The Campaign Against Patrick Holford

‘All you can do is do what you must, and do it well.’
Bob Dylan1

In mid-2006, Patrick Holford, one of Britain’s leading independent
nutritionists, had his 24th book published. Written with Jerome Burne,
a notable health journalist, the title of the book could not have been
more explicit, Food is Better Medicine than Drugs: Your prescription
for drug-free health.2

Unlike the great majority of ‘natural’ health books, which suggest
that allopathic and natural medicine can exist equitably in the world,
this book forcefully argues for a nutritional way to health. It crosses
the medical divide without taking prisoners, and establishes a bridgehead
in the orthodox camp from where it wages war against pharmaceutical
medicine. There could have been no doubt at all that Holford
and this book would attract the attention of ‘quackbusters’.3

Holford has been making a name for himself as an independent
nutritionist since he set up the Institute for Optimum Nutrition (ION)
in 1989. He drew the attention of the British Campaign Against Health
Fraud (later called HealthWatch) from the time that it was first set up
in the late Eighties. Soon after, Holford became one of the principle
targets of Duncan Campbell, a renowned leftwing investigative journalist
and at that time a HealthWatch4,5 fellow traveller.

Duncan Campbell was a considerable asset to the Campaign
Against Health Fraud (CAHF) in its early days. A well-established,
left-leaning writer with a vaguely scientific background and a commitment
to the medical scientists working on a pharmaceutical treatment
for HIV and AIDS-related illness, he combined an unmatched
ability as a propagandist with a ruthless determination to destroy those
whom he saw as enemies of science. In the early Nineties Campbell
pursued Holford with a fervour that he employed against a number of
other targets.6

After he finished his first university degree at Surrey University in
1985, Holford applied to do an MPhil. Dedicated as he was, even
then,7 to nutritional therapies, he wanted to research hair-mineral
analysis, a diagnostic technique thought by the new school of nutritionists
to be of benefit in measuring mineral deficiencies, but seen as
quackery by industrial nutritionists. Everything went well with his
research, until Vincent Marks took over as the head of the
Biochemistry department.

Marks was a dedicated quackbuster with links – like a number of
others at that time – to the Wellcome Foundation drug company, that
had just launched the contentious AIDS drug AZT.8 Marks boasted a
deep knowledge of nutrition and had been a consultant to the sugar
industry for a number of years.

Holford’s viva for his MPhil was carried out by a colleague of
Marks, who espoused views antagonistic to various alternatives
including nutritional medicine; Holford failed his MPhil. In 1988,
Marks became a founding member of CAHF and a champion of AZT.
He worked closely with Duncan Campbell and Caroline Richmond,
the founder of the Campaign.

In 1989, having set up ION, Holford began his own ‘life university’
course. He travelled to America to meet with various nutritionists,
including Professor Linus Pauling, for whom he had the highest
regard. Pauling was to become one of the most academicallyacclaimed
targets of quackbusters, who accused the twice-nominated
Nobel Laureate of all kinds of quackery relating to vitamin C.9

Also in 1989, the Wellcome Foundation, in order to protect AZT,
began a campaign against anyone who advocated alternative therapeutic
approaches to HIV or Aids-related illnesses. One of the nutritionists
whom Campbell attacked in the New Statesman was Monica Bryant. In
the summer issue of Optimum Nutrition, the magazine of ION, Holford
came to Bryant’s aid. It was from this point onwards that Holford also
became a target of the health fraud campaign.

In December 1989, Duncan Campbell’s article ‘The Rise of the
New Age Pill Pushers’ appeared in the Sunday Correspondent
Magazine.10 In this and other articles, Campbell tried to destroy
Holford’s professional career and reputation.

Later in 1989, the New Statesman carried articles against Yves
Delatte and Monica Bryant. The articles and literary assaults by
Campbell at this time centred not only on Holford, Bryant and Delatte,
but on Dr Stephen Davies, Dr Alan Stewart, Dr Damien Downing, Dr
Belinda Dawes and Dr Patrick Kingsley, some of the most reputable
nutritional doctors in Britain, members of the British Society for
Nutritional Medicine (BSNM) as it then was,11 whose annual conference
in 1989 centred on nutrition and AIDS. In 1993, in my book
Dirty Medicine, I wrote the following about Campbell´s attacks on
Holford and other nutritionists.

