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Friday July 18, 2008 15:55 by Michael O'Callaghan - GM-free Ireland Network mail at gmfreeireland dot org +353 87 799 4761
Prof Paddy Cunningham exposed as biotech industry lobbyist
Today’s Irish Times article by Dick Ahlstrom, “Use of GM foods inevitable – expert” (see below) quotes the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Prof Paddy Cunningham, who wants us to accept GM food against the wishes of the vast majority of EU farmers, retailers, and consumers.
Contrary to what Prof Cunningham implies, GM crops are grown on 0.21% of EU farmland, and leading EU retailers are beginning to extend their bans on food containing GM ingredients to also exclude meat, poultry and dairy produce from livestock fed on GM animal feed. Last year, one million citizens of EU member states signed a petition demanding mandatory labelling for the latter, based on the consumer's right to choose. And 43 EU Regions have already adopted quality agriculture strategies which avoid the use of GM animal feed.
Prof Cunningham is is a member of the biotech lobby group European Action on Global Life Sciences (EAGLES), a task force of the European Federation of Biotechnology whose members comprise numerous biotech and pharmaceutical industry groups including Monsanto Europe, the Association of German Biotech Companies, the Biotechnology Industry Organisation (USA), etc. He is also a member of the Irish National Council on Biotechics, whose 2005 report "Genetically Modified Crops and Food: Threat or Opportunity for Ireland?" was a masterfully crafted work of biotech industry spin which concluded that "the genetic modification of crops is not morally objectionable in itself". Cunningham is also the former Chairman of the EU Advisory Committee on the Future of Biotechnology, and a former member of the European Group on Life Sciences. He recently worked as a consultant for the US company Elanco (a division of the US pharmaceuticals giant Eli Lilly and Co. that markets Monsanto's GM-produced Recombinant Bovine Somatotrophin growth hormone Posilac, which is illegal in the EU.
Having a biotech industry lobbyist occupy the post of Chief Scientific Officer of Ireland is a conflict of interest. Prof Cunningham should be removed from his post.
The Irish Times' uncritical coverage of Prof Cunningham's advocacy of GM food and farming is to be expected, since the Chairman of the Irish Times Trust which owns the newspaper - Prof Prof David McConnell of TCD - is the Vice-President of the same lobby group, EAGLES.
In "Debating GM: An analysis of GM coverage in the Irish Times and the Irish Farmers Journal from March 2004 to February 2006", a Dublin Institute of Technology thesis by journalism student Emma Somers made a quantitative analysis of the sources, and a qualitative analysis of GM coverage in these two papers. The study revealed significant bias towards the biotech industry. Of the 48 articles published in the Irish Times, 65% quoted official sources, 13% quoted biotech industry sources, 10% quoted farming sources, and 6 % quoted biotech industry lobby groups. Only 21% quoted NGOs (which have the most expertise on the subject) and 10% quoted farming sources (which are most affect by GM policies). Most articles framed the issue as scientists versus Luddites. For details download GM-free Ireland press release "Irish Times slammed for bias on GM issues" (25 October 2007): http://www.gmfreeireland.org/press/GMFI37.pdf
Disinformation of this kind - perpetrated through biased, misleading, irresponsible reporting - and the conflict of interest between Prof. McConnell's dual roles as Chairman of the Irish Times Trust and Vice President of the EAGLES biotech lobby group are not acceptable for the newspaper of record in Ireland's
The paper’s demonstrable bias clearly violates the core object of the Irish Times Trust's Memoranda and Articles of Association, "to publish an independent newspaper primarily concerned with serious issues for the benefit of the community throughout the whole of Ireland, free from any form of personal or of party political, commercial, religious or other sectional control."
Here is the text of the Irish Times article:
USE OF GM FOODS INEVITABLE IN EU - EXPERT
The Irish Times, 18 July 2008. By Dick Ahlstrom, Science Editor.
It is inevitable that EU states will accept genetically modified foods, despite the fact that 70 per cent of people are opposed to them, the Government's chief scientific adviser has stated. Foods containing modified ingredients are already on our supermarket shelves and livestock here is being fed genetically modified feeds.
Prof Patrick Cunningham answered questions about the safety of genetically modified (GM) foods yesterday while attending the Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment. He also handled questions on a range of subjects including future energy supplies, risks posed by overhead power lines and waste incineration and climate change.
Prof Cunningham issued a formal report to Government on GM foods last summer. It looked at safety, benefits and risks and, after assessing a range of studies on the issue, he believed GM was of value to Ireland. "The answer has to be yes," he told the Committee.
"[GM] is not going to go away and it is advancing at a hell of a rate," he said. Countries around the world were growing about 100 million hectares of GM corn, cotton, soyabean and rice.
Genetic modifications impart resistance to herbicides and insect attack, providing cost and yield improvement for the farmer, he said. "This has given a tremendous competitive advantage to those using [GM]."
We are already consuming foods with GM content, he said. About 60 per cent of products contain either corn or soya ingredients. "In fact, GM products are on the supermarket shelves," he said. "We are using approved GM corn in pig feed in Ireland today."
The safety of these products was a key element of the report, he said.
The results of a survey of the limited literature on the subject suggested that the consumption of GM foods did not pose a health risk.