Scientists Respond to Anti-GM Protesters02 May 2012
UK - A group of activists is planning to target a plot being used to trial a new strain of wheat. Scientists developing the genetically modified (GM) wheat say the plants could benefit the environment as they will reduce pesticide use.
The protest group called 'Take the Flour Back' has vowed to "decontaminate" the site at the end of May, unless the research is stopped.
The threat of mass action could ruin the work of researchers at the agricultural science centre at Rothamsted in the UK.
Jo Walker from the Community Food Growers Network said: “There is no market for GM wheat anywhere in the world, so any accidental escapes from this trial will have devastating consequences. We know from experiences in North America that experiments can and do leak into the food chain, and cost farmers millions in lost exports. This GM wheat contains parts of a virus, traits for antibiotic-resistance, and man-made genes ‘most similar to that of a cow’, it’s hardly surprising no one would want to eat it.”
The protest group say that the GM trial presents a clear risk to UK farming, and has urged the government to pull it up, adding that “if the government won’t resolve this problem, we’ll be forced to publicly remove the plot ourselves.”
Scientists working on the GM wheat wrote to campaigners on Tuesday and also released a video plea, addressing the concerns of campaigners in a bid to halt the proposed protest.
"We agree that agriculture should seek to work “with nature rather than against it," and that motivation underlies our work. We have developed a variety of wheat which does not need to be sprayed with insecticides," the letter began.
"Instead, we have identified a way of getting the plant to repel aphids, using a natural process that has evolved in mint and many other plants – and simply adding this into the wheat genome to enable it to do the same thing."
The scientists then took the unusual step of inviting the protesters to speak with them on the day of planned 'decontamination': "When you visit us on 27 May we will be available to meet and talk to you. We would welcome the chance to show you our work and explain why we think it could benefit the environment in the future. But we must ask you to respect the need to gather knowledge unimpeded. Please do not come to damage and destroy."
Ruth Barnes, a pensioner from Hertfordshire, where the trial is taking place, said: “Voters have rejected GM in debates and on supermarket shelves, and yet the head of DEFRA, Caroline Spelman, is a former GM lobbyist who approved this GM trial despite expert scientific advice to the contrary. We’re not holding out much hope that she’ll start listening to the public. So we’re inviting people to join us to ‘Take the Flour Back’.”
£1.28 million of public money has gone into the trial, at Rothamsted Research Centre, Harpenden, which is designed to repel aphids, the team creating it hope to sell the patented GM seed on to a major agro-chemical company.
You can view the full letter from Rothamstead Research to the protestors by clicking here.
The response video by scientists at Rothamstead Research can be viewed here.
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