Howard Davies (former member of EFSA GMO Panel)

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Professor Howard Davies is a leading GM scientist and former member of the GMO Panel, an expert panel of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).[1]

Davies is based in the Environmental and Biochemical Sciences research group at the James Hutton Institute.[2] He is identified by BioDundee as part of Dundee's 'life sciences community', and is Director of the virtual Centre for Health Improving Plants (CHIP) at the University of Dundee Medical School.[3]

Davies has a first class honours degree in Botany and a PhD in Plant Biochemistry from the University of Bristol. Following his studies, he undertook a 4 year postdoc at the University of London.[4]

Activities and affiliations


European Scientific Committee on Plants, 1997

Davies was appointed to the European Scientific Committee on Plants in 1997. The committee was responsible for undertaking risk assessment on applications to the commercial release of GM crops.[5]

GMO Panel, 2009-2012

Davies was a member of the EFSA's GMO Panel from 2009-2012.[6]

The Flanders-UNIDO Risk Assessment Research Network (FURARN)

Alongside other (former) members of the EFSA GMO Panel, Davies is a member of the Flanders-UNIDO Risk Assessment Research Network (FURARN), an international project coordinated by Godelieve Gheysen with funding from the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO Vlaanderen) and UNIDO.[7] The aim of the network 'is to bring together scientists and biosafety experts with complementary expertise in fields allowing the assessment of the potential risk of a GMO'.[8]


As Davies' biography at the Flanders-UNIDO Risk Assessment Research Network (FURARN) notes:

Davies’ research interests over the past 20 years have focused on crop plants linking “traditional” biochemistry with transgenic biology to understand the roles of specific genes. Current research involves the integration of outputs from metabolomics, proteomics and transcriptomics platforms to understand functional diversity with regard to quality traits and to provide benchmark data for food safety evaluations. He has considerable experience in working with transgenic plants and for the last 12 years has been heavily involved with European Commission and European Food Safety Authority GMO Panels assessing potential risks to human health and the environment associated with commercial releases of GM crops. He has spoken widely on these issues at International Science and Policy Conferences. He has been involved in several EU and UK Government funded projects related to GM risk assessment and recently co-ordinated a work package on “omics and food safety” in the EU FP6 funded project SAFE FOODS- Promoting Food Safety through a New Integrated Risk Analysis Approach for Foods.[9]

Scottish Crop Research Institute, now the James Hutton Institute, 1981-present

Davies joined the Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI) in 1981. At the SCRI 'his positions... evolved through Head of Physiology, Head of Division of Plant Biochemistry and Cell Biology, Head of Genes to Products Research Theme through to... Director of Science Co-ordination'.[10]

Davies is now based at the Environmental and Biochemical Sciences group at the James Hutton Institute, based in Invergowrie, near Dundee.[11] The James Hutton Institute was established in April 2011, from a merger of the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute and Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI).[12] He retired from his full time position in September 2011 and now works as a research consultant for the James Hutton Institute on Food Security Strategy and advises on biotechnology issues.[13]

Programme 1: Profitable and Sustainable Agriculture - Plants, Scottish Government, 2005-2010

While at the SCRI, Davies was the co-ordinator of 'Programme 1: Profitable and Sustainable Agriculture - Plants', a strategic research programme funded by the Scottish Government's Rural and Environment Research and Analysis Directorate (RERAD) (a sub-directorate of Rural Affairs and the Environment). The project ran from 2005-2010 and involved collaboration across several of the then 'Main Research Providers' (MRPs) within the Scottish Government's Environment Biology and Agriculture Research (EBAR) area; namely the Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI), the Macaulay Institute, the Scottish Agricultural College and Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland (BioSS). The remit of the programme was as follows:

Programme 1 research aims to develop and implement strategies to deal with sustainable agriculture and food security, taking on board the need to mitigate/adapt to climate change and to protect biodiversity.
The research addresses three primary objectives:
genetics for sustainablility [sic]
plant pathology for sustainable crop production
designing crops for sustainable production.[14]

Other activities

Advocating GM crops in Scotland

Davies has been a vocal advocate of biotechnology development in Scotland, and has spoken out in the media on several occasions.

