GM Free Cymru

GM advocate appointed Chief Scientist for Assembly Government

Press Notice from GM Free Cymru 6th December 2007

In a move which appears to represent a deliberate snub for environmental and consumer groups in Wales, First Minister Rhodri Morgan has appointed GM enthusiast Professor Chris Pollock as his Chief Scientific Advisor (1).

The announcement was slipped out on the Welsh Assembly web site in September, without attracting any comment from the Welsh media. Professor Pollock, who retired as Research Director of the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research at Aberystwyth in March, will "advise the Welsh Assembly Government on scientific issues and how to develop our science strategy to help position Wales at the forefront of scientific developments." He will also "represent the interests of the science profession within the Welsh Assembly Government, identify the most effective means of co-ordinating the use of science and the provision of science advice both from within the Welsh Assembly Government and from external sources." As a part of his brief he will also "assess how exactly the role and responsibilities of a permanent office for a Chief Scientific Adviser to the Welsh Assembly Government should work."

Professor Pollock has now started work for the First Minister. The press release makes it clear that he will have a powerful role, reporting directly to Rhodri Morgan and also providing scientific advice of his own to the Assembly Government over a wide field. He will thus be able to intervene, and influence policy, in exactly the same manner as Sir David King has done in Westminster over the past few years. And this is why environmental and consumer groups are concerned (2).

Professor Pollock is one of the most vociferous proponents of GM technology in the UK, and in his role as Chair of the Government's Advisory Committee on Releases into the Environment (ACRE) he is seen by many environmental groups as an implacable enemy. His committee has been accused of holding to an unshakeable belief in the benefits of GM crops and foods, and of being unwilling to recognize or accept the evidence of harm which is now causing many governments within the EU to ask serious questions about GM, environmental damage and public safety. In 2004 Michael Meacher, former Environment Minister, said of Pollock: "He's a big man, he's a domineering man. Someone so strongly pro-GM is not the best person to be in charge of the government's main advisory committee on GM." (3)

Speaking for GM Free Cymru, Dr Brian John said: "We wish Professor Pollock well in his new role, and hope that he will be able to enhance the reputation of scientists in the community and to flag up for the First Minister areas of scientific doubt as well as areas of relative certainty. But we are intrigued by his appointment, and by the fact that there is no mention of his ACRE position or his role in the promotion of GM technology on the Assembly Government web site. Why not? This is like promoting an old poacher to be head gamekeeper. We cannot see how a man with such a long track record of promoting GM crops and foods can work within the Assembly, which has a long-standing policy of opposition to GM technology (4). And we cannot see how he can act as a truly independent advisor while at the same time continuing as Chairman of ACRE -- a body which has an incestuous relationship with DEFRA and which has for many years promoted and extended the Government's pro-GM agenda."

GM Free Cymru is convinced that Pollock's appointment may actually have come about as a result of diplomatic horse-trading between Westminster and Cardiff, with the Welsh Assembly perhaps seeking to establish a Welsh ACRE but having to settle instead for the Chairman of the English ACRE as Chief Scientist. From DEFRA's point of view, Pollock's presence within the Assembly is a guarantee that the Assembly Government will not depart too far from the "party line" on GM issues and will allow Westminster to make all the key decisions.


Contact: Dr Brian John GM Free Cymru Tel: 012390820470



(2) There has been a storm of protest over Sir David's high-profile "parting shot" on his retirement from the post of Chief Scientist, in which he chose to promote GM crops and foods in a manner that appeared arrogant and also naive. His piece of free promotion has of course been seized upon and heavily publicized by the GM industry, and has been attacked by consumer and environmental organizations as demonstrating a lack of awareness of both scientific and social issues.

(3) scienceinterviews.research Prof Pollock, when Chairman of the Scientific Steering Committee for the GM crop trials in 2001, refused to intervene when SCIMAC was faced with massive protests after announcing a GM crop trial at Wolston in Warwickshire, only three km from Ryton Organic Gardens. That was widely interpreted as an insult to the Environment Minister and as a calculated gesture of support for the GM industry; it also showed scant respect for the Precautionary Principle.

(4) Professor Pollock was Chair of the FSE Scientific Steering Committee -- a body which was accused of supervising a series of very dodgy practices during the Farm-scale Evaluation (FSE) programme 2000-2003. Many NGOs -- and other august bodies -- believed at the time that the FSE programme was cynically manipulated, on the grounds that: (a) the null hypothesis ('that there was no difference between the management of GMHT varieties and that of comparable conventional varieties in their effects on wildlife abundance and diversity') was not tested properly; the GM plots were managed in order to achieve cost-effective weed control, and the non-GM plots were managed in order to maximise yields. (b) there was a none-too-subtle shift of emphasis from the testing of 'likely future commercial practice' (at the outset of the trials) to 'current farming practice' (at the end of the trials). This allowed the researchers to avoid the difficult business of predicting future herbicide regimes for GM crops and their ecological effects, even though most of us thought that this was what the trials were for. (c) all of the comparisons made by the research teams were between GM high-input management regimes and non-GM high-input management regimes. As pointed out by the Environmental Audit Committee, there should have been comparisons with organic or low-input regimes in order to obtain a more realistic and useful picture. Again, this was an attempt to rig the results and to show GM in a positive light. (d) SCIMAC, the very body intent upon the commercialization of GM crops, was given the responsibility for managing the GM plots, because its members were experts in the field. So much for objectivity. (e) much was made of the atrazine issue -- it was known that atrazine was likely to be banned -- but more serious was the pretence by Bayer (and the connivance of the UK regulatory authorities, and SCIMAC and SSC) that Liberty was going to be used on its own on GM maize in future. It was known in early 2002 (and probably earlier) that the likely GM maize herbicide would be Liberty ATZ. Even if this was not known to the researchers until the work was finished, it WAS known while the research was being analysed and written up -- and it should have been flagged up as a crucial issue in the published research papers.