Professor Anthony Trewavas is often the expert of choice whenever a critical perspective on organic food and farming is required by the UK's media. From the media's perspective Trewavas presents as a prominent scientist who has written extensively on organic farming, including two articles in the prestigious science journal Nature. However, Trewavas is also a scientist with a history of propagandising on behalf of GM foods and against organic farming and there is ample evidence that in the course of that crusade he has put into circulation many statements which are both extreme and unsupported.
In October 2001 "Professor Trewavas, Professor of Plant Biochemistry at the University of Edinburgh" was named in the High Court in London as the source of a letter making libellous allegations against Lord Melchett and Greenpeace in relation to organic farming and GM foods.Greenpeace wins damages over professor's 'unfounded' allegations - (Education Guardian, Monday October 8, 2001)
A published apology in the Scottish newspaper, the Herald, on the 6th October confirmed that, "On 3 November 2000 the Herald published a letter it had received from Anthony Trewavas." The conclusion of the libel case led to critical comment on the fact that Prof Trewavas was not only a leading Fellow of the Royal Society but is even listed in the Society's media directory as an expert available to help journalists get their science stories right. (see: The Ecologist vol 31 no. 10 p.11, " ISIS News, Institute of Science in Society, Private Eye 1040, p.4)
In response to this adverse publicity, Prof Trewavas, in letters to the Herald and others, has sought to deny responsibility for the libel letter published under his name. However, Trewavas has admitted to encouraging others to circulate the material in question as widely as possible, and to sending the material to, amongst others, a newspaper editor and a PR operative with this intent. More recently it has emerged that the original author of the material that Trewavas circulated was another PR operative involved in a Monsanto dirty tricks campaign.
Citing right wing propaganda as science
The libel case is, in fact, only the latest controversy centering on Prof Trewavas and his views and activities. Take, for instance, the advice he gave to US scientists on a listserv supporting GM foods in April 2000, where he describes critics of genetic engineering as "bloody minded, anarchist and frankly merely destructive." According to Trewavas, opponents of the technology are interested solely "in destroying US agribusiness". In the same message Trewavas describes the international environmental group Greenpeace as "controlled by extremists/nihilists and other subversives... whose only interests [sic] is in destroying business/damaging trade and who have no solution to world population problems except to let people die." He also advises enlisting the help of far right US congressmen like Jesse Helms by alerting them, "that a subversive organisation directed from europe is attempting to destroy US agriculture and US farming." advice to US scientists from: "Tony Trewavas" <email@example.com.
In the same piece Trewavas advises GM supporters to take every opportunity to contact the media to attack the critics and put forward pro-GM views and Prof Trewavas certainly cannot be faulted for failing to take his own advice! As part of his tireless crusade, Trewavas has even had two articles attacking organic farming published in the journal Nature. However, both are simply opinion pieces involving no original research and the arguments he presents and the sources he draws upon are open to very serious question.
The second of the two Nature pieces is taken apart in ORGANICS ENTER THE SCIENCE WARS Angela Ryan. The inadequacy of Trewavas' scholarship is equally apparent in the first, 'Much Food, Many Problems' [Nature 402, 231 (1999)]. Here, for example, he presents his readers with a litany of alarming claims:
- "Going organic worldwide, as Greenpeace wants, would destroy even more wilderness, much of it of marginal agricultural quality15."
- "Mycotoxin contamination [of organics] , and infection from the potentially lethal Escherichia coli O157, are additional problems15."
- "average crop yields [for organics] on a variety of soils are about half those of intensive farming15-17"
The reference given by Trewavas for all three points is, "15. Avery, D. in Fearing Food. Risk, Health and Environment (eds Morris, J. & Bate, R.) 3-18 (Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford, 1999)". Anyone who actually follows up this reference discovers that it's to a piece by the controversial US journalist and commentator, Dennis Avery - author of the book, 'Saving the planet with pesticides and plastics' - who just happens to (a) work for the biotech-industry-funded Hudson Institute and (b) have no credible scientific credentials. What's more, all Avery's highly partisan claims about organic agriculture in Fearing Food: Risk, Health and Environment lack any specific references to supporting evidence! In other words, Trewavas' trail of evidence for this series of damaging claims leads nowhere but to the assertions of a highly dubious commentator.
Indeed, the article by Avery to which Trewavas repeatedly refers appears in a book edited by two notorious pro-industry propagandists connected to a corporate front funded by Big Tobacco! Nor is this Trewavas' only connection to the book's editors, Morris and Bate, and their pro-corporate propaganda. In early 2000 Trewavas appeared as a witness against organic farming in the Counterblast TV programme put together and presented by Roger Bate in his role as Director of the tobacco-industry funded European Science and Environment Forum.
Needless to say, Prof Trewavas is not entirely disinterested in his simultaneous promotion of GM crops and crusade against organic farming. Trewavas is himself a GM crop researcher. He also serves on the Governing Council of the John Innes Centre, a plant biotech institute which has itself been mired in controversy over its pro-GM propagandising.
So while Trewavas issues lurid warnings about organic farms acting as "repositories of disease", in reality it is Prof Trewavas himself who is in real need of a health warning!
GM Maize paper
He played a leading role in Nature's unprecented withdrawal of a published paper on GM maize in November 2001.
- Professor of Plant Biochemistry at the University of Edinburgh
- Scientific Alliance advisory board
- on Governing Council of John Innes Centre
- Fellow of Royal Society
- Fellow of Royal Society of Edinburgh
- Witness on Scottish Parliament Health and Community Care Committee
- Member of UK govt Advisory Committee on Genetic Modification
- Anna Salleh, "Mexican Maize Madness", ABC online, July 4, 2001.
- Trewavas, the Royal Society, the UK Government, and why ANYTHING GOES!, Norfolk Genetic Information Network, accessed Dec 2003
- John Innes Governing Council Members, JIC Website, accessed Dec 2003
- Register of ACGM member's interests, UK Govt Health and Safety Executive website, Dec 2003
- ^ ORGANICS ENTER THE SCIENCE WARS (original URL) http://www.i-sis.org/isisnews/i-sisnews11-18.shtml ISIS News No 11/12 October 2001, Institute of Science in Society, www.i-sis.org Available: http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/trewavas.htm#ORGANICS%20ENTER%20THE%20SCIENCE%20WARS