Prof Jonathan Jones is a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Senior Scientist in the Sainsbury Laboratory of the John Innes Centre (JIC) . He has also undertaken research at UC Berkeley.
Since the late 1980s he has headed a lab within the Sainsbury Laboratory, using molecular biology and genetics to better understand plant disease resistance with a view to engineering disease resistance genes into crop plants. In 1998 Jones wrote, 'I've worked with transgenic plants for 15 years, in the US and the UK. The more I do it, the less I worry about it.'
It was environmental concerns which, according to Prof Jones, led him into a career in plant biology as a source of hightech solutions. He has written, 'It simply is appalling how rainforests are cut down, fisheries fished out and water resources are overutilized and polluted. But the solutions require more science, not less.'
Unusually for a biotechnologist, Jones has at times been willing to criticise the biotech industry, outside of the area of GM crops. He wrote to The Guardian to support George Monbiot's concern about Monsanto's genetically engineered cattle drug BST, 'George Monbiot and the Guardian have got wrong much of their coverage on GM foods and GM crops. But he is certainly right to highlight concern... about milk from cows treated with bovine somatotropin (BST). It appears suspect both on animal welfare and human health grounds'.
However, his keenness to communicate the benefits of GM crops, has led him to adopt a less tolerant attitude towards environmental critics of GM crops like George Monbiot. In fact, while t he JIC's Director, Prof. Chris Lamb , has publicly expressed his concern at the 'polarisation of discussion about agriculture', and declared it part of the JIC's vision to seek to foster balanced debate, Jones has adopted an often highly aggressive tone in public meetings and in some of the material he has written for publication.
He attacks critics of GM crops at public meetings as 'self-serving' fundamentalists, calling them 'the green mujihadeen'. On the JIC website he has posted material complaining of 'George Monbiot's periodic eruptions of green bile on the subject of GM crops' and of 'George Monbiot and his bigoted, myopic, mystical, anti-scientific, organic farming business interest friends'.
During the Pusztai crisis in February 1999 Jones penned an article at the request of Number 10 on the benefits of GM crops. The government's spin-doctors then tried to place the article in a national newspaper. The material turned up 'partially summarized' in a Sunday Times editorial on 14th of February. The following day the Daily Telegraph reported how the piece had been hawked around the press by Number 10. The fact that Jones worked for a laboratory founded and funded by Labour's Science Minister, Lord Sainsbury, who is a leading advocate of GM crops, attracted critical comment.
In the article Jones wrote, 'Grandstanding does not resolve scientific questions', and he concluded, without any apparent sense of self-contradiction, 'The future benefits (for consumers and the environment) will be enormous [from GM] and the best is yet to come. In the meantime, let's have more information and less rhetoric.'
Jones has also attacked GM critics for 'quite literally leading everyone up the garden path.' But he has himself faced criticism for making baseless claims in support of GM crops.
At public talks, Jones has repeatedly claimed that GM crops have made aerial spraying of pesticides unnecessary in the US, resulting in 'crop dusters' going 'out of business because plants are so [pest] resistant, theres no business for applying insecticides indiscriminately from aeroplanes'. However, according to a leading US agronomist, Dr Charles Benbrook, insecticide use in the US has actually been on the increase. While crop dusters are indeed going out of business, says Benbrook, this is because 'fewer and fewer pesticides may be applied aerial, because of drift. Virtually all the new chemistry is incompatible with aerial application.' Dr Benbrooks conclusion on Jones much repeated claim that crop dusters are going out of business because of GM crops: 'This fellow does not know what he is talking about.' So where did Jones get his data? He told us he read it in a newspaper - The Christian Science Monitor.
Ironically, in his article about the media storm over Pusztai's research, Jones wrote, 'As a scientist myself I can only say "show me the data". Grandstanding does not resolve scientific questions.'