The farming community should be taking more responsibility for telling the public why they would like to grow GM crops, according to Professor Anne Glover, vice principal for external affairs at Aberdeen University.
“It is up to farmers to point out the advantages of GM cropping,” she told members of the Scottish Society for Crop Research (SSCR) meeting in Dundee.
“It might be better yields. It might be a wish to expose operators to fewer chemicals. There are all sorts of reasons, but if the public understand farmers’ arguments better it will help them come to their own decisions.”
It was, Glover admitted, no easy task but the thrust of her argument was that scientific evidence was available and, as long as it was not manipulated to suit the policy makers, it was a powerful tool. Quoting the late US politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan, she added: “We are all entitled to our own opinions but not our own facts.”
When scientific facts were being misused, as they frequently were, scientists had a duty to speak out, she insisted.
Glover has much experience of delivering clear scientific evidence to political leaders. She is a former chief scientific adviser to Scottish Government and, more controversially, to the president of the European Commission. She was the only holder of the still-vacant post and was not replaced at the end of her first term when Jean-Claude Juncker took over from Manuel Barrosa.
Her scientifically argued case in favour of GM cropping was widely cited as being not politically acceptable but at the Dundee meeting she stressed she was not a “crusader” for the technology.
“Politicians have the right to ignore scientific evidence but when they do we should ask them to be completely transparent about their motivation,” she argued.
This had not happened when the Scottish Government said it would uphold the ban on GM cropping and field trialling. Politicians said there were economic reasons but no evidence had been presented. “This is not good enough,” she remarked.
She also reminded SSCR members of the strength of science within the European Union. “It is not the US that leads the world in science nor is it China. Europe is number one in science engineering and technology.”