ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

2 items relating to Dr Jim Orson of Morley Research Centre and the
impartiality of those involved in the UK Government's GM farmscale

1. ngin comment

2. article: "leading independent agricultural research centre under
further financial pressure"
1. ngin comment

The Government claims that the GM farmscale trials, which are being
conducted to address concerns about the impact of Gm crops on farmland
wildlife, are based on sound science and are being run and overseen by
independent experts.

Recently we put out a report 'False reports and the smears of men',
which can be seen at , which
showed that senior scientists associated with 2 of the 3 institutes
charged with running these trials would appear to have engaged in
spin-doctoring activities that would, at the least ,bring into question
their ability to take an impartial role in research in this area. (This
is somewhat ironic as the Department of the Environment has stated that
these trials are all about separating science fact from science

Some of the scientists directly involved in conducting the research,
such as the entomologist Dr Alan Dewar at the IACR, have also, according
to a Guardian article, previously been the recipients of commercial
sponsorship from AgrEvo, the very company whose crops are at under
scrutiny in the farmscale trials:

Test experts paid by GM firm
The Guardian, Wednesday August 4, 1999
John Vidal and James Meikle

Two scientists responsible for independently verifying the safety of the

government's controversial GM food trials are also being paid by a
leading GM company, it emerged last night.

Bob May and Alan Dewar of the Institute of Arable Crops Research, an
organisation subsidised by the government, were appointed in June to
help lead a team of "world-class scientists" to look at the potential
adverse impacts of the farm trials.

They had earlier been commissioned by Norfolk-based GM company AgrEvo to
look for the environmental benefits of the company's crops. Dr May and Dr
Dewar are testing AgrEvo's crops for the department of the environment.  In the
past year the government has made great play that all official GM committees
should be seen to be completely independent, after it was shown that many of
its advisers had direct involvement with the biotech industry

The big question is could such sponsorship affect scientific judgement?

The ground breaking study done on the impact of conflicts of interest on
scientific judgements suggests it could [The New England Journal of
Medicine -- January 8, 1998 -- Vol. 338, No.2 Conflict of Interest in
the Debate over Calcium-Channel Antagonists, Stelfox et al - abstract
available at]

The study's conclusion is that a strong association is demonstrated
between scientists' published positions on product safety and their
financial relationships with the relevant industry.

The comments of Texas A&M entomologist John Benedict are also
interesting in this regard: [see ]

"All of these companies have a piece of me. I'm getting checks waved at
me from Monsanto and American Cyanamid and Dow, and it's hard to balance
the public interest with the private interest. It's a very difficult
juggling act, and sometimes I don't know how to juggle it all."

"The universities are cheering us on, telling us to get closer to
industry, encouraging us to consult with big business. The bottom line
is to improve the corporate bottom line. It's the way we move up, get
strokes.... We can't help but be influenced from time to time by our
desire to see certain results happen in the lab."

Benedict was commenting on a situation where industry contributed around
10 percent of Texas A&M's annual agricultural research budget. Around
25% of the IACR's research funding is believed to come from industry.

The Government has also established a steering committee to oversee the
Farmscale Trials. One of the independent experts on this committee is Dr
Jim Orson of the Morley Research Centre. Yet  Morley under Orson has
been very heavily involved in running GM crop trials for some years (see
below) and this activity clearly constitutes a significant aspect of the
income of a centre which is under financial pressure (see article

Among the companies Morley's running GM research for is AgrEvo [for more
on this company see]  Is
this an ideal position from which to assess whether this technology has
a future?

The public statements of Dr Orson also bring into question whether his
strong commitment to this technology has not also put at risk his
ability to adequately assess its risks and benefits. In particular, he
has stated that there *will* be a way of growing GM crops that isn't
damaging to farmland wildlife:

FEATURE - Campaign against GM crops gains momentum
Wire Service: RTw (Reuters World Report)
Date: Wed, Jul 21, 1999

..."The gain to farmers is clear in terms of higher yields," said Jim
Orson, director of the Morley Research Centre in Norfolk, eastern
England.. "We believe there are also ways of manipulating herbicide
resistant crops for the advantage of the environment."

What does Dr Orson base this on? The information on yields to date
from GM rape and GM beet  crops in UK trials indicate lower not
higher yields, and research on soya, the largest GM crop worldwide,
shows similarly reduced yields (see Farming News for more on the
yield problem with GM crops)

The rest of Orson's statement is equally unsoundly based - it is a statment
of belief which indicates that whatever the results of
the farmscale trials, Orson will argue for no rejection of the
technology but continued research (an ideal position in many ways for
the head of a research station heavily involved in trialling GM crops to
adopt!). Orson must also know that the likelihood of farmers
assiduously adopting some elaborate strategy for growing GM crops is
extremely remote, particularly if it might cost them yield! The ways of
growing GM crops so as not to damage biodiversity that have been
experimented with to date in the UK have consistently cost yield and
sometimes to a very marked degree - see 'low yielding beet vs
biodiversity' on the ngin farming page at

No wonder the New Scientist has concluded, "The biotech industry is
developing two very different sales pitches for its products - one for
farmers and one for the rest of us." !!

The chairman of Morley Research, Phillip Richardson, is incidentally a
strong supporter of GM crops and has written to the Eastern Daily Press
attacking their coverage of GM crop issues.


2. Eastern Daily Press, Novemeber 6th 1999

Centre recruits more members/Morley looks to bright future
By MICHAEL POLLITT Agricultural Editor

Sharp falls in farm incomes have put  Norfolk's leading independent
agricultural research centre under further financial pressure.

"The collapse in producer prices is having a profound effect," said Jim
Orson, who is the director of Morley Research Centre.

In the annual report to the centre's 1639 members, he has warned: "The
rationalisation that is going on in the whole industry, sadly means
fewer potential members."

"On a more parochial level, we depend on the farm profits to support
some of our services to members," said Mr Orson, who reported a year of
further success for the centre, which was established as Norfolk
Agricultural Station in 1903.

The annual report to members, which will be presented at Easton College
on Monday (2.30pm), discloses a net operating loss of £54,641 for the
year to April 5 compared with a net profit in the previous year of

This represents a reversal in fortunes of almost £75,000.

However, the underlying strength of Morley, which is owned and run by
its farmer members, remains very strong. It has sound reserves and solid
investment income the annual report discloses.

The further disposal of outlying assets at Sprowston contributed to the
centre's reserves and included a profit of £65,373 following the sale of
a cottage, surplus to requirements.

As a result, the centre more than covered the operating deficit and
actually recorded a net surplus for the year of £111.

Farmer Philip Richardson, who is the centre's chairman, said that the
reputation of Morley's staff and achievements continues to spread far
outside its traditional East Anglian heartland.

"Our director Jim Orson is respected both locally and nationally for his

"Despite the trials and tribulations of the farming industry and the
continuing decline in the number of farmers, our membership has
increased during the year," he added.

Mr Richardson said that the centre had expanded its farming operation by
a novel partnership between Morley and Easton College. "Hopefully both
farming businesses will benefit from economies of scale but the closer
link also provides a springboard for closer working together in other
areas such as training and education."

A new trials site has beren established in Essex, near Writtle, which
will meet the local needs of members.

Ben Freer and his assistant manage the site from the current base at
Otley College, near Ipswich.

"Economic forces are reshaping British agriculture and the industries
that serve it.

"If Morley is going to serve the industry of the future as well as in
the past, we must try to forsee the changes and plan our response," he