Professor quits GM public-opinion group over pro-GM “rigging”

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 3rd June 2010

A leading professor has stepped down from his role in a UK government group set up to look at public opinion on GM food in protest over efforts to “rig” findings, according to reports.

Prof Brian Wynne was vice chairman of a group set up by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to gauge the public’s thoughts on GM food.

However, Wynne has resigned from his role in protest at the use of taxpayers’ money to promote “propaganda” in favour of genetically modified food, according to the Daily Telegraph.

This is the second resignation of a member of the Food Standards Agency’s 11-person steering group, set up to gauge the public mood on GM food.

Wynne resigned just eight days after Dr. Helen Wallace, director of the thinktank GeneWatch UK, left the group.

Dr. Wallace is understood to have left in protest at the FSA’s links with the agri-chemical industry, which has been lobbying strongly to allow GM foods to be used more widely.

It is understood Wynne thought the public consultation was being “rigged” in favour of the controversial technology and was “an arm of propaganda to try to push the opinion of the British public in the right direction”.

“In that sense it is in line with so much public policy in Britain that assumes the public is anti-science,” Wynne, a sociologist at Lancaster University, told the newspaper.

He said within a few months it became clear that the consultation was “rigged” to soften up public opinion ahead of government efforts to lift restrictions on the technology.

He subsequently resigned when it became clear that the consultation was biased in favour of GM and that the emphasis on science rather than corporate control of seeds meant that the concerns of the public would not be heard.

However, the FSA today (2 June) said that at a meeting last week, the steering group affirmed its commitment to holding a “well-balanced” dialogue with members of the public about the issues surrounding food produced using GM.

“The issues surrounding this topic are important to the future of agriculture and food production,” a spokesperson for the FSA said. “Meanwhile, everyone has to assess the risks and benefits of the food they choose to eat. Consequently, the steering group believes it is important that members of the public are given the opportunity to participate in a dialogue in which the views and arguments expressed by a wide variety of stakeholders are aired and discussed.”

The FSA said the dialogue should not presume any particular outcome, and should be undertaken with a view to helping ensure that the “issues, concerns and aspirations” that the public have with respect to the use of GM in the production of food are “identified and recognised” in future policy.

However, in a letter to FSA chair Lord Rooker following Dr. Wallace’s resignation, organic food body The Soil Association urged the agency to “stop wasting public money”.

“I think most people could never understand why the last government asked the FSA to carry out what many of us believed was intended to be a pro-GM propaganda exercise, pursuing one of Tony Blair’s obsessions, and costing a large amount of public money,” Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett wrote.

“Given Dr Wallace’s resignation, and the current economic climate, it would be unthinkable for the agency to continue to waste public money on this exercise.”

He urged the agency to end the GM consultation, “in the interests of saving some public money”.

just-food is the world’s leading portal for the global pre-packaged food and retail industries. Its daily mix of breaking news, views, analysis and research serves over 100,000 food executives each month.