In his first articles attacking nutritionists, Campbell was insistent
that Bryant’s probiotics contained faecal matter.12
Holford had come to know and respect Monica Bryant, who
had lectured on bacteria and probiotics at ION. In defence of
Bryant, Holford sent off Bryant’s preparations to be analysed
at two laboratories. Both labs returned reports stating that
there was no faecal matter in the preparations.
Holford’s defence of Monica Bryant led him to the
Campaign Against Health Fraud. When he found that Vincent
Marks was a founder member of the organisation, he wrote
an editorial in the summer 1989 edition of Optimum
Nutrition.

The most vicious attack on natural remedies appeared
recently in the New Statesman, written by Duncan
Campbell, involved in the Campaign Against Health
Fraud, slamming the use of beneficial human strain
bacteria in relation to AIDS and ME as ‘selling extract
of excrement to sick and dying people.’ The article
entitled ‘Let them eat shit’, basically three pages of
abuse, claimed that Probiotic supplements including
Symbion, a combination of three beneficial bacteria,
were ‘extract of excrement’ and were made ‘in an
ordinary kitchen’. To test these claims we obtained
two independent analyses of the product from
Brighton Polytechnic, and a private laboratory. Each
analysis confirmed that there were no pathogenic
organisms or faecal matter present. Monica Bryant,
director of the International Institute of Symbiotic
Studies, told us, ‘There is no truth to the claim that
these products contain pathogenic substances or
faecal matter. These products are produced by a
reputable pharmaceuticals manufacturer and its
laboratories under strictly controlled conditions’.13

When the next attack on Monica Bryant, ‘Pretty poison’,
about germanium, appeared, Holford again went to her
defence. He did not think that germanium was an essential
nutrient, but he saw no evidence to suggest that germanium
sesquioxide was toxic.14

Patrick Holford’s defence of Monica Bryant, his article
about HIV, together with a personal altercation which he had
with Duncan Campbell at the 1989 Here’s Health exhibition,
were adequate reason for Campbell to begin a crusade
against both ION and Holford. There was also the fact that
Patrick Holford had been involved for the last two years in an
ongoing battle with Vincent Marks at Surrey University. As
Campbell had joined up with Marks, they now had an enemy
in common.15

Some time after Patrick Holford had argued with Duncan
Campbell at the Here’s Health show, he received a phone call
from him. Campbell wanted to know about Holford’s contacts
with vitamin companies. Holford was polite but not particularly
forthcoming: he also recorded the conversation.

It was clear to Patrick Holford from the phone call that
Campbell had got some of his information wrong. In order to
clarify the situation, Holford sent a statement to Campbell
and told him that if he wanted to ask any more questions, he
should put them in writing and they would be answered.
Duncan Campbell, however, began to apply the same
pressure to Holford that he had maintained on others he had
targeted. He began ringing Holford’s place of work frequently,
sometimes being very rude to the staff.16 He then began
to say that Holford was refusing to speak to him and finally
began to threaten the publication of a story about Holford in
an unnamed publication.

Angered by Campbell’s tactics, Patrick Holford wrote
directly to the New Statesman, informing them that
Campbell was sending out faxes on New Statesman headed
paper and asking the editor to tell him if they intended to
publish an article about him. He finally found out that
Campbell was about to publish a piece in the Sunday
Correspondent.

Patrick Holford wrote to the Sunday Correspondent
informing them that if they or Duncan Campbell had any
more queries, they should contact him personally. He soon
got a reply from the editor suggesting a meeting between
Holford and Campbell at his offices. Holford took a lawyer
and sat for almost two hours answering questions put by
Campbell before the editor and his assistant. At the end of
this interrogation, in Holford’s opinion, everything had been
cleared up. The meeting ended on a friendly note, with
Campbell suggesting that he and Holford should have a drink
together sometime.

Following that meeting, Patrick Holford’s lawyer drafted a
letter to the Correspondent making it clear that as Holford
had been open and honest and hidden nothing, they would
not hesitate to sue were the Correspondent to publish anything
libellous.

About two weeks after this meeting, when Patrick Holford
was working late at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition,
there was a ring on the door. Opening the door, he was confronted
by a large man who asked: ‘Are you Mr Holford …
Patrick Holford?’ When he replied that he was, the man produced
an automatic camera from behind his back and began
taking pictures while walking into the Institute. Holford
struggled to close the door and keep the man out. Even at
the last minute, as the door was closing, the man was able
to hold his camera round the door. When the door was shut,
Holford’s heart was pounding. Nothing like that had ever
happened to him. He was annoyed that he had let the man
get pictures of him looking furtive while struggling to shut
the door.

