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for a responsible, fair & sustainable food system

Major Concern About Appointment of GM Scientist as CEO of Rothamsted Research

Immediate release (26 Jan 2010)

Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341 065 or 0845 217 8992

The appointment of a GM scientist to the post of Chief Executive of Rothamsted Research [1] has been heavily criticized for sending out “a very clear and unfortunate message as to which direction the BBSRC wishes to take agricultural research and development in the future”.

The criticism of the appointment of Professor Maurice Moloney was made in correspondence to Professor Douglas Kells, the Chief Executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Scientific Research Council, and Defra Secretary of State Hilary Benn from GM Freeze (copies available on request). Professor Moloney has worked in biotechnology all his, career and his present position is head of a biotech firm in Canada which he founded. [2]

In the their letter, GM Freeze point out that major reports on agricultural research and development from the Royal Society [3] and the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). [4] Both have both called for greater research and development into agroecological farming methods to allow farming to cope with and mitigate climate change, as well as to cut reliance on fossil-fuel based inputs such as artificial fertilizers and pesticides and scarce and expensive resources such as phosphates:

  • RCUK should increase support for ecosystem-based approaches, agronomy and the related sciences that underpin improved crop and soil management.
  • Universities should work with funding bodies to reverse the decline in subjects relevant to a sustainable intensification of food crop production, such as agronomy, plant physiology, pathology and general botany, soil science, environmental microbiology, weed science and entomology.
  • An increase and strengthening of AKST towards agroecological sciences will contribute to addressing environmental issues while maintaining and increasing productivity.

Rothamsted Research is already looking at agroecological solutions such as the Push-pull Project to deal with maize pests on Africa [5] and the use of decoy crops to deal with potato cyst nematode [4], both of which are also attracting considerable funding for GM research. [6] The Push-pull approach is already being practiced by poor farmers in Kenya where it offers a affordable and sustainable solutions to Striga (a weed in maize) and corn borer (a maize pest).

Both the Royal Society and IAASTD emphasised the failure of extension services in ensuring research findings reach farmers so that they can be applied by farmers. At present the UK is alone in the developed world in not having a free extension service. [7] Elsewhere free schemes have favoured richer farmers and high value crops. [8]

The UK endorsed the IAASTD report in June 2008, but there has been no official announcements since then as to how the UK research councils are intending to respond to the recommendations on agroecological sciences.

Explaining their concerns Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

The appointment of Professor Moloney to this important post suggests that the BBSRC is pushing on with the strategy of putting GM and biotechnology at the forefront of agricultural research. This would be a mistake as GM technology is expensive, unproven and risky. Agroecology is already delivering results for small farmers in the South. What is needed is more research and, critically, improved education services so that new agroecological techniques can be quickly applied by farmers over large areas. Rothamsted Research should place greater emphasis on agroecological research and development. They are in a great position to do so. We will be monitoring their research priorities and those of other BBSRC funded institutions to makes sure that agroecology gets a fair share of tax payers money.

ENDs

Notes
1. See www.bbsrc.ac.uk/media/releases/2010/100114-new-director-for-rothamsted-research.html.

2. See www.sembiosys.com/About/Bio.aspx?name=MMoloney.

3. See http://royalsociety.org/Reapingthebenefits/.

4. See page 6 www.agassessment.org/reports/IAASTD/EN/Agriculture%20at%20a%20Crossroads_Global%20Summary%20for%20Decision%20Makers%20(English).pdf.

5. See www.rothamsted.ac.uk/bch/CEGroup/ChemEcolGroupArea6.html.

6. See Kerry B et al, 2003. Investigation into potato cyst nematode control. Rothamsted Research Defra Contract hh3111TPO See http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Default.aspx?Menu=Menu&Module=More&Location=None&Completed=0&ProjectID=11962.

7. The Agricultural Development Advisory Service was privatised and began charging for its services in 1987.

8. See www.brettonwoodsproject.org/art-558763.