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Lord Robert Winston's talk to NZ politicians

Tuesday 2y July 2004

Lord Robert Winston's talk to NZ politicians

Astonishment is the only comment one could make at the recent report of Dr Robert Winston's talk to New Zealand politicians parliamentary guests. Invited obviously as a "safe" bet by the Royal Society, reading his opinions and remarks regarding such topics as nuclear energy, genetically engineered foods, and trust in the scientific process, one wonders if they belong to the personable scientist that we have all come to enjoy in his The Human Body series.

Considered by many to be one of the world's finest science communicators, it is also reported that "Winston is scrupulous about getting his science right" and his comment that "there is a massive crisis in the Western world because of the way science and scientists are not trusted by the public,"[i] only serves to reinforce the astonishment.

First, take his unbelievably naive remark, "that we've been using nuclear power with complete safety for 50 years." Quite apart from the Chernobyl disaster which killed tens of thousands and crippled many more, or the narrowly averted melt-down at Three Mile Island, I have before me a calendar[ii] of - not yearly, nor even monthly but - daily accidents in the virtually world-wide nuclear power industry. One also wonders if he is familiar with the latest environmental pollution figures, from the vast nuclear waste storage containers, as leakage occurs into ground water and surrounding soils.

Dr Winston's other remark - equally flabbergasting - was, "There's not the slightest evidence that GM food is dangerous[iii]," and that moreover he thinks the New Zealand stance on the issue was "bizarre.[iv]" He may well have expertise in human fertility matters, but he is certainly not an expert in every field of genetics. How can he make the statement that, "There's not the slightest evidence that GM food is dangerous?" An enormous number of eminent scientists making up the Union of Concerned Scientists, PSRG[v], and the UK Independent Science Panel,[vi] among others, have all condemned it as untested and dangerous, quite apart from exposing fatal flaws in the regulatory process.

Only recently, the French newspaper[vii] La Monde, revealed secret documents showing health impacts of GM corn described as "very disturbing" by French scientists. These included kidney malformations, increases in white blood cells in male rats and high blood sugar and reduced immature red blood cells in female rats. Last year, up to 100 Philippine villagers suffered debilitating illnesses when nearby GE corn came into flower.[viii] Professor Terje Traavik [ix] found antibodies produced by the GM corn in the blood of 39 villagers.[x] Reports have come in of the same illnesses this year.[xi]

Dr Wilson's statement that field trials "have been reassuring" is also questionable. The findings on Bt-toxins in GM corn have been completely ignored in a regulatory process that can only be described as a sham.[xii] Furthermore, while "we digest DNA every time we eat," that is not the concern; it is the bits of virus and bacteria cobbled together with the introduced DNA in order to get it there that worries so many scientists. From the first failures of GM food, the FlavrSavr tomato causing lesions in the stomach of rats which ate them,[xiii] GE crops have had a dismal history of failure. Dr Winston should also talk to the few survivors still crippled and dying from eating the genetically engineered food supplement, tryptophan, and who are still fighting for compensation.

Lord Robert Winston should "get his science right." It is incredibly sad that one whose image is, ostensibly, held in high regard by the listening public, defends such outrageous falsehoods. There is little wonder that trust in science has collapsed. It will take a great deal of work and dedication to bring it back.

[i] "Lord of the genes" The Listener July 31 2004


[iii] "Lord of the genes" The Listener July 31 2004

[iv] "Lord of the genes" The Listener July 31 2004


[vi] "Scientists Call for Enquiry into GM Food Safety"

[vii] "French experts very disturbed by health effects of Monsanto GM corn" 23 April 2004

[viii] "Filipino islanders blame GM crop for mystery sickness. Monsanto denies scientist's claim that maize may have caused 100 villagers to fall ill" John Aglionby in Kalyong, southern Philippines, The Guardian, Wednesday 3 March 3, 2004,2763,1 160789,00.html

[ix] Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology in Tromsø

[x] Traavik, T. Lecture to Special Biosafety Genok and TWN Seminar, 22 February, Kuala Lumpur.

[xi] "Despite ban, agriculturists can't stop farmers from planting Bt corn", Allen Estabillo, Minda News 23 April 2004 btcorn.html

[xii] Cummins J. Regulatory sham over Bt-crops. ISIS 1 December 2003; Science in Society 2004, 21, 30.



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