Jim Orson is the Director of The Arable Group (or TAG) which was formed in 2003 in a merger involving the Morley Research Centre, which Orson also previously directed. Morley was a farmer-owned research station in Norfolk UK, providing information to support the businesses of some of the biggest arable farmers in Europe.
In August 2002 Orson was appointed for 3 years to ACRE, the UK government's official advisory committee on GM releases to the environment. He has also served on the Advisory Committee on Pesticides. He also serves on the Scientific Steering Committee for the farm-scale evaluations (the UK government's GM trials on biodiversity).
The Arable Group, like Orson, take a pro-GM position and Morley Research Centre, under Orson, has been involved in running GM crop trials - a potential source of income for a centre which newspaper reports suggest has experienced significant financial pressure (Sharp falls in farm incomes have put Norfolk's leading independent agricultural research centre under further financial pressure, Eastern Daily Press, November 6th 1999)
Among the companies that Morley ran GM research for was AgrEvo. AgrEvo became part of Aventis and then Bayer, whose crops the farmscale trials have been evaluating.
Orsons public statements also put the question of whether his strong commitment to GM has not put at risk his ability to adequately assess its risks and benefits. He told Reuters, 'The gain to farmers [from GM crops] is clear in terms of higher yields. We believe there are also ways of manipulating herbicide resistant crops for the advantage of the environment.'
But the information on yields from GM rape and GM beet in UK trials does not indicate higher yields, and research on GM soya, the largest GM crop worldwide, shows similarly reduced yields.
Orson's belief indicates that regardless of the results of the UK government's farmscale evaluations, which showed a negative effect on biodiversity from GM rape and beet, Orson will argue not for rejection of the technology but for continued research - a perhaps not unreasonable position for the head of a research station interested in trialling GM crops.
In November 2004, Orson demonstrated his willingness to put a positive spin on GM crop issues during an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which ABC headlined UK set for genetically modified crops . Orson told ABC's Country Hour that British 'public opinion is changing as people are becoming more open to the technology'. It is difficult to reconcile this claim with evidence published in September 2004, showing public sentiment in Britain has become even more strongly anti-GM than previously. Orson's also told Country Hour that it is 'not viable in the UK to be an organic farmer'. Only the week before, it had been reported that retail sales of organic food in the UK had topped 1.1 billion pounds a year and that they were growing by 2 million pounds a week - the rate of growth being twice the rate of the general grocery market. Farm shops were said to be doing particularly well out of the organic boom.