Science & Environment

Ex-EU science chief Anne Glover: GM tech 'is safe'

Anne Glover Image copyright University of Aberdeen
Image caption Prof Anne Glover from the University of Aberdeen was appointed as Chief Scientific Adviser in 2012

The technology behind GM crops is safe, according to scientific consensus, says the outgoing science adviser to the European Commission.

In her first full broadcast interview since leaving Brussels, Prof Anne Glover defended her stance on GMOs.

And she denied reports that she was "sacked", saying she intended to leave.

She told the BBC programme Hardtalk that criticism from environmental groups over her role was unjustified.

Prof Anne Glover, a former chief scientific adviser to the Scottish government, was accused by NGOs in July of presenting "one-sided, partial opinions" in the debate over GM crops.

She had argued opposition to GMOs was "a form of madness".

In a letter to the incoming President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, NGOs said her views about the safety of GMOs misrepresented the diversity of opinion among scientists.

They called for the newly created post of chief scientific adviser to the European Commission to be scrapped, saying it was "unaccountable, intransparent and controversial".

Defending her position on GM, Prof Glover told the BBC: "I am not a strong advocate of GM crops.

"What I am saying is that the technology used to generate GM crops is safe - that is what the scientific consensus is.


Analysis

By science editor David Shukman

Such is the animosity surrounding the debate over GM in Europe that Anne Glover was always bound to face a difficult time.

A biologist, who had been science adviser to the Scottish Government, her role was to advise the president of the European Commission and her assessment was that GM as a technology was safe. She would be happy to eat food from GM plants herself, she once told me.

But there are plenty of voices ranged against GM and environmental groups objected to her role. Particularly aggravating was the perception that she had a privileged position with a private channel to the centre of power.

There were reports that Professor Glover had been sacked last year. In her interview for Hardtalk, she denied that, saying she had left of her own accord. The incoming president of the Commission, Jean Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, did not extend the post of scientific adviser - the commission argues that it has plenty of in house experts already.

But critics have said Luxembourg is among the countries objecting to GM and that Professor Glover's advice would not have been welcome. In her interview, she revealed that despite asking to see Mr Juncker, she was never given the chance even to meet him.


"Now it is up to individual countries, nations, to decide whether or not they want to use that technology.

"But to keep on saying that we don't have enough evidence or that there might be some kind of unforeseen negative consequence of using this technology, that is simply not the case."

She said she spoke out because those opposed to GM crop did so based on ideology not evidence.

And while "disappointed" by the letter, it paled into significance compared with "warm and very positive letters of support from scientists" and others she had received.

Image copyright SPL
Image caption Several member states in Europe oppose GM crops

Prof Glover, a professor of microbiology at Aberdeen University, said her role was tied to the former EC president, José Manuel Barroso, and she did not want to stay on.

But she said before leaving she had asked for a meeting with Mr Juncker, which never took place.

Many scientists have called for the role to continue, saying it is vital to ensure EU policies on important issues are underpinned by scientific evidence.

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