Today's House of Commons Science and Technology Committee's report on bioengineering (1) makes the wrong diagnosis for the failure of the biotech economy and proposes the wrong treatment. The report concludes that the UK needs to improve 'translation' of biotech discoveries, when in fact there is little to translate. It also advocates increased investment in developing a new generation of GM crops.
In the report, MPs state that bioengineering "virtually 'picks itself' as an area in which the Government should be investing heavily". This ignores the billions of pounds of taxpayers' money already invested in trying to develop a biotech economy, based on poor advice from Labour's 'biotech barons', including science minister Lord Drayson. A GeneWatch report, released today, documents these investments and how little they have delivered (2). It also highlights how misleading promises about future benefits - such as 'feeding the world', eliminating cancer and tackling climate change - are frequently made by scientists in order to secure funding.
"In general, these technologies are high-risk for investors because they do not deliver on their promises, have unpredictable effects on health and the environment, are not cost-effective, and have failed in the market place" said GeneWatch UK's Director, Dr Helen Wallace. "Why should the taxpayer keep subsiding failed technologies like GM crops?"
The new GeneWatch report also documents how alternative 'on-the-ground' approaches to improving health and farming have been side-lined, starved of funding, or even axed altogether, leading to significant opportunity costs due to the failure to implement existing knowledge and best practice in areas such as public health and farmland management.
The Technology Strategy Board's new 'Sustainable agriculture and food' Innovation Platform (cited in paragraphs 55 and 56 of the MPs' report) replaces several existing funding programmes sponsored by the Government in the agriculture and food areas. These programmes - which included research involving organic farmers and small businesses - will be replaced by a scheme that subsidises large multinationals to develop GM crops.
"Claims that GM crops will increase yields or be good for the environment are spurious: why should alternatives - that work and produce good food that people want to eat - be axed in favour of misleading promises?" said Dr Wallace.
"Biotech has been a net loss to the economy and GM crops have delivered zero benefit to Britain. Ministers should think twice before throwing good money after bad", she added.
For further information contact:
Dr Helen Wallace, Office: 01298-24300; Mobile: 07903-311584.
Notes for editors:
(1) Science and Technology Committee report available on: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmsctech/220/220.pdf
(2) GeneWatch press release and link to report available on: http://www.genewatch.org/article.shtml?als[cid]=565806&als[itemid]=566067