Founding contributor to SpinWatch is the ‘investigative’ journalist Andy Rowell.

But Andy Rowell gets everything wrong.

  • Rowell it was who predicted that the numbers who would get Mad Cow Disease would be ‘in millions’ (Don’t Worry, it’s Safe to Eat, Earthscan, 2003, p 47).
  • Rowell warned that genetically modified (GM) organisms would get into people’s cells through their guts, when they ate ‘Frankenstein Foods’ and make us ill (Ibid, 96-7).
  • Rowell claimed that Arpad Pusztai had proved that 7.7 million hectares of GM crops carried poisonous levels of lectins (Guardian, 12 February 1999).
  • Rowell said that Dr Andrew Wakefield had been victimised because he blew the whistle on the dangerous Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccine (Don’t Worry, It’s Safe to Eat, p 184).

In every single case, Rowell got it wrong.

Strictly speaking no-one in Britain ever got Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis (Mad Cow Disease). Rowell repeats the claim that Creutzfeld Jacob Disease is the ‘human form of BSE’. But there is no evidence that it is. In any event, CJD, terrible as it is, remains one of the rarest diseases in the world, with an infection rate of one in every million, not one third of the population, as Rowell’s source Robert Lacey claimed, nor twenty million as Rowell claims.

Rowell made his mark trying to scare people off genetically modified food, and it is the subject of his sarcastically-titled book Don’t Worry It’s Safe to Eat. But ten years on from the GM panic we can see that it is indeed safe to eat. The crazy scares that Rowell and his friends in SpinWatch have put about are just that, scares.

The World Health Organisation states ‘no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved’.

In his book, Andy Rowell even goes so far as to complain that ‘this statement – that there is no evidence of harm from people eating GM food – is used repeatedly by proponents of GM food’ (Op. Cit. p 140). But the reason that people say there is no evidence is because no harm has come to anyone from eating GM food. Despite all the efforts of the great many anti-GM campaigners over the years, they have not come up with one example of harm. Most, like Gene Watch UK, have given up trying to gull people into thinking GM food is harmful to health, and changed their argument.

Rowell wrote up stories about the Aberdeen scientist Arpad Pusztai claiming that he had been victimised for telling the truth about the dangers of GM food, accusing not just his research institute, but the Royal Society, Tony Blair and even Bill Clinton and Al Gore of conspiring with the bio-tech industry to get Pusztai out. But now we know that Pusztai did overstate the evidence that his tests on the impact of lectins on rats gave that GM crops are harmful.

Lastly, Rowell’s defence of maverick Dr Andrew Wakefield has been shown to be a lie. It was not the medical establishment that was trying to close down Wakefield to protect their financial interests. Wakefield was struck off the medical register because he lied about his research, he put many children through dangerous and painful tests and he did it to make money for his own crackpot tests – as well as taking money under the counter from ambulance-chasing lawyers. Thanks to Wakefield and journalists like Andy Rowell, the world is facing a sharp rise in measles cases that can in the worst cases leave children blind or deaf.

Andy Rowell’s career as a journalist was lifted by the widescale fears of Genetic Modification that he helped to stir. His scare-mongering reports on the Pusztai affair were carried by the Guardian newspaper and others. But his later reports accusing the Royal Society of being a front for the pharmaceutical industries had those charges edited out on the advice of lawyers (Don’t Worry… p 117), and he has not written for the Guardian very much since.

More to the point, Rowell has not returned to cover those stories that had such an impact when they were published. Where is the follow-up story to the dangers posed to human health by GM food? Where is the follow-up story to the silent epidemic of the ‘human form of BSE’? Where is the follow-up story on Andrew Wakefield’s persecution at the hands of the British Medical Association? Those stories will not get written, because Rowell prefers not to look at his own past mistakes. Instead he is off covering oil wars in Nigeria, and now spillages of the US coast.

Still, there is money to be made. Rowell’s Don’t Worry It’s Safe to Eat was written with a grant from Zac Goldsmiths’ JMG Foundation, and his current Oil Change website is funded by the JMG Foundation, too.

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  1. willdeighton says:

    Rowell’s errors got the IPCC into trouble, too:

    ‘A STARTLING report by the United Nations climate watchdog that global warming might wipe out 40% of the Amazon rainforest was based on an unsubstantiated claim by green campaigners who had little scientific expertise. … a report called A Global Review of Forest Fires, which WWF published in 2000. It was commissioned from Andrew Rowell, a freelance journalist and green campaigner who has worked for Greenpeace … suggested that “up to 40% of Brazilian rainforest was extremely sensitive to small reductions in the amount of rainfall” from the Times, 31 Jan 2010

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