SAS defends GM guide

February 26, 2009

Your article "Charity guide criticised for not declaring GM interests" (19 February) did not reflect the information provided by Sense About Science and the John Innes Centre in response to GM Watch's list of the "vested interests" of contributors to our guide, Making Sense of GM: What Is the Genetic Modification of Plants and Why Are Scientists Doing It?

Its list comprised tortuously indirect links, inaccurate information and positions many years out of date: it included a contributor who was vice-chancellor of a university that received industry research funds ... until 1995.

After receiving our information, Times Higher Education covered the allegations anyway, using the example that one contributor, Vivian Moses, is chair of CropGen, a group that promotes biotechnology.

Since CropGen advises that none of its members receives remuneration or research funding from biotech companies, there is no vested interest. Moses was described as having a "directorship" - this is inaccurate.

The description of Sense About Science, that it "claims to" promote scientific reasoning in public discussions, was rude, with no reason given for such sneering. The description of the John Innes Centre as receiving funding from biotech companies was mischievous.

Times Higher Education was given a breakdown of the centre's funding, which included a range of research partners beyond research councils, many from the conventional and organic food industries, too.

The article misunderstands the convention and spirit of declarations of interest. Does Times Higher Education declare as "interests" contributors' links to learned societies and institutes because these in turn have links to industry?

If it intended to argue that indirect connections should be published, our contributors have stronger links to conventional and organic agriculture than biotechnology.

If your correspondent had highlighted something tendentious in the guide, we could have looked at the drafting record. As it was, the correspondent sent through a "scientific" response/press release from GM Watch that featured references to unpublished papers, some more than ten years old.

Tracey Brown, Managing director, Sense About Science.

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