GM trial vandalised

SCIENTISTS RUNNING a controversial trial on genetically modified (GM) wheat say that vandals have failed to disrupt the experiment.


On Sunday, an intruder broke into the open air trial at Rothamsted Research and caused “significant, random property damage” according to the science station’s website.


The vandalism is said to be consistent with the threats made by the protest group ‘take the flour back’, which is calling on members of the public to join them in a mass “decontaminations” of the site on May 27.


The group fears that the GM wheat, which is modified to repel aphids, will cross with other plants. Their threats provoked researchers involved in the trial to launch an emotional online appeal to stop any protests. In a short video they tried to allay fears of cross-contamination and explain how important such trails are in terms of food security.


Rothamsted director Maurice Moloney condemned the earlier than expected attack. “This act of vandalism has attempted to deny us all the opportunity to gather knowledge and evidence, for current and future generations, on one possible technological alternative approach to get plants to defend themselves and therefore reduce pesticide use,” he said.


President of the National Farmers’ Union Peter Kendall likened the vandalism to Nazi book-burning in the 1930s. “Those who have incited this activity, under the guise of a peaceful demonstration, should hang their heads in shame,” he said.


“If the aim is to feed nine billion people by 2050 there is a sense of urgency to start dealing with this issue now against a backdrop of pressures on natural resources, unpredictable weather patterns, climate change and the need to manage more carefully the use of chemical inputs. To achieve this we will need every single tool in our toolbox – and that includes GM crops that have been adapted to cope in dry conditions, need fewer pesticides or offer nutritional benefits.”


The debate over the GM debate has re-surfaced of late following calls from politicians, experts and food groups to look afresh at the technology. New surveys also show the UK could be ready to give GM another chance.


Earlier this year, both the farming Minister and his counterpart in the shadow cabinet spoke of the need to keep an open mind regarding GM. The Food and Drink Federation president Jim Moseley also claimed recently that “surely the time is right for us to have the debate about new technologies both here and in Europe”.


Some retailers are already beginning to relax their policies around GM. Morrisons recently followed Asda’s lead by allowing its poultry farmers to use GM feed like soy. Some 70% of the world’s soy crop is now thought to be genetically modified and Morrisons said its GM-free policy had become “increasingly difficult and costly to maintain”.

A survey on found that 78% would like to see a new debate around GM, while just 11% want nothing to do with the technology. A consumer survey by the British Science Association also suggested that opposition is falling.