to believe" seems to be the prevailing ethos.

The same edition of the Daily Telegraph also reports "Fears that genetically modified foods could produce unexpected new toxic substances were suppressed by the American Government, a conference in Edinburgh was told yesterday."  It seems that a lawyer named Steven Duker has accused "FDA officials and advisers with close connections to biotechnology companies of having "badly misled" President Clinton and Vice President Gore."

Wow! What a surprise!! Well, it has already happened in the UK, so why not in the US?
Duker, who forced the US Food and Drug Administration to disclose documents expressing its own scientists' qualms about GM food tests, challenged the OECD conference on GM foods and human health to prove that such food on sale in America and Europe was safe.

Alarmingly, the article goes on to quote Prof. Zhaingliang Chen, who divulged that China has between 1.2 million and 2.4 million acres of GM crops. Next year his university plans to replicate the tests carried out by Arpad Pusztai (the UK scientist who was sacked for saying that no two GM potatoes are the same, and that rats fed on them suffered stunted growth).

 Sadly, nothing is said about what the Chinese plan to do if (when) they find that Pusztai was right.

 Yes, of course there may be wonderful benefits to be had from genetic modification of plants and animals, but those directing the research are blinkered by Newtonian Reductionist thinking and, so far, have failed to take into account the possible consequences of their tampering on the synergy of the system into which they are forcing genes which, in nature, are rejected.

 By analogy, almost anyone can make a jigsaw-piece of the right shape to insert into a huge jigsaw with the aid of a hammer - but until they have a detailed knowledge, and understanding, of the whole picture and how each piece effects all the others, they have no way of knowing what effect their ‘enhancement' will have.

As has (at last) now been suggested, the whole field of Genetic Engineering should be controlled by a world authority. I devoutly hope that this will be composed of scientists from as broad a range of disciplines as possible and,  preferably, with a preponderance of environmental scientists.

For the lack of a better idea, it seems to me that the World Health Organisation might be a suitable body to oversee and control this research.

I have no idea how the WHO is funded at present, but perhaps their funding could be increased such that all GM and cloning research, as well as the production costs of the spare body parts, was paid for by them. This could then lead to a situation where the WHO controlled all such research and would be in a good position to deter experimentation with the cloning of humans etc.

 Above all, I would hope that 'spares' would be supplied free of charge (or at a nominal rate) thereby taking the profit potential out of the whole thing. Once that were done, I feel, many of the moral difficulties would disappear.

Of course, given that supplies of spare parts would be limited (at first, anyway); I suppose they would have to be allocated by some sort of lottery system - unless anyone has a better idea?

Curmudgeon.

"It was recently discovered that research causes cancer in rats."