University of Leicester eBulletin

Leicester Scientist in National GM Debate

January 2003
No 13

A University of Leicester geneticist is a founder member of a GM Science Review Panel launched recently as part of a Government initiative to promote public debate on genetic modification and review the scientific evidence relating to the impact of genetically modified plants on food and the environment.

The issue has proved highly contentious, particularly in relation to the impact GM crops may have on our environment, and the GM Science Review provides a forum for scientists and members of the public to air their views and share knowledge. The scientists involved will expect the interests and concerns of the public to drive the review, and bring together evidence-based knowledge which can assist understanding of these issues. Where relevant, additional research can be recommended, and the impact of doing nothing about modern agriculture and food production can be considered.

Professor Pat Heslop-Harrison, of the University of Leicester Department of Biology is a member of the panel of highly distinguished scientists invited to take part in this independent scientific review examining the extent of current scientific knowledge behind GM, particularly in relation to crops.

The panel is chaired by Professor Sir David King, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, working with Professor Howard Dalton, Chief Scientific Adviser at DEFRA and the Food Standards Agency.

Following open debate carried out through public meetings and the review website – www.Gmsciencedebate.org.uk – the panel will publish a final report in the summer 2003, which will aim to explain the outcome of the science review in terms the public can understand.

Topics to be discussed include: GM food safety; gene flow and detection; environmental impacts of GM crops; future developments; and the regulatory process.

Professor of Plant Cell Biology and Molecular Cytogenetics at the University of Leicester, Professor Heslop-Harrison has major interests in the origins and evolution of genetic variation, characteristics of crop plants and their wild relatives, and biodiversity. He has recently been involved in international research to establish molecular biology techniques for the improvement of the banana, a vital source of food in many parts of the developing world, and been involved in the hybridization of cereal plants to combine the best characteristics, particularly with respect to disease resistances, of wild species and cultivated crops.

He commented:  “The GM Science Review is a very welcome development. It is vital that there is a publicly accessible review of the range and nature of science underpinning decisions about the introduction of genetically modified crops. The decisions will influence the direction of the changes taking place in agriculture and the environment, not only in the UK but in developing countries too. The highest standard of science must be used to drive the recommendations, which cannot be deferred indefinitely while the environment degrades, climate changes and people starve.”

Professor Sir David King comments that the broad ranging review of GM technology that is being conducted in the public domain through the Science Review Panel will form basis of his advice to Government.

NOTE TO  EDITORS:  Further information is available from Professor J S (Pat) Heslop-Harrison, Professor of Plant Cell Biology and Molecular Cytogenetics, University of Leicester, Department of Biology, telephone +44 (0)116 252 5079 / 3381, facsimile +44 (0)116 252 2971, email phh4@le.ac.uk

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