The next day Patrick Holford set off in his car to give a
lecture on nutrition at a teaching hospital in south London.
When he was stopped at a set of traffic lights, the driving
side door of his car was suddenly thrown open and the same
man with a camera began taking photographs of him. Holford
reported both incidents to the police and the Press Council.

Phoney health information services and Institutes like
Holford’s ION abound, most of them scarcely disguised
sales fronts.17

In December 1989, Duncan Campbell’s article entitled ‘The
Rise of the New Age Pill Pushers’ appeared in the Sunday
Correspondent Magazine.18 The introduction consists of horror
stories and unattributed case histories of people apparently
seriously damaged by vitamin and food supplements.

Following these horror stories came profiles of the targeted
professionals involved in what Campbell claims to be nutritional
fraud. Such people appear to be implicated somehow
in the previously described horror stories, and more specifically
are only involved in health care issues for mercenary
motives.

In the last six months, horrible new frauds have come
to light, aimed particularly at AIDS patients. The
‘treatments’ sold are dangerous. One is a powder
called Ecoflorin or Delta Te, whose key, advertised
ingredient is food poisoning bacteria. Many patients
with ME, allergies, AIDS and other conditions have
also been enticed to pay for extremely expensive but
nutritionally worthless ‘organic germanium’ pills.19

The horror stories in this article are mainly about those who
took a substance called Protexin B. We are told only that
Protexin B consists of laboratory cultivated bacteria. A Mrs
Harvey from Thetford in Norfolk took it, and testifies that it
gave her a real turn. Amongst other things, when she took
Protexin B she turned ‘yellow like a buttercup. My liver swole
(sic) up and my spleen hurt’. Dr Charles Shepherd (who we
will meet again later), medical advisor to the ME Association
and, though not stated, a Campaign Against Health Fraud
member, who had previously helped Campbell in his campaign
against germanium, says of Protexin: ‘it’s an immoral,
worthless hoax’.

Having set a scene which has no relevance to Patrick
Holford, Campbell launches into a description of Holford, his
work and his Institute. Holford is made out to be a scheming
quack: ‘The sales methods of the vitamin-pill trade are often
subtle. Patrick Holford, who runs the Institute for Optimum
Nutrition in Fulham, is one of Britain’s most articulate new
pill pushers’.

The description of Holford’s life and work, and his professional
position, is meanly reduced to that of a salesman, a
person whose raison d’être is the making of money out of
vulnerable and sick people. Campbell does not even attempt
to engage in a reasoned debate about vitamins and in common
with his other articles, ‘The Rise of the New Age Pill
Pushers’ is devoid of intellectual nuances.

Magazines, books, lectures and training courses provided
by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition (ION) can
all be shown to be vehicles for promoting and selling
Health Plus products.20

Holford’s entire learning experience and expertise are
reduced and described in terms of self-publicity.
Holford describes himself as a ‘nutritional counsellor’,
credited with the ‘Diploma of the Institute for
Optimum Nutrition’. But Holford awarded the ‘diploma’
to himself.21

It is of course fairly easy to write this kind of cynical junk
about anyone. It is much harder actually to get to the social
and personal heart of the matter and understand people’s
attitudes within their social and inter-personal context.

Campbell uses the article to make sweeping value judgements
about the worth of people’s lives. Having reduced
Holford to criminal rubble, he quotes Dr Andrew Taylor, friend
and colleague of Vincent Marks.

Dr Andrew Taylor … runs a genuine trace-element
laboratory in Guildford as part of the National Health
Service. Hair analysis test salesmen, says Dr Taylor,
make extravagant claims for their methods. But
patients who are told that they suffer from ‘trace element
imbalance’ can be left ‘anxious [and] frightened’.
22

Again, while there is an apparent reality to the life and comment
of someone who ‘runs a genuine trace-element laboratory’,
there is no such reality to Patrick Holford’s opinions.
This is despite the fact that Holford would most probably use
a ‘genuine trace-element laboratory’ if he wanted to obtain
an analysis, and despite the fact that Patrick Holford does not
generally give diagnostic counselling, and so is unlikely to
leave anyone anxious and frightened.

Later in the article, Campbell draws on the erudition of
CAHF member Vincent Marks and even manages to regurgitate
his case against Cass Mann. The article ends with an
advertisement for the Campaign Against Health Fraud, and a
quote from Caroline Richmond. There is no mention of who
funds CAHF, or the fact that Caroline Richmond was working
at the Wellcome Trust at that time.