In 2007 BBC News ran the headline Scientist urges GM crops rethink, reporting the following:

One of Scotland's top agricultural scientists has warned the country will pay a heavy price if it turns its back on genetically modified crops. No GM food has been grown in Scotland since protests against trials held at three farms in 2003 and 2004.
Professor Howard Davies, from Invergowrie-based Scottish Crop Research Institute, said it made no sense to ignore a whole new industry. He recently received funding to examine possible side effects of GM.
The new SNP government is opposed to GM crops, and many farmers and environmentalists believe altering the genetic makeup of plants could be dangerous.
But Prof Davies said the GM food industry was worth about $5bn (£2.5bn) worldwide, with more than 100 million hectares of GM crops being grown by 10 million farmers. He added that it would make no sense for Scotland to snub the technology when there was no evidence that GM food was unsafe.
Prof Davies said: "The fear is understandable because it has been fuelled by a lot of misinformation over the years. We are now entering the 11th year after the first introduction of GM crops worldwide and so far there has been no indication of any safety issues, either to humans, animals or the environment. Having said that, no technology is risk free - even traditional breeding has its issues from time to time."
Prof Davies predicted GM crops would become increasingly attractive to Scottish farmers because of the challenges posed to the industry by climate change and the need to use more pesticides. He added: "The fact that we in Scotland are not using the technologies will have its price to pay."
Prof Davies has been awarded a share in a £400,000 project to develop new techniques to track the side effects of GM.

The BBC report includes the response from then Friends of the Earth Scotland Chief Executive Duncan McLaren who 'accused Prof Davies of having a "vested interest" in championing the safety of GM crops'. McLaren is quoted as saying: "There are a whole host of vested interests in the GM business so I am not surprised to hear another one putting their head above the parapet. What Scotland needs for its economic success is a reputation as an unspoiled environment."[15]

In 2011, The Herald newspaper ran the story GM ban will cost us dear, warns expert, excerpts follow:

SCOTLAND will be left behind in global agriculture development because of its ban on genetically modified crop trials, a leading scientist has claimed.
Professor Howard Davies, director of science at the newly-launched James Hutton Institute, called for Scotland to abandon political bias and hold an objective debate on the subject of GM foods. [...]
Professor Davies stressed the institute was not advocating the roll-out of GM food but simply wanted the right to experiment.
He said: “We’re not out there to rock boats, but what we are intent on doing is developing approaches that could be very useful in developing next generation products. Where we would be left behind, not just as an institute but as a nation, is developing products that go into the commercial sphere. That’s where we’re missing out.
“Part of the problem is that most of the GM crops out there are produced by large multinational firms. These are the companies that have enough money to get things to the marketplace. If you’re trying to do research and create crops for public-good purposes -- not to make £20 million, £30m a year, but to have social impact, for example higher nutrition -- the cost is so prohibitive that the public sector couldn’t do it.”
Professor Davies, who sits on the European Food Safety Authority’s panel on GM foods, said the Hutton Institute was able to study genes under the current rules but would have to use a partner in the US or South America to carry out trials to prove any discoveries worked. This would be impractical, he said, adding: “What’s needed is more of an open debate now, regardless of whether you’re pro or against. What could the technology contribute down the line to Scottish and UK agriculture?” [...]
Professor Davies said GM crops were not a "silver bullet" solution to problems but could play a role in developing countries and, under some circumstances, could be a social good. Much of their development so far has focused on increasing yields for commercial gain rather than for humanitarian reasons.[16]


The James Hutton Institute
Scotland UK



  1. Email correspondence between EFSO GMO Unit and Lucy Brown, RE: GMO Panel, 14 January 2013
  2. Howard Davies, accessed 14 January 2013
  3. BioDundee, Howard Davies, 14 January 2013
  4. FURARN, FURARN members, accessed 14 January 2013
  5. BioDundee, Howard Davies, 14 January 2013
  6. Email correspondence between EFSO GMO Unit and Lucy Brown, RE: GMO Panel, 14 January 2013
  7. FURARN, FURARN members, accessed 14 January 2013
  8. FURARN, FURARN, accessed 14 January 2013
  9. FURARN, FURARN members, accessed 14 January 2013
  10. FURARN, FURARN members, accessed 14 January 2013
  11. Howard Davies, accessed 14 January 2013
  12. James Hutton Institute, History, accessed 14 January 2013
  13. Howard Davies, Linkedin profile, accessed 14 January 2013
  14. Programme 1, Developing Strategies for Profitable, Sustainable Agricultural Frameworks and Food Security, accessed 14 January 2013
  15. BBC (2007), Scientist urges GM crops rethink, 4 July 2007, accessed 14 January 2013
  16. Chris Watt (2011), GM ban will cost us dear, warns expert, The Herald, accessed 14 January 2013

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