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Friday, 31 May, 2002, 12:25 GMT 13:25 UK
BBC defends GM drama
Scene from Fields of Gold
The film centres on a government cover-up
The BBC has strongly defended its drama about a "superbug" outbreak caused by genetically modified crops.

Fields of Gold suggests that antibiotic resistant genes could jump from crops to animals and humans.

Scientists have attacked the programme, saying the drama could have no basis in fact.


Horizontal gene transfer may or may not occur... I remain open-minded

Scientific adviser Mark Tester's notes
Biologist Mark Tester, who advised the programme, said he had been ignored by writers who had created a drama containing "ridiculous errors of fact".

Lord May of Oxford, president of the Royal Society, told the Times newspaper the programme was a "ludicrous piece of alarmist science fiction".

Written by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and Rebel Heart author Ronan Bennett, the drama also suggests dust from a harvest could exacerbate the spread of the disease, VRSA.

Mr Tester said: "It indicates that horizontal gene transfer between organisms is something that happens easily and readily.

"As I told them, this is not the case. They have been left with a programme that's just silly."

Not impossible

But a BBC spokeswoman strongly defended the programme, emphasising it was fictional, and incorporated scientific advice.

"Scientific adviser Mark Tester passed detailed notes to the production team in which he said that although an outbreak of VRSA was unlikely, it was by no means impossible.

"He said 'horizontal gene transfer may or may not occur... I remain open-minded'.

Anna Friel
Anna Friel plays a press photographer
"Like many thrillers, this is a fictional drama which does not purport to be a documentary - it examines the dramatic consequences of an extreme situation which is the subject of considerable debate amongst the scientific community.

"Viewers interested in the debate will also be able to watch a forthcoming BBC Two documentary series, Bitter Harvest, in which the subject is examined in depth."

Mr Tester also dismissed other aspects of the plot and argued the West would be wrong to prevent GM crops being used in developing countries.

Starring Max Beesley and Anna Friel, the drama shows journalists investigating the mystery outbreak and discovering a government cover-up.

Lord May, a former chief scientific adviser to the government, said it was positive that television was attempting to portray science.

'Hysterically inaccurate'

But expressing his disappointment at the result, he said: "It makes the new Star Wars film look like cinema verite.

"This hysterically inaccurate treatment of an important and many-sided public issue shows the same lack of sensitivity as, say, a drama that portrayed asylum-seekers as murderous aliens from Mars."

Tony Blair recently warned Britain risks being overtaken by other countries if it lets unjustified protests stifle vital scientific advances.

His speech included attacks on protests against animal experiments and GM crops and a generally unsympathetic attitude to science.

See also:

23 May 02 | UK Education
22 May 02 | UK Education
19 May 02 | UK Politics
06 May 02 | England
06 May 02 | Scotland
28 Apr 02 | Scotland
27 Apr 02 | Scotland
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