In many of Duncan Campbell’s articles, it is possible to
glimpse the hard cynicism of CSICOP and HealthWatch. His
arguments speak on behalf of a society peopled by prepacked
uniform units which aid production, marketing and
consumption. Its inhabitants ask no questions, and forego
their personal search for truth because it has all been done
for them by the State and its scientists. It is a futuristic world
managed by professionals, in which high-technology is the
power.

In July 1990, following the start of his libel action against
Duncan Campbell for the article ‘New Age Pill Pushers’ in the
Sunday Correspondent, Patrick Holford began a fight back on
a number of fronts. In particular, he launched the Campaign
For Health Through Food (CHTF). One of the objectives of
CHTF was to begin a fund for those who had to fight libel
actions. As far as Patrick Holford was concerned, there was
no distinction between the struggle against the vested interests
in the processed food industry, the struggle to make
people aware of optimum nutrition, and the raising of a legal
fund which, among other things, would help the Institute for
Optimum Nutrition (ION) fight its action against Campbell.

The process of fighting a libel action is complex and protracted.
Holford issued his writ in January 1990, as soon as
possible after Campbell’s article had appeared. The lawyers
for the other side delayed presenting their defence to the
point where Patrick Holford’s lawyer had to obtain an injunction
against them, forcing them to do so. The defence turned
out to be a 50 page document, which was itself highly misleading
and scientifically inaccurate. By July 1990, Patrick
Holford had served ION’s reply to the defence case.

The Campaign For Health Through Food was set up to
focus concern upon a number of damaging developments
affecting health foods and natural medicine. Holford was
worried both about the attacks upon members of the nutritional
community, and particularly concerned about the
impending set of new rules and regulations governing vitamin
supplements, which were being pushed through the
European Parliament by pharmaceutical vested interests.

At the launch of CHTF, Holford put great emphasis on the
idea that the campaign would make use of journalists to
bring important food and health issues to the attention of the
public. He proposed a network of campaign advisors. These
advisors were high-ranking experts, including: Professor
Linus Pauling, Dr Philip Barlow, Alexander Schauss and
Professor Michael Crawford.

Holford stressed that this network of scientists, journalists
and doctors and its capacity to raise money for a legal
fund, would act as a deterrent against attacks by those representing
the processed food industry. The interests of such
eminent scientists would ensure that those who mounted
attacks while choosing to ignore research material about
nutrition could be countered. Holford also discussed
Campbell’s attack upon him and the grounds upon which he
had taken his legal action.

The Institute has been accused by inference of promoting
worthless and sometimes dangerous supplements.
On the basis of worthless tests, based upon a
worthless philosophy of nutrition, for reasons of financial
gain … These untruthful and unsubstantiated
accusations could, we fear, be made against many
reputable practitioners who recommend supplements.
We are therefore glad that ION has chosen to take this
issue to court and establish that optimum nutrition
and supplementation is not quackery. We hope that
this action will deter future unfounded attacks and
thereby protect others for many years to come.23

Duncan Campbell attended the Campaign launch uninvited,
and inappropriately intervened to make long, rambling and
aggressive statements.

I think it’s important that it is made clear to everybody
that this campaign is an organisation established by
Patrick for purposes which include paying his legal
costs.

I am going to ask you to make clear to this meeting
that the claims you have made in your literature and
letter are extremely misleading.
The libel case which you are involved in is purely concerned
with your reputation, and not with these wider
issues.24

Campbell finally managed to bog down the launch with questions
about Holford’s libel action and the proximity of the proposed
legal fund to Holford’s own case.25 Campbell also asked
questions about Patrick Holford’s links with vitamin companies.
Once again, Campbell’s tactics reflected the influence of
the American National Council Against Health Fraud and
activists like Victor Herbert.26

In October 1991, the Sunday Correspondent closed down
and, concerned to settle any pending action before going into
liquidation, they settled their case with Patrick Holford. In the
latter half of 1992, Campbell, deserted by the Sunday
Correspondent’s solicitors, was still determined to defend the
case brought against him. He was, though, complaining that
Patrick Holford had not given him an opportunity to settle.27

When I published Dirty Medicine in 1993, Campbell did his best to
stop it from being printed, published and distributed. As far as I was
concerned, this came with the territory, and as far as Campbell was
concerned, it was par for the course. More frightening, I felt, were the
number of journalists and uninvolved colleagues of Campbell’s who
were adamant that what I had written about him was at worst lies and
at best without any foundation. They seemed to be saying that there
was no place in reporting for the descriptions of the kind of organisations
and campaigns that my work had thrown up.

