Our Work Diet & Agriculture Scientists Concerned For Academic Freedom over GM foods

Scientists Concerned For Academic Freedom over GM foods

Open Letter to Premier of Western Australia

This invitation to sign a letter to Colin Barnett, Premier of WA, appeared in an Institute of Science in Society letter on 20.11.09. For your information Judy Carman is a scientist based in South Australia and I support her work – secretary.

To join the 70 scientists who have already signed send an e-mail message to m.w.ho@i-sis.org.uk


Dr. Judy Carman, senior scientist working in the field of epidemiology in Australia and awarded a government grant to study the safety of GM feed, has been subjected to a sustained campaign of vilification by individuals associated with the biotech industry, with the clear intention of preventing her from carrying out the research. Political pressure is now being brought to bear on her research by the current Agriculture and Food Minister of Western Australia.

Dr. Carman is not an isolated case. A long string of scientists beginning with Arpad Puszati, Susan Bardocz, Shiv Chopra, Ignacio Chapela, Irina Ermakova, and more has suffered the same attacks when their research or laboratory findings are deemed unfavourable to the biotech industry; they have also lost their grants or their jobs as a result.

It is important for scientists to make a stand for real science,and for the right of scientists to do research without being harassed and intimidated, or losing their grants or positions. The public will not be well-served unless this academic freedom to do research independent of industry or the whims of government is guaranteed.

Dear Mr. Barnett,

In 2005, the Government of Western Australia awarded a research grant worth $92,000 to researchers at the Institute of Health and Environmental Research, now based in Adelaide, Southern Australia [1]. In announcing it, the then Agriculture Minister, Kim Chance, said that “the WA Government will fund an independent long-term animal feeding trial to gain data on the safety or otherwise of GM food crops”.

Far from welcoming the study, the biotech industry sought to block it, initially by writing to the WA government in an effort to get the government to reverse its funding decision, then by either refusing to supply GM crops to the research team or placing such onerous conditions upon the supply of the GM crops that the researchers could not sign up to the conditions [2]. In addition, the lead scientist has been subjected to a sustained campaign of vilification and harassment by commercial interests connected with the biotech industry.

The present Minister of Agriculture, Terry Redman, is now interfering in the research by demanding details about the location of the study laboratories, its research protocols and its progress to date. It is hard to see any legitimate reason for this interference. Information about the procedures was available when the grant was proposed, and it is most unusual for a government or indeed anyone else to demand to see the results of work that is not yet completed. The Minister’s hostility to the line of research is well known from when he was in opposition; he is wrong to use his current position to obstruct science which was commissioned before he took office.

It is wrong, though perhaps not surprising, that the biotechnology industry should be seeking to obstruct research into the safety of what they produce [3], and promoting the vilification and harassment of any scientist conducting such research [4]. It is indefensible for a government to do the same. We call on the Government of Western Australia to stop this unprecedented interference with the research it has commissioned and to ensure that the project will proceed unhindered. We also call on the Government of Australia to require biotechnology companies to make available to independent researchers the material they need for their work.

The citizens of Australia, like those of other countries, will not be well served unless academic freedom is guaranteed for scientists to work independently of biotechnology companies or the whims of governments [5]. It is not possible to take proper decisions on GMOs if the only evidence on which to base those decisions comes from scientists who work for or are chosen by the biotechnology industry.


1. “Long term feeding trials funded by WA to run in SA” Wednesday, November 30, 2005’ http://gmopundit.blogspot.com/2005/11/long-term-feeding-trials-funded-by-wa.html

Jenifer Eliot in The West Australian, November 28, 2005, reports that the study will be by South Australia’s Institute of Health and Environmental Research (IHER), http://www.iher.org.au/

2. Pro-GM scientists have been aiding and abetting in the harassment and vilification of independent scientists and researchers of IHER see Letter from 12 scientists to the Premier of Western Australia, The Hon Dr Geoff Gallop, BEc MA MPhil DPhil MLA 5 December 2005, http://www.jennifermarohasy.com/blog/archives/001067.html; also Food Safety Western Australia Style: A Note from Ian Edwards, 25 June 2007, http://www.jennifermarohasy.com/blog/archives/002115.html http://www.gmfreecymru.org/pivotal_papers/quotes.html


