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Thursday, 16 March, 2000, 00:07 GMT
UK Government 'should sack GM adviser'
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GM crops arouse huge concern in the UK
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Environmental campaigners say the United Kingdom Government should fire a scientist doing research for it on the safety of genetically-modified (GM) crops.

The campaigners, Friends of the Earth, say Dr Peter Lutman, the scientist concerned, is caught in a conflict of interest. They have asked the Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, to dismiss him.

Dr Lutman works at the Institute of Arable Crops Research (IACR), where he heads the weed biology and control research programme.

Providing a voice

IACR is part of a consortium of research groups carrying out government work on farm-scale trials of GM crops, undertaking contracts worth 3.3 million. Dr Lutman is co-author of a report to the government on progress on the trials.

But what concerns FoE is that Dr Lutman is also a member of the panel of an organisation called CropGen, whose chairman has said it exists "to provide a voice for crop biotechnology".

Scientist CrpGen
Dr Peter Lutman
CropGen, which says it wants to help to achieve "a more balanced debate about GM crops in the UK", is being funded initially by a group of biotechnology companies, among them Monsanto.

The companies have signed an undertaking that they cannot veto any of the scientific positions taken by the CropGen panel.

Two other IACR scientists, Dr Nigel Halford and Dr Guy Poppy, are also members of the CropGen panel.

FoE's food campaigner, Pete Riley, said: "This is absolutely outrageous."

Concerned for credibility

"IACR seems to be happy that their scientists are paid by the biotech industry to make the case for GM crops, while they are working on supposedly neutral scientific studies on the subject for the government.

"This simply deprives IACR's work on the farm-scale trials of any credibility. The government must act fast to sack these scientists and their research institute from the already-tarnished trials."

In a statement to BBC News Online, CropGen described Mr Riley's comments as "outrageous and hypocritical".

CropGen aims to make a case for biotechnology
The chairman of CropGen's panel, Professor Vivian Moses, said: "The scientific members of the panel conduct their research to the highest scientific standards, and work on the basis of publicly available information, peer-reviewed where possible.

"They are alive both to the potential benefits of crop biotechnology and to possible risks. They value their scientific integrity above all else.

"Peter Lutman, like all CropGen members, is paid a modest honorarium for his time, not his views.

"He provides the panel with scientific information about specialist aspects of plant science which are needed in order to be able to develop accurate information resources.

No question of dismissal

"By contrast, certain green campaigners are paid full-time to make a one-sided case against crop biotechnology."

The Department of the Environment's GM unit said there was no question of Dr Lutman being sacked.

A unit spokesman told BBC News Online: "Dr Lutman has always been upfront about his role with CropGen.

"His membership of the panel should not preclude him from being involved with this important work."

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25 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
GM firms fund friendly scientists
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