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March 14, 2000


Anti-science prejudices


AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

On Thu, 2 Mar 2000 19:36:07 -0000, Ceri Dingle wrote:

>AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org
>Dear Friends
>I am the director of a UN accredited NGO and youth education charity in the
>UK called WORLDwrite. We promote international understanding and encourage
>young people to critically examine contemporary prejudice. The GMO debate
>thus ranks high on our list. We are unfortunately somewhat unique since
>every other UK based NGO and charity seems to be taking an anti GM stance or
>steering clear of what is a such a contentious issue here. (If there are
>NGO's with a different view subscribing to this list, I would love to be
>wrong and to hear from you.)

Your wish is granted. In this respect, your organisation is not unique
at all. The Institute of Food Science and Technology is the largest
food science based NGO and charity in the UK, and is the only
_professional_ food science NGO in the UK, and has for some years
consistently taken and publicly expressed the position that

Genetic modification (GM) has the potential to offer very significant
improvements in the quantity, quality and acceptability of the world's
food supply.

Food scientists and technologists can support the responsible
introduction of GM techniques provided that issues of product safety,
environmental concerns, information and ethics are satisfactorily
addressed. IFST considers that they are being addressed, and need
even more intensively to continue to be so addressed. Only in this way
may the benefits that this technology can confer become available, not
least to help feed the world's escalating population in the coming
The Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST) is the independent
professional qualifying body for food scientists and technologists.
It is totally independent of government, of industry, and of any
lobbying groups or special interest groups. Its professional members
are elected by virtue of their academic qualifications and their
relevant experience, and their signed undertaking to comply with the
Institute's ethical Code of Professional Conduct. They are elected
solely in their personal capacities and in no way representing
organisations where they may be employed. They work in a variety of
areas, including universities and other centres of higher education,
research institutions, food and related industries, consultancy, food
law enforcement authorities, and in government departments and
agencies. The nature of the Institute and the mixture of these
backgrounds on the working groups drafting IFST Information
Statements, and on the two Committees responsible for finalising and
approving them, ensure that the contents are entirely objective.

IFST recognises that research is constantly bringing new knowledge.
However, collectively the profession is the repository of existing
knowledge in its field. It includes researchers expanding the
boundaries of knowledge and experts seeking to apply it for the public
benefit. Its purposes are

(1) to serve the public interest by furthering the application of
science and technology to all aspects of the supply of safe,
wholesome, nutritious and attractive food, nationally and

(2) to advance the standing of food science and technology, both as a
subject and as a profession;

(3) to assist members in their career and personal development within
the profession;

(4) to uphold professional standards of competence and integrity

Our funds derive from individual members' membership subscriptions and
outside sale of our scientific journals. Apart from a small
administrative office, most of the work and activities of the
Institute are carried out, "pro bono", by unpaid volunteers.

Where we deem it appropriate and in the public interest to do so, IFST
collaborates with government, academia, consumer bodies and the food
industry, but retains its complete independence from any of them.

You may ask "Why should a body like IFST have a perspective on GM?
For that, I draw attention to the first and overriding of IFST's
purposes, stated above. IFST does not view or practise food science in
an ivory tower. On the contrary it recognises that the first
responsibility of the profession is to the public, to society if you
will. Therefore it does not concern itself with knowledge for its own
sake, but rather with knowledge put to use for its primary purpose,
and for addressing and solving problems that may come to light along
the way. That is why we are the Institute of Food Science &

There are two ways of dealing with developments with associated
problems and uncertainties. One is to reject or ban the developments.
The other is to address and solve the problems, and to accept that
there are no certainties in any aspect of life. Fortunately in the
long run mankind has generally adopted the second course, otherwise we
would still be living in the Stone Age. Looking at more recent times,
the first surgical operation would never have been carried out so
there would be no surgery; the first anaesthesia would never have been
used, so there would be no anaesthetics (though it is worth recalling
that the medical profession of the day prevented Queen Victoria from
having anaesthesia with the birth of her first seven children ("not
natural, not proved safe, not sufficient testing, what about the long
term effects?"). Exactly the same arguments were used in the early
decades of this century to try to prevent the legalisation of milk
pasteurisation. We can be thankful that it was eventually legalised
and over the last seven decades has saved untold numbers of lives
that would otherwise have continued to be lost to milk-borne
tuberculosis - second only to clean water as the most important public
health measure ever adopted.

You can see the full text of the IFST Information Statement on
"Genetic Modification and Food" on the page www.ifst.org/hottop10.htm
on the IFST Web site at www.ifst.org

J Ralph Blanchfield MBE
Food Science, Food Technology & Food Law Consultant
Chair, IFST External Affairs
Web Editor, Institute of Food Science & Technology
IFST Web address <www.ifst.org>
e-mail: ICQ# 6254687.
ICQ Web page