In fact, I had always been completely objective in my reporting of
Campbell’s actions and his journalism.28 All around me, those who
were subject to attacks in this period were scornful of my objectivity,
they worked themselves up into a lather, insisting, despite the absence
of evidence, that Campbell was working for the Wellcome Foundation
(the drug company not the Trust). I didn’t believe that Campbell was
working for a drug company; I believed that his commitment was
borne out of his regard for science and the capacity of scientists to find
a ‘cure’ for HIV and ‘AIDS’.

When Dr Roger Chalmers and Dr Leslie Davis were brought
before the General Medical Council (GMC), and struck off for life,
after providing Ayurvedic treatments to patients who tested positive
for HIV, the case against them was based almost entirely on
Campbell’s evidence and Campbell himself gave evidence. What did
not become clear until a later date, when Campbell wrote in the BMJ
about the need for a ‘Medical MI5’,29 was that Campbell had been
helped in assembling the legal case against the two doctors by Medico
Legal Investigations (MLI). MLI is a private inquiry agency, a shadowy
intermediary body, which helps to bring pharmaceutical industry
business before GMC hearings. This organisation had helped to prime
Campbell with information about his journalistic targets.

In the 1990s MLI was subsidised entirely by the Association of the
British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI). The company, which now
has one partner with a background in military intelligence and another
from Scotland Yard, considers its brief on behalf of the ABPI to
include the policing of ‘research misconduct’. At the time that
Campbell worked with its people, they were almost solely responsible
for putting together professional misconduct cases of their choosing
for the GMC. These cases were, on the whole, ones that somehow
threatened the pharmaceutical companies, not ones that were built
upon patient complaints against doctors. More recently, the agency
has given advice to Brian Deer, the sole complainant in the case of Dr
Andrew Wakefield, who began an appearance before the GMC, with
two other doctors, in July of 2007.30

Patrick Holford was not a doctor and so the strategy of getting him
struck off the Medical Register was never an option. When in the mid-
Nineties Campbell cut short his foray into the science underworld,
British quackbusters had no one of his calibre to take his place.
Between 1996 and 2003, nutritionists in Britain who believed that
pure food, vitamins and other supplements could benefit health, had
an almost level playing field on which they could present their ideas.

However, waiting in the wings was a much more dangerous lobby.
The CAHF had proved to be too amateur in its organisation, and Big
Pharma needed something more powerful and better connected to
government to keep health’s nether regions in check. The Department
of Trade and Industry, which controlled the grants to the Medical
Research Council and some University scholarships among other
things, began to orchestrate attacks on vitamins, supplements and all
matters ‘alternative’, while defending high-tech science in relation to
food and medicine.
In 1997, the DTI fell under the malign leadership of Lord
Sainsbury, the Liberal peer who had donated over four million pounds
to the New Labour election campaign, before being made a peer and
whose business interests were deeply involved in genetic modification.
31

In the background, the heavier weaponry of Codex Alimentarius
and EU regulations were being trundled into place. Even further in the
background, however, the whole British ‘quackbuster’ operation was
being redefined by a group of Liberal peers and members of the late
Revolutionary Communist Party.32

In 2003, the new anti-quackery, pro-industry campaign, which I
have throughout this essay called The Lobby, was in place. Its newmodel
Campbell, trade-named ‘Goldacre’, came on stream. Ben
Goldacre, an apparently practising medic with next to no experience
in journalism, was given a plum job on the Guardian, a newspaper
that in the eyes of the science lobby, had been responsible for exposing
the Dr Puztai affair and dealing a mortal blow against Sainsbury’s
pro-GM lobby.

All the more interesting, then, that the Guardian, a paper which,
over the years, has turned steadily in support of multinational corporations,
should give the untried Goldacre a prominent place on its
pages. His ‘Bad Science’ column quickly became an influential
springboard for the anti-quackery, pro-industry, drug company movement
now so familiar to large numbers of irritated Guardian readers.

This new model Campbell, did not have Campbell’s native intelligence,
nor did he show the maniacal aggression that was Campbell’s
trademark. However, all the superficial make-weight arguments, the
scientific falsifications, and the hand-carved character assassination
built in to all quackbuster production models, were there in the mischievous
campaigns ignited by Goldacre. And, inevitably, all the same
targets were set up to be knocked down; Patrick Holford’s peace was
about to be shattered.

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