Saturday, 31 October 2009

Status of scientific research on honeybees.

The UK's chief drugs adviser, Professor Nutt, has hit the news headlines this morning. He was sacked for criticising government policy. More accurately, the Professor has accused the government of using the drug classification system as a tool to send out an anti-drugs message, rather than to rate drugs in terms of actual risk, which the drugs classification system is meant to do. This has stirred up a lot of angry response to the government which is perceived as sacking a scientific adviser for not following the party line.
I mention this because about two weeks ago, in his article "Plight of the honeybee stung by funding from the chemical industry,"(Oct.14th) George Monbiot brought to light what appears to be another astonishing example of the way this government seems to habitually ignore or sabotage scientific objectivity, in order to push through its own political agenda. Astonishing on the face of it, but Defra is nothing if not predictable, so when Hilary Benn reassured us that Warwick University has been allocated £1m to research into honeybee collapse disorder, it shouldn't surprise us to hear that the study has "no pesticide component in it at all"(Dr David Chandler, one of the Warwick researchers told George Monbiot.) Further enquiry also revealed that Warwick is partly financed by Syngenta, for this research.Syngenta is the chemical company that manufactures a neonicotinoid called thiamethoxam, sold as Actara which has been implicated by a study in Washington state as responsible for incidents of honeybee deaths.
George Monbiot says "I don't know whether or not Syngenta's involvement has affected the framing of the honeybee topic, but wherever scientists are financially dependent on companies, the question arises. Given how little money corporations contribute to British science (Syngenta's 10% is about average) wouldn't we be better served by keeping them out of it so that we can be sure they can't guide the way research is framed? And while we're at it how about reducing their influence over the way that public money for science is allocated?"
In my previous post I mentioned Hilary Benn's (Defra Secretary of State) statement that "UK land has been steadily degraded by 200 yrs of intensive farming and industrial pollution". Well, we've all known that for decades Mr Benn, but it hasn't deterred you, your predecessors in Defra and Maff, and allied food and farming industries from exploiting the system, to maximise your profits, has it?!
We shouldn't be lulled into believing that Defra has had a change of heart towards agricultural sustainability. The planned strategy for conserving our precious topsoil is to use chemicals more economically. That's it.

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