Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160
WEDNESDAY 10 MAY 2000
160. I was a little bit curious that in your
company report, the annual report for two years did throw me a
(Mr Siddall) We had to catch up a bit. We got a bit
behind, so we decided to do two. It will be more current this
161. Shortness of time prevents me from commenting
upon that. Page 77, "Improvement of Product Quality",
I may be missing it, but I cannot see in there what your quality
management systems are. How do you intend to embark on this continuous
improvement other than these broad research area strategy teams
which you seem to have? There seems a real lack of dynamism and
commitment to become the best and stay the best and to sell yourselves
as the best.
(Professor Wilson) I can only say that that is an
aspiration and we will move some of these units into more of an
ISO-9000-type QA arrangement.
(Professor Wilson) As soon as possible.
163. As soon as possible? With great respect,
ISO-9000 has been knocking around for umpteen years, it is a basic
quality system and you are saying to me, "Some time possibly",
but you are not quite sure. I am gobsmacked.
(Professor Wilson) We did get ISO-9000 for an analytical
unit that I was associated with in my previous job. It is a long
process and it is very costly on resources.
164. Are you committed to total quality management?
(Professor Wilson) Yes.
165. You are?
(Professor Wilson) Yes.
166. And you have a system in place for that?
(Mr Siddall) Not explicitly, no. I think this is
167. A fundamental part of total quality management
is to have a system in place, so obviously you cannot be.
(Mr Siddall) I think we need to think about this question
because we cannot answer yes to this; we do not have it.
I think the question is how do we ensure, or maybe the question
I might like to think about is how we address the question of
quality because we certainly do that and I think that is something
we could perhaps reflect on. As far as aspiring to be excellent
is concerned, I would not like you to have any illusions that
we do not aspire to be excellent. We have a pretty arrogant view
that we are the best in this field and we want to stay the best
and the only way we will succeed in this strategy is to do that,
so I do not know if those two things are connected, but I personally
accept the concern you have raised there.
168. What have you done to develop a partnership
with the levy boards? You have identified that as an objective
in the corporate plan.
(Professor Wilson) Colin Harvey and myself, Colin
is the new Chairman of HDC, (I have also met Ian Swingland from
APRC), are setting up working groups to improve not just communication,
but the procedures and processes by which work is identified,
commissioned and reported on, and to ensure that the outputs of
this work are used more efficiently.
169. What is the corporate policy on GM crops?
(Professor Wilson) 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
in compliance with all of the regulations and ultimately, and
we do a lot of work with the Third World as well. I hope, and
most of my senior scientists I think would also say, that these
crops can offer tremendous benefits in horticulture and agriculture
in Europe and the world.
170. So you are in favour?
(Professor Wilson) I am absolutely in favour, yes.
171. And when you said, "we are in tune",
I thought you were going to say "with government policy",
but you stopped.
(Professor Wilson) I believe that GM, the sound science,
and all of the experimentation which has gone behind GM and where
it has come from, we cannot ignore it.
172. Have you improved, as you said you were
aiming to, the quality of information on GM technology which is
available to the general public?
(Professor Wilson) Yes, I believe we have. We have
issued statements, we have had public meetings, I have written
articles in various books, I have appeared in the media in debates
on GM issues, as have many of my scientists. We have participated
in everything from round-table discussions and debating societies,
to radio broadcasts and, as I mentioned before, the Synod of the
Church of England have visited HRI. We feel it our obligation
to explain the facts and the realities of GM technology; what
it can do, what it is based on, what actually happens, and to
try and defuse some of the mis-information that has unfortunately
prevailed in the last couple of years.
173. So you are an evangelical organisation?
(Professor Wilson) I am frequently called evangelical,
yes! I participated in the OECD meeting in Edinburgh as well with
Sir John Krebs.
174. The new European Centre on your site at
East Malling, what objectives do you have for it?
(Professor Wilson) That actually offers us a tremendous
opportunity as well of course to communicate the science behind
organics and to add to that science behind organics, and I think
it is a great opportunity for HRI to be seen as truly the honest
broker. As you said, I am accused of being an evangelist and a
protagonist of GM and it is important that we are seen to play
even-handedly here, that we do rigorous research and that we communicate
information on organics with the same rigour and detail that we
have to work with GM crops. I think organics actually is clearly
a very important niche market at the moment for UK horticulture
and agriculture. They are also going to lose some of their chemicals;
and their copper sulphate is being phased out. Applying sulphur
every week to fruit crops is not a very nice thing to do. I think,
just like GM technology, one of our main mission statements is
to reduce the inputs on crops to create healthier foods and I
think it behoves us to do research to underpin alternative ways
that the organic movement can produce wholesome, higher quality
crops in adequate quantity without a reliance on what I would
call the "older chemicals": copper sulphate, sulphur,
potassium and all those sorts of things.
175. There is a nasty bug, is there not, hitting
the prunus varieties at the moment because of the wet spring
and mine sort of shrivelled and some varieties were sprayed with
copper sulphate? Am I not right in saying that?
(Professor Wilson) It is quite likely, yes. That will
be a problem in the future.
176. What implications does the new centre have
(Professor Wilson) Well, this centre provides us with
177. Does it push you off the site or what?
(Professor Wilson) What, with GM?
178. At East Malling. It is on your site, so
what happens to the rest of it?
(Professor Wilson) We carry on doing research on the
programmes we are currently working on.
179. So it is not displacing it?
(Professor Wilson) No, it is an additional facility
on the site which will be a conference centre, a library and a
sort of communication centre focused on organics. There are other
organic initiatives at the East Malling site and in Wellesbourne,
I have to say. We work with the Henry Doubleday Research Association
in Wellesbourne, and we have converted organic land with people
working on weed seed banks. We have a research investment across
the whole organisation in both forms of productionorganic
Mr Mitchell: Sorry, that question was based
on a misapprehension. Perhaps I can ask just one final question.
You are neither fish nor fowl in the sense that they have not
passed the primary legislation which will be necessary to give
you the effective status you were telling us about earlier. Does
this create an assumption, or is there any assumption in your
organisation that ultimately if it all goes belly-up, MAFF will
have to bail you out?
3 Note by Witness: An additional Memorandum
is attached outlining the history and rationale to date, as well
as achievements in Quality Assurance, Accreditation etc. Back