“Call for inquiry into GM feed study funding”, Colin Bettles, Farm Weekly, Australia, 12 Nov 2009, http://fw.farmonline.com.au/news/state/grains-and-cropping/general/call-for-inquiry-into-gm-feed-study-funding/1675689.aspx

3. The biotech companies are notorious for their attempt to block research deemed unfavourable to GMOs. The following statement was submitted in February 2009 to the US Environmental protection Agency (EPA) by scientists who had been invited to submit comments on a meeting to discuss two new BM crops. They were protesting the ‘technology/stewardship agreements’ they have to sign, which inhibit them from doing research for the public good. As a result “no truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions regarding the technology.” We are not aware that any of the 26 is opposed in principle to GM crops. http://www.regulations.gov/search/Regs/home.html#documentDetail?R=090000648084de39

See http://www.i-sis.org.uk/corporateMonopolyOfScience.php; also the article by Andrew Pollack, New York Times, 20 February 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/20/business/20crop.html?_r=1

And “GM Research Blocking GMO Scandal: The Long Term Effects of Genetically Modified Food on Humans Scientific Tests Must Be Approved by Industry First”, by F. William Engdahl, Global Research, July 29, 2009 http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=14570

“Do Seed Companies Control GM Crop Research? Scientists must ask corporations for permission before publishing independent research on genetically modified crops. That restriction must end” By The Editors, August 2009 Scientific American Magazine, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=do-seed-companies-control-gm-crop-research

4. Harassment of independent researchers by pro-GM scientists is rife and takes place in the pages of ‘learned’ journals that have become effectively trade magazines

What is Nature Biotechnology good for? The Bioscience Resource Project, 4 December 2007, http://www.bioscienceresource.org/commentaries/article.php?id=16

The Genetic Engineering of Food and the Failure of Science – Part 2: Academic Capitalism and the Loss of Scientific Integrity by Don Lotter Int. Jrnl. of Soc. of Agr. & Food, Vol. 16, No. 1, pp. 50-68, http://www.gmfreecymru.org/pivotal_papers/academic_capitalism.html

Systematic bias in favour of no adverse impacts from GM feed, ISIS, 7 January 2008, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/NatureBiotechnologyLetterErmakova.php

Marshall, A. (2007) Nature Biotechnology 25: pp 981-98;

Heinemann, JA and Traavik, T, letter, Nature Biotechnology 25 (12), p1356, http://www.bioscienceresource.org/commentaries/article.php?id=16; http://www.gmfreecymru.org/pivotal_papers/rottweiler.htm ; http://www.woz.ch/artikel/inhalt/2007/nr44/Wissen/15584.html ; http://www.gmfreecymru.org/pivotal_papers/involvement_ermakova.htm

Ironically the same learned journals are decrying the vilification of independent researchers by pro-GM scientists. See “GM crops: Battlefield” by Emily Waltz, Nature 2009, 461, 27-32, http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090902/full/461027a.html?s=news_rss

5. On academic freedom, the Australian Academy of Science wrote as follows, in a submission to a Senate Committee Inquiry into academic freedom.

“1. Science makes the most significant advances in an atmosphere of free and critical discussion. Therefore, academic freedom is of crucial importance, particularly in research at universities, institutes and CSIRO.

2. Governments and their representatives have a responsibility to set general research priorities on behalf of their citizens. However, it is inappropriate for governments and their representatives to interfere with scientific peer review processes or with details of academic debate. That is the role of the academic sector.

3. In very rare cases, it may be appropriate for government to implement ‘reserve powers’ to direct research. This may be the case with some research that has security implications. However, it is inappropriate for governments and their representatives to interfere in genuine academic debate and to intervene with the grant processes of the ARC, NHMRC or CSIRO.” (Letter signed by Professor Philip W. Kuchel, FAA, Secretary, Science Policy)


Please add your name and affiliation to the letter below by sending an e-mail message to m.w.ho@i-sis.org.uk

We acknowledge the Institute of Science in Society

The full article is at