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Scots Angry at Pro-GE School Materials
Supplied by Biotech Industry

Fury at pro-GM school magazines
By Rob Edwards Environment Editor
The Sunday Herald (UK)
Publication Date: Apr 15 2001

MORE than 140,000 glossy brochures sponsored by the US corporate giants of
genetic modification such as Monsanto are being pushed into Scotland's
schools by Scottish Enterprise, with the enthusiastic backing of the schools
watchdog HM Inspectorate of Education.

The brochures, which sing the praises of GM technology in medicine and
marine science, have provoked widespread protests from teachers, consumer
groups and environmentalists. They are suspicious that GM companies are
trying to soften up students as part of a campaign to quell mounting public
fears about the dangers of genetic engineering.

The "infiltration" of industry into the curriculum worried the Educational
Institute of Scotland, the trade union representing teachers. The
institute's general secretary, Ronnie Smith, wanted Scottish Enterprise and
HM Inspec-torate of Education to exercise more critical judgement, and urged
teachers to do the same.

"I think every product of industry that purports to be a curriculum resource
should be viewed carefully by teachers before they use it," he said. "Most
commercial organisations do not involve themselves in this area out of a
charitable concern to help education."

Your World - Biotechnology And You is a 16-page full-colour magazine
produced in the US by the Biotechnology Institute. The institute was founded
two years ago in Pennsylvania to promote public understanding of GM science.
It is funded by Monsanto, Novartis, Pfizer, Rhone-Poulenc, Merck, Amgen and
the 900-member Bio technology Industry Organisation.

Up to 20,000 copies of seven editions of Your World are this month being
sent to 600 schools and colleges throughout Scotland as a "teacher's
resource for biotechnology education". In promoting the magazine, neither
Scottish Enterprise nor HM Inspectorate of Education mentioned the fact that
it has been sponsored by multi national GM companies.

Those who represent the interests of parents also expressed alarm. "Pressure
is increasing on schools to accept industry-led sponsorship and marketing,"
observed Martyn Evans, the director of the Scottish Consumer Council. He
said that was why, along with the National Consumer Council in London, his
organisation was now updating guidelines for schools on industrial
sponsorship. "Schools have to be particularly careful in accepting sponsored
materials or products," he said. "The biotech companies behind the magazine
are using the provision of education as a marketing opportunity É to
influence pupils."

However, in the blurb accompanying the magazine, Dr Jack Jackson, HM
Inspector of Schools, writes: "Your World is a valuable resource for
Scottish Science teachers and should help inform pupils and raise their
awareness of the many benefits and issues which surround the development of
this exciting new technology."

The magazines cover genes and medicine, tissue engineering, Aids, the brain,
diagnostics, computing and marine bio technology. They are peppered with
quotes and profiles of industrialists and ideas for classroom activities and
often end with positive accounts of recent developments in gene science.

The most recent Your World, which the Biotechnology Institute hopes will be
circulated to Scottish schools in the future, covers the controversial area
of GM food. It has enthusiastic articles on "creating better plants" as well
as a piece knocking organic farming, and suggests children should experiment
by growing Monsanto's GM soybean seeds.

"We want to make these magazines available to Scottish teachers on a regular
basis," the Biotechnology Institute's Jeff Davidson told the Sunday Herald
from Pennsylvania last week. He argued that the use of GM in medicine was
uncontroversial, and pointed out that Your World, though sponsored by GM
companies, was actually produced by academics and science writers. He
accepted, however, that GM foods aroused more fears in Europe than they did
in the US, and suggested the presentation of the issue in Scotland might
need rethinking.

One anti-GM group, Glasgow-based Scottish Genetix Action, is so angry about
what it sees as the bias and prejudice of the brochures that it has demanded
they be withdrawn immediately from classrooms. "Corporations are taking hold
of our education system," said the group's Scott Armstrong.

Neither the Scottish Executive nor HM Inspectorate were willing to comment
last week, referring questions to the Executive's Dundee-based agency,
Learning and Teaching Scotland. It too was unable to make any public
statements, though insiders privately defended the use of Your World on the
grounds that its articles were directly related to parts of the fifth and
sixth-year biology curriculum.

Scottish Enterprise's bio technology director, Peter Lennox, dismissed
criticisms of the involvement of GM companies as nonsense. "I'm
flabbergasted that anyone should raise this," he said. "It didn't even cross
our minds. I thought it was just knowledge. Biotechnology is an enigma
wrapped in a mystery and there is a lack of knowledge about it."

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