Horticulture Research International (HRI)
Horticulture Research International (HRI) is the UK government's main testing and development arm for market gardening, fruit and related crops. It is said to have the largest single team of horticultural scientists in the world and an income of approximately £24 million per annum. It is classed as a non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB) and is responsible to the UK's Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA, formerly MAFF). It also receives funding via the BBSRC .
Its Chief Executive since August 1999 has been Prof. Michael Wilson who had been Science Director at HRI since April 1999. HRI's current Director of Research is Brian Thomas.
Wilson, who told the parliamentary Select Committee on Agriculture that he is frequently called 'evangelical' about GM,
Wilson's mission has also impacted on HRI's research support for UK market gardening. GM has been put at the centre of HRI's science, as Wilson told the Select Committee. 'We use GM. Genetic engineering, and genetic enhancement, is an incredibly important tool in the research laboratories of HRI across the organisation. It is by far the most definitive technique to use to identify, quantify and qualify the effects of genes and to do experimentation. We are entirely in tune, or the policy of all my senior scientists is that we would support the testing and trialling of GM crops... these crops can offer tremendous benefits in horticulture and agriculture in Europe and the world.'
In September 2000 Wilson sort to ease the budgetary situation by publishing HRI's Restructuring Plan. This proved extremely controversial. It involved axing the highly regarded Stockbridge House research station - a move strongly opposed by the horticultural industry and the National Farmers' Union who both complained of a total lack of consultation.
Much of the concern centered on the determination of Wilson and those around him to drive through the decision without consultation. Sparkes told MPs, 'The industry is so concerned at the sheer arrogance of the Board and Chief Executive of HRI in refusing to consult... the present attitude of the board and senior executive of HRI, they have their own agenda and to hell with everyone else.'