Dr Nigel Halford works for Rothamsted Research (formerly IACR) where he is Project Leader for Assimilate Partitioning . He has also been genetic modification safety officer for Long Ashton Research Station and, according to the Rothamsted website, as such has taken on the responsibility of participating in media and public debates on GM crops and food.
The website also notes that Halford has 'written several articles on the subject'. What it does not say is that he is a member of the Panel of CropGen, a pro-GM lobby group set up by the biotech industry. CropGen has also attracted several other scientists that have worked for Rothamsted/IACR.
Halford has encouraged other scientists to also play their full part in the GM debate. In a piece written for a BBSRC in-house publication for fellow bio-scientists, he assumes that his peers are all of one mind, telling them, 'we have to put our side of the argument at every opportunity through the media and in public debates.' (Dr Frankenstein, I presume?, BBSRC Business, January 1999)
However, questions have repeatedly been raised about the way in which Halford puts his side of the argument. For instance, at the OECD conference on GM in February 2000 Halford told his audience, 'We should not spend time on Pusztais paper here because it had been rejected by the referees'. But Halford's claim about Dr Arpad Pusztai's research, on adverse effects on rats of GM potatoes, was completely untrue. A clear majority of the referees of his Lancet-published paper had recommended its publication on the grounds of scientific merit.
Halford has also been accused of basing himself on assertion and anecdote rather than credible scientific evidence. At the Royal Agricultural Show in 1999, for instance, Dr Halford told his farming audience that as a result of the increasing acreage of GM crops in North America, 'US pesticide sales fell in 1998 by $200m and are predicted to fall by a further $600m over the next two years. Thats an excellent indicator of the success of these crops in reducing the dependence of agriculture on chemical inputs.' (Farmers Weekly, July 2, 1999)
However, a reduced pesticide bill, far from being an 'excellent indicator' of dependence or otherwise on chemical inputs, does not necessarily tell us anything about actual levels of chemical usage. In fact, with the advent of herbicide tolerant GM varieties in U.S. agriculture, a vicious price war broke out amongst competing chemical suppliers - each trying to lure farmers back onto their products and away from the few brand-named herbicides that the GM crops are bred to tolerate. As the majority of the U.S. cropped area is still in non-GM varieties, chemical price discounts for these account for a significant fall in total chemical expenditure. Such competition, in addition to the general agricultural recession, has also been influencing all U.S. pesticide prices downwards, including those that can be used with GM crops.
Such price reductions obviously tell us nothing about the dependence of agriculture on chemical inputs. There is also good scientific evidence for the very opposite of what Dr Halford would have farmers believe: the most widely grown GM crop, soya, is being treated with significantly increased levels of chemicals.
In a letter which Halford wrote to The Times in November 1999, published under the heading 'Emotive claptrap mars GM debate', he calls on 'Greenpeace and its allies in the anti-GM crop campaign to avoid accusations of Luddism' by getting away from emotional claptrap and engaging in a 'rational discussion of the facts'.
Yet on the Rothamsted website Halford has an article on GM which says, 'There are 100 million children around the world who suffer from night or total blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency because of their dependence on rice as a subsistence crop. This problem could be eradicated by the use of the new GM variety.' Next to this section of the article is a box with further information about the topic and an image of a child with damaged sight crying. The text besides the emotive image says, 'GM rice can provide enough provitamin A to satisfy the recommended dietary allowance with a daily ration of rice.'
A daily ration of rice is normally taken to be 300g. In 2001 Ingo Potrykus, the originator of the GM rice to which Halford is referring, calculated that 'we are, possibly, already in the 20-40% range of the daily allowance'. He admitted that to satisfy the recommended dietary allowance this would mean people would have to eat more than 5 times 300 g of rice (ie 1.5 kg). Others have suggested his figures are highly optimistic and that a person would need to eat as much as 9 times the 300g allowance. In March 2003 Potrykus claimed that improvements in the GM rice meant that a much smaller amount of rice could give 100% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A, but he admits that this is only 'according to one estimates (sic)'. There are no peer-review published data to back up this recent assertion. But throughout this period Halford has been displaying on the Rothamsted website the completely unproven claim that 'GM rice can provide enough provitamin A to satisfy the recommended dietary allowance with a daily ration of rice'
His claim that GM rice can eradicate the problem of blindness due to Vitamin A deficiency is even less supportable and there is no evidence to back it up. Regardless of the dietary allowance, there are Go to a Printer Friendly Page