Prof Phil Dale is in the Department of Crop Genetics at the John Innes Centre, the UK's leading plant biotechnology institute, where he is also Leader of the Genetic Modification and Biosafety Research Group. He is a keen supporter of GM crops and has probably had more opportunities than any other individual to express that support on official UK Government advisory committees.
In 1993 Dale was appointed to the UK Governments Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE), which advises Ministers on the environmental safety of GM crops. Although he was not reappointed after June 1999, he continued to serve as a member of the ACRE sub-groups on Best Practice in the Design of Genetically Modified Crops and on the impact of GM crops on wildlife biodiversity 1999-2000.
He has also been a member of the UK Governments Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP), which advises Ministers and the Food Standards Agency on the safety of GM foods, from 1998 to the present.
In 2000 Dale was appointed to the UK Government's Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission (AEBC), which advises the UK Government on issues surrounding modern biotechnology, including GM crops, that impact on agriculture and the environment and issues of ethics and acceptability.
There are, however, questions about the reliability of some of Dale's advice. He is recorded as having told Environment Minister Michael Meacher that there was nothing surprising about Dr Arpad Pusztais findings of adverse effects on rats from eating GM potatoes, because the gene inserted coded for a lectin and lectins are well known toxins. This is misleading because not all lectins are dangerous to mammals - we consume them every time we bite into a tomato, for instance - and the lectin used in Dr Pusztais research (the GNA lectin) was chosen precisely because it is toxic only to insects and not to rats or humans. Also, rats fed with food spiked with the natural (non-GM) form of the lectin did not suffer ill effects. Hence the most likely culprit was not the lectin but the GM process. It has been suggested that this advice to the Minister fits into a pattern of misinformation by staff at the John Innes Centre.
Phil Dale is on the advisory council of the controversial lobby group Sense About Science which the John Innes Centre also helps to fund.