Jul 21, 2008

CSIRO scientist’s GM letter campaign ‘backfires’

A CSIRO scientist's campaign to sway chefs from an anti-GM food stance has hit hurdles, writes Katherine Wilson.

Health scientists have accused CSIRO Plant Industry Deputy TJ Higgins of making innacurate claims, following a CSIRO campaign urging Australian chefs not to boycott genetically modified (GM) food products.

As reported in last week’s Crikey, Higgins wrote on CSIRO letterhead to more than 50 chefs who had signed Greenpeace's GM-free Chef's Charter. But his letter campaign has "backfired spectacularly", according to Greenpeace spokesperson Louise Sales, who says health scientists and chefs are angered over public resources being used for pro-GM lobbying.

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2 thoughts on “CSIRO scientist’s GM letter campaign ‘backfires’

  1. lillian

    So the GM food we are eating has not been adequately tested. Allergic reactions, organ damage and pre-cancerous to animals eating GM food has not been followed up.

    CSIRO scientists are making claims of safety of GM foods when they are unqualified to do so. Government funded bodies promoting biotech business.

    There is a lot of money at stake in the acceptance or rejection of GM crops. There is also a lot of money at risk if GM food harms public health. This is one of the most important business stories Crikey has broken. Is that why there is not a whisper of this in the mainstream media?

  2. David Grice

    The GM debate is not black or white and there are some shades of grey. As a recent former CSIRO scientist I am saddened by the commercial pressure CSIRO is under. New staff appointments in many Divisions have only recently started to change from up to 93% casual or short term appointments during the past decade. This has obviously severely restricted the opportunity for pursuit of long-term research. This understandably created a climate of fear and a reduction of much needed constructive criticism that science is supposed to be about.

    The conflict of interest (perceived and sometimes real) between commercial interest research for industry and unbiased public interest research may necessitate these arms of CSIRO becoming separate entities if CSIRO’s integrity is to be maintained. The taxpayers should not be asked to fund what industry should itself fund.

    TJ Higgins must exist in a bubble if he thinks CSIRO policy on public comment genuinely encourages scientists to talk about their science. The well reported case of climate scientist feeling gagged is well known. In fact the Policy on Public Comment developed during that time by Donna Staunton (http://www.control.com.au/bi2004/253Tobacco.pdf) had to be overturned after an inquiry by CSIRO when scientist finally rebelled. It is now not as blatantly restrictive, but scientists are only human and are only too aware that great care must be taken not to offend commercial interest or politicians or the hierarchy.

    The scientists genuinely struggle to maintain impartiality and integrity. The majority succeed, but it is foolish to think this is not put under great strain because of restricted funding opportunities and increasing commercial pressure. I am concerned the strains will cause more scientists to compromise, leading to irreparable damage to CSIRO’s reputation. When this happens public funding will completely dry up.

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