Chief scientist's blast over GM and triple vaccine


Last updated at 00:56 10 December 2007

The BBC's Today programme and the Daily Mail have been attacked by the Government's chief scientific adviser.

Sir David King criticised the two news outlets for their coverage of genetically-modified food and the MMR vaccine.

In one of his final public appearances before stepping down from his post, he also warned that homeopathic medicine was putting lives at risk.

Speaking before the Commons Innovation, Universities and Skills Select Committee, Sir David said Britain's failure to embrace GM crops had cost the economy up to £4billion.

Singling out John Humphrys, the main presenter of Radio Four's Today for particular criticism, he described coverage of the controversial issue as "a massive shot in the foot for the UK economy".

Sir David, who became chief scientist in 2000, said the Daily Mail had waged a "brilliant campaign" against GM food.

He told MPs: "The use of the word 'Frankenfood' by the Daily Mail I would have to say was a brilliant piece of journalism.

"It brought through all the fears, these gut fears that people had about tinkering with the genetic code and these mad scientists in their laboratories with bolts through their arms."

The chief scientist also hit out at both news organisations' coverage of the safety fears surrounding the MMR vaccine and autism.

Sir David said: "My charge there is your highly successful campaign has potentially led to a situation where we could have 50 or 100 children dying of measles in the UK.

"We could still see a significant fatality rate among children."

Adding that all the evidence now shows that the measles, mumps and rubella jab does not cause autism, he said: "That's the basic message that every parent needs to get and I would love the Daily Mail to put a headline in the paper tomorrow admitting that."

A Daily Mail spokesman said: "Sir David King does not understand the media. Six years ago the Mail, in common with other newspapers, highlighted the hypocrisy of Tony Blair's refusal to reveal whether his youngest child had been given the triple MMR jab, following claims by Dr Andrew Wakefield that it was linked to autism.

"We also focused on the distress of the parents who believed that their children's autism was linked to MMR and in our editorials argued that families should be given the right to ask for single jabs.

"We believe that this was an entirely legitimate subject for newspapers to raise.

"As for GM crops - so assiduously promoted by the U.S. conglomerate Monsanto - the Mail, along with Prince Charles, major environmental groups and senior researchers, has vigorously expressed grave concerns about their long-term effect on the countryside.

"We believe GM is still a matter of huge public concern."

Homeopathy, an alternative medicine publicly supported by Prince Charles, drew heavy criticism from Sir David - and a warning that it was putting lives at risk.

He said there was no evidence homeopathy did any good. Rather, it is a danger to health, because patients may mistakenly believe it can cure or treat serious illness.

"There is not one jot of evidence supporting the notion that homeopathic medicines are of any assistance whatsoever," he added.

"They are a risk to the population because people may take them expecting they are dealing with a serious problem."

Sir David steps down on December 31.