Letter: GM food furore

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The Independent Culture
Sir: The current furore in the media surrounding genetic engineering is leading swiftly to a crisis in confidence in publicly funded research and development. This is the result of government policy aimed at increasing the influence of big business and commercialism.

Since the early 1980s the research councils have been forced to commercialise research. The Thatcher administration axed any research which it deemed to be "near the market" and ripe for exploitation by private companies. Private industry was in no shape to undertake the research and much was simply ended.

The current administration inherited the policies of the Major government but chose to increase the influence of business over publicly funded research. Business-dominated foresight panels do much to dictate the development of research, while the current Minister for Science, Lord Sainsbury, promotes the establishment of "spin out" companies, where research institutes seek private investment to exploit publicly funded research for the benefit of shareholders.

Transnational corporations such as Monsanto are forging strong links with supposedly independent publicly funded research institutes with promises of multi-million-pound investments. Research institutes are now told that one fifth of their funding must come from private sources.

Unions with members in research environments have warned the Government repeatedly of the dangers of this back-door privatisation of research. Research becomes profit-orientated and short-term and the culture of public service and objective science is damaged.

It is no wonder, therefore, that the public should start to question in whose interest publicly funded research is being undertaken. Is it the interests of the consumers or the interests of the producers that are paramount?


Biological Sciences Research Branch

Public and Commercial Services Union

Swindon, Wiltshire