August 19, 2011


UK environmental group opposes GM wheat test attempt



An environmental group is opposing a proposition by a UK research institute to experiment a new variety of GM wheat.


Rothamsted Research has applied to the UK Government for a licence to grow the biotech crop on its experimental farm at Harpenden, Hertfordshire, in 2012 and 2013.


The opposition has emerged as one leading scientist has called on the government to divert some of its foreign aid budget to fund new agricultural research work in Britain to develop new crop varieties, including GM species, which could help less-developed countries feed themselves in future.


Genes in the wheat that Rothamsted wants to test have been altered to make it less attractive to aphids, organisms and other predators. Potentially, the GM variety could help farmers reduce the amount of agrochemicals they use.


Scientists have changed the wheat genes so it gives off an alarm pheromone when it comes under attack. That chemical, which occurs naturally in many plants and insects, would make the wheat less than appetising for anything wanting to feed on it.


Rothamsted has said in its application to farming ministry Defra the overall risk from the trial to human health or the environment is "very low".


But GM Freeze has said in its response to the application, the consultation on which closes tomorrow, it should be rejected. It has also called for a wider debate on the use of animal genes in GM crops as, according to the application, one of the main genes in the wheat has "most similarity to that from a cow". It again reminded Defra of the widespread opposition to GM crops, adding there is no GM wheat grown anywhere in the world.


Spokesman Pete Riley said, "There are a number of good ethical, scientific and economic reasons for rejecting this application. Ministers should take this opportunity to send a clear message to Rothamsted Research that their foolish, blinkered, misguided pre-occupation with GM crops must be curtailed and the money reallocated. The sensible option would be to explore non-GM research into pest control on cereals including the non-GM use of aphid alarm pheromones as part of a balanced and integrated programme."


But Colin Ruscoe, the chairman of the British Crop Production Council, said the government should be diverting cash from ever-increasing overseas aid payments into UK-based research work to develop GM crops resistant to drought, heat, pests and diseases. He added, "This would provide sustainable solutions in famine-prone parts of the world. At the same time, we can use these technology platforms to target key UK crops – wheat, potatoes and oilseed rape."


Ruscoe complained at recent moves by politicians in the European Parliament to disregard scientific advice and ban the cultivation of GM crops, adding: "This is driven by political agendas rather than science, threatens the single market and discourages EU and UK scientific research. It also inhibits European private sector investment in agricultural biotechnology development and commercialisation. As a result EU food production is not benefiting from GMO traits."