GM Science Review: Background

Text of Press Release issued on 29 November 2002


The scientific community and members of the public interested in the science of Genetic Modification (GM) are today being invited to take part in a full and open independent scientific review to examine the extent of current scientific knowledge behind GM, with particular focus on crops.

Scientists at all levels, in the UK and beyond, are being asked to make contributions to the review via the review web site ( and at a series of open meetings being held across the country including England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. At the meetings members of the public will also be able to ask questions or express views about GM science. Alternatively this can be done via the web site.

An independent scientific panel, chaired by Professor David King the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser working with Professor Howard Dalton Chief Scientific Adviser at DEFRA, will then review the extent of current scientific knowledge, the consensus and uncertainty. The panel will publish a final report next summer, which will aim to explain the outcome of the science review in understandable terms.

The panel includes leading scientists and lay people, selected by Professor King and Professor Dalton. Nominations for membership were requested and received from bodies including industry, the Royal Society, Genewatch, the Agriculture and Biotechnology Council, Friends of the Earth, the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission (AEBC) and Greenpeace. The Devolved Administrations were also consulted.

The scientific review is one of three strands of the GM debate being conducted in parallel. The other strands are the public debate and the study of economic costs and benefits. All three were requested by Margaret Beckett in May, in response to the recommendations of the AEBC.

The scientific topics being looked at will include:

  • GM food safety;
  • gene flow and detection;
  • environmental impacts of GM crops;
  • future developments; and
  • the regulatory process.

These issues will be added to, and refined, as a result of information emerging from all sources, particularly from the public debate to ensure that the interest and concerns raised are addressed.

Professor King said:

"This review presents a challenge to the wider scientific community to present new perspectives and offer fresh sources of knowledge on Genetic Engineering particularly focussing on crops. I am asking scientists in the UK and beyond to ask the right questions, present their evidence-based views and provide answers wherever possible.

"The aim of this review is to identify where there is consensus, where uncertainties lie and where there are gaps in knowledge, to inform both Government and the general public. There are absolutely no presumptions about the outcome of the review and the independent panel will consider all the contributions made.

"The review is also an opportunity for the scientific community to engage positively with the wider community, to demonstrate the benefits of science but also help people understand its limitations."

Professor Dalton added:

"There is no doubt that genetic modification is a subject which provokes strong views and opinions on all sides of the debate. Science will undoubtedly play a vital role in informing and underpinning many of those views.

"We need to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to explore what we know about the science of GM and, most importantly, what we don't know. It is critical that we use this debate to clarify the confusing pictures painted in some sections of the media to help distinguish between science fact and science fiction."

Prof Malcolm Grant, Chair GM Public Debate Steering Board, said:

"It's good news that the Science Review is now under way. It is a key component of the national GM dialogue. The Review's findings will feed into the public debate as it develops over coming months, and in turn be informed by public views emerging through the debate. The Public Debate Steering Board looks forward to working constructively with the Science Review Panel."


Membership of the science panel is as follows:


Professor John Gray

Department of Plant Science, University of Cambridge

Professor Peter Young

Professor of Molecular Ecology, Department of Biology, University of York

Professor Pat Heslop-Harrison

Department of Biology, University of Leicester

Professor Dianna Bowles

Director of CNAP, Department of Biology

Professor Michael Wilson FRSE

Chief Executive, Horticulture Research International

Professor Chris Leaver FRS

Head Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford

Professor Mike Gale FRS

Director, John Innes Centre, Norwich Research Park, Norwich

Professor Bernard Silverman FRS

Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Bristol

Professor Mick Crawley FRS

Imperial College, Silwood Park, Berkshire

Professor Mike Gasson

Food Research Institute

Professor William Sutherland

University of East Anglia

Dr Andrew Cockburn

Monsanto, Trumpington, Cambridge

Dr Simon Bright

Syngenta, Jealott's Hill International Research Centre

Professor Carlo Leifert

Tesco Centre for Organic Agriculture, Northumberland.

Dr Andrew Stirling

Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex

Revd Professor Michael Reiss

Institute of Education, University of London

Ms Julie Hill

Deputy Chair AEBC

Professor Jules Pretty

Director of Centre for Environment and Society, University of Essex

Professor Alan Gray

Director, NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology,

Professor Janet Bainbridge

Director Science and Technology, University of Teeside

Professor B Rima

Medical and Biological Centre, Queens University, Belfast

Dr Chitra Bharucha

Chair of Advisory Committee on Animal Feedingstuffs

Dr Mark Avery

Director of conservation, RSPB, Bedfordshire

Dr Brian Johnson

Head of Agricultural technologies, English Nature, Somerset

Professor Philip Dale

John Innes Centre, Norwich

  1. The web site will give concise summaries of the key issues backed by links to further information and opinion. Experts with interests in relevant subjects to GM science will be invited or may volunteer to contribute short pieces. There will be a forum where the public can ask questions and comment. The site will also have details of where public meetings will be held. Results of the open meetings and of the Panel's deliberations will also be made available, as will the draft and final report.
  2. Government is promoting a national dialogue on genetic modification (GM) issues. GM techniques have opened up a wide range of possibilities, including GM crops. The dialogue is supported by the UK government, the Scottish Executive, Welsh Assembly Government, and the administration in Northern Ireland. It has three main strands: this review of the science; a public debate and an economics study. The public debate strand is an innovative programme, with the issues framed for debate by the public. The programme is being conducted at arms length from Government by an independent steering board, which will report to Government in June 2003 about what the debate has indicated about public views, particularly at the grass roots level, to inform Government decision-making. The economics study is an analysis of the costs and benefits that could arise under different scenarios for the commercialisation of GM crops in the UK. The Prime Minister's Strategy Unit is carrying out this study, which will be published in Spring 2003.