What a delightfully asymmetrical world Prof John Hillman lives in.
According to Hillman, organic farming has absolutely no benefits but multiple problems and risks. It means low productivity, a high dependence on poisonous copper salts, blemished crops, the risk of mycotoxins and reduced vitamin C levels, reliance on faecal fertilisers, raising concerns about food-poisoning, eggs of parasitic nematodes and pollution of water-courses; and reliance on tilling leading to soil structure damage and release of greenhouse gases. Any clims made for it of benefits, he says, are he says, "cannot be validated" while its marketing is often based on criticism, sometimes scaremongering. Furthermore, the system has high production costs and can not meet the increasing demand of global food supply without encroaching on natural habitats.
By contrast, GM crops, he says, "encompass strategies to control pests, weeds and diseases; by, for example, eliminating allergens and anti-nutritional factors they can modify shape, colour, size, aroma, texture, taste and yield; can generate, at low capital cost, pathogen-free, high-value, nutraceuticals, vaccines, antibiotics, enzymes and growth factors; engineer plants to treat wastes and contaminated land; produce industrial feedstocks from specialist proteins; and create renewable sources of energy". (item 2)
And Prof Hillman, director of the Scottish Crop Research Institute, has used the SCRI's annual report to say so. If that seems like deja vu all over again, see item 1.
1.Prof Hillman - a GM WATCH profile
2.SCRI chief says it is wrong to write off benefits of GM
John Hillman - a GM WATCH profile
Prof John Hillman is Director of the Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI), an "internationally renowned agricultural research centre" based at Invergowrie, near Dundee, employing over 350 staff. It has an income in excess of £13m, the majority from public funding. However, any corporate backing is not disclosed either on its website or to enquirers.
Professor Hillman was formerly on the Board of Directors of the BioIndustry Association, of which SCRI is a member. The Association's tagline is 'Encouraging and Promoting the Biotechnology Sector of the UK Economy'.
Mike Wilson, who was SCRI's Acting Director until Hillman's appointment, co-authored an article with John Hillman defending GM crops for the book Fearing Food (1999), edited by Julian Morris and Roger Bate. 'Arguments against GMOs,' they argue, 'offer little scientific evidence, relying on shock and alarm to carry their case.' The critics are 'activists' who 'raise speculative risks, promote public fear and media misinformation' about 'their own imagined, improbable hazards'.
Another contributor to Fearing Food was Dennis Avery who attacked organic agriculture, and Avery was also amongst the references given for Wilson and Hillman's article. A few months later Hillman used the SCRI's annual report 1999/2000(Feb 2000) and the media to promote attacks on organic farming along the lines advanced by Avery.
Hillman says, 'Organic farming raises risks of faecal contamination not only of food but also of waterways, food poisoning, high levels of natural toxins and allergens, contamination by copper and sulphur-containing fungicides, production of diseased food, low productivity, and creation of reservoirs of pests and diseases.'
These claims follow the standard pattern of such attacks. 'Faecal contamination', for instance, relates to the use of manure by organic farmers which Dennis Avery has claimed makes organic food riskier than conventional food, but what this ignores is that conventional farmers also use manure, in addition to agrochemicals and sometimes sewage sludge containing contaminants like heavy metals and PCBs. As the Guardian journalist John Vidal notes, 'conventional UK farmers use about 80m tonnes of it (manure) a year as a fertiliser. Just 9,000 tonnes goes on organic land and crops. So why the attacks on organic foods and not conventional ones?'
The character of Hillman's attack on organic farming seems ironic given his apparent concern about the raising of 'speculative risks' and 'improbable hazards' backed by little scientific evidence. In the same report Hillman also complained, 'Deliberately pejorative language is obscuring the debate and encouraging people to pre-judge the issues before they have heard all the facts.' But when Prof Hillman was asked by BBC Radio 4's 'Food Programme' for the references to back up his perjorative statements about organic farming, Prof Hillman was said to be 'too busy' to provide any of the data.
Hillman's attack on organic farming was widely publicised thanks to the SCRI press releasing it (Leading expert reopens GM food debate, Press release, Scottish Crop Research Institute, Feb 2000).
The head of the SCRI's information services at the time was Bill Macfarlane-Smith who is still a Fellow and also serves on the panel of the biotech-industry funded pro-GM lobby group CropGen.
2.SCRI chief says it is wrong to write off benefits of GM
FORDYCE MAXWELL RURAL AFFAIRS EDITOR
PROFESSOR John Hillman, the director of the Scottish Crop Research Institute, believes that conventional agriculture has done a good job of feeding most of the world’s population.
Given the chance, he says, it will continue to do so, a contribution that cannot be replaced by organic farming, while rejecting the potential benefits of genetically modified crops is a mistake. He warned: "[Conventional] agriculture is relatively important and becoming more so. Underestimate it at your peril."
He has made these points enthusiastically several times in recent months in conference presentations and makes them again in his annual, wide- ranging survey of world science and its implications in the SCRI's annual report.
Of organic farming, he says that its claims for health-enhancing qualities cannot be validated, it is low productivity compared with conventional and biotech agriculture, and has a high dependence on poisonous copper salts (to control pests).
Organic production also means: blemished crops, the risk of mycotoxins and reduced vitamin C levels, reliance on faecal fertilisers, raising concerns about food-poisoning micro-organisms, eggs of parasitic nematodes and pollution of water-courses; with reliance on tilling leading to soil structure damage and release of greenhouse gases.
Organic marketing, he adds, is often based on criticism, sometimes scaremongering, about conventional and biotech agriculture. Furthermore, the system has high production costs and can not meet the increasing demand of global food supply without encroaching on natural habitats.
Genetically modified production has potentially more to offer. GM crops, he says, encompass strategies to control pests, weeds and diseases; by, for example, eliminating allergens and anti-nutritional factors they can modify shape, colour, size, aroma, texture, taste and yield; can generate, at low capital cost, pathogen-free, high-value, nutraceuticals, vaccines, antibiotics, enzymes and growth factors; engineer plants to treat wastes and contaminated land; produce industrial feedstocks from specialist proteins; and create renewable sources of energy.
In short, he concludes: "There is a need for comparative life cycle analysis of all types of agriculture, but the march of innovation, the forces of economic growth and the demands of the global population will ensure that agriculture will continue to adapt to the opportunities offered in the market place.
"Risk-aversion in the food-replete regions (including Western Europe) will suppress, but not prevent, innovation."
By contrast with his view of conventional agriculture, Friends of the Earth has demanded tough new measures to cut pesticide use, claiming that a 2 per cent reduction between 1992 and 2002, reported in a Scottish Executive survey, is not nearly enough.