Environmental lobby group Greenpeace has forced the European Commission’s chief scientific advisor out of her post – because she supports genetically modified crops. Professor Anne Glover’s post will be abolished in January following a letter sent to Commission President Jean-Claude Junker by Greenpeace and eight other campaign groups, the Times has reported.
The post of chief scientific advisor was created in 2011 under the Barosso administration, with a mandate to “provide independent expert advice on any aspect of science, technology and innovation as requested by the President.” However, Greenpeace and its fellow NGOs claim that the post “concentrates too much influence in one person”, and “undermines in-depth scientific research and assessments” carried out by the directorates (akin to ministries).
That claim has been challenged in another letter co-signed by members of the Royal Institution, the Society of Biology, 38 other institutions and over 770 individuals, and also sent to Mr Junker. One of the signatories, Professor Colin Blakemore at the University of London, said the decision marked “a sad day for science, policy, politics and the public in Europe.” Owen Patterson, former environment secretary for the UK has said that the abolition of the post is yet another victory for the “green blob”.
Professor Glover has long made public her support of genetically modified crops, stating that, in her opinion, opposing them was “a form of madness”. Last year she lent her backing to a report by the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC), which concluded that the EU should rethink its stance on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in a more favourable light.
“There is no evidence that GM technologies are any riskier than conventional breeding technologies and this has been confirmed by thousands of research projects,” Glover told EurActiv. “In my view consumers can believe in the overwhelming amount of evidence demonstrating that GM technology is not any riskier than conventional plant breeding technology. The EASAC Report is a major contribution to this debate as it reflects the view of Europe’s most eminent scientists.”
It was an opinion that environmental NGOs disagreed with. In their letter to President Junker dated 22 July, the nine organisations wrote: “To the media, the current CSA presented one-sided, partial opinions in the debate on the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture, repeatedly claiming that there was a scientific consensus about their safety,” a claim which they say “misrepresents the currently available scientific evidence,” according to an international statement signed by 297 scientists.
The letter’s nine signatory organisations include Corporate Europe Observatory, which bills itself as “exposing the power of corporate lobbying in the EU”; TestBioTech, which opposes all biotechnologies on the grounds that they are “aligned with industrial interests”; and the Health and Environment Alliance, which is funded in part by the EU and national governments.
In response, a number of scientific institutions penned their own letter, writing “As organisations and individuals who share a commitment to improving the evidence available to policy makers, we cannot stress strongly enough our objection to any attempt to undermine the integrity and independence of scientific advice received at the highest level of the European Commission.
“We note that the nine NGOs are opposing not just this position in general but specifically because they disagree with Professor Glover’s advice on genetically modified crops and organisms.
“In polarised and divisive policy debates, as we have seen with climate change, it is all the more important that scientifically accurate and rigorous advice is given freely and without fear or favour.”
The letter has eleven original signatories, including Sir Richard Sykes, chair of the Royal Institution, who told the Times that the abolition of the post “appears to be a very backward step by the new commission, having only made the enlightened decision to raise the profile of scientific advice three years ago.”
Following the publication of the letter, a further 29 organisations and 773 individuals added their names to the signatories. A number of other scientific organisations, including nine European medical research organisations, the European Plant Science Organisation, which represents 227 European public research institutions and the European Federation for Science Journalism, submitted their own letters in defence of the post.
A spokesman for Mr Junker said that the post had merely “expired” rather than being abolished, and that Mr Junker had yet to decide “how to institutionalise” scientific advice within the Commission. Professor Glover yesterday emailed a number of science academies to advise them that her position had “ceased to exist”.
Owen Patterson told the Times: “It shows the wholly malign influence of the green blob who, not content with trashing [GM] Golden Rice trials in the Philippines, have now moved on to removing respected scientists in important positions who give advice they don’t like.”
Last May, Professor Glover warned that decision making on scientific matters within the EU was too politically driven. At a briefing organised by Eurochambres, she claimed that, too often, scientific evidence is sought that backs a policy proposal rather than to find the neutral facts of the matter. When presented with a policy proposal, Professor Glover said that Commission staff will “do exactly what they’re asked” and “find the evidence”.
“So you can see where this is going,” she said: “You’re building up an evidence base which is not really the best.”
Commenting on the fact that a lot of the research is undertaken by third party companies contracted by the Commission, she said “If they want repeat business, [they] are not going to go out and find the evidence to show that this is a crazy idea.”