UK Asks Protestors Not To Destroy Genetically Modified Wheat Fields
May 2, 2012

UK Asks Protestors Not To Destroy Genetically Modified Wheat Fields

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Brett Smith for

Agricultural researchers in the UK made a plea to environmental protesters on Tuesday in an attempt to dissuade them from carrying out threats to destroy experimental genetically modified (GM) wheat.

A protest movement called Take the Flour Back has called for a “decontamination” of an experimental wheat field just north of London that was planted by Rothamsted Research, a publicly funded agricultural research organization.

Protesters say they are concerned about possible cross contamination with nearby commercial wheat. They also question the environmental and health-related impacts that the trial plot will have. They have called for a protest and “decontamination” to be held on May 27 at the Rothamsted site.

The GM wheat contains modified synthetic genes that produce E-beta-farnesene, a pheromone that is normally emitted by aphids when they are threatened by predators. Scientists expect the production of this pheromone to repel aphids and attract the natural predators of the crop-eating insects. The experimental plants are scheduled to be harvested at the end of July, tested, and then destroyed.

One of the concerns Take the Flour Back has is that these crops will inflict damage before they are removed from the environment this summer.

“GM seeds and crops can easily cross-contaminate wild and domestic plants through wind-borne pollen, seed dispersal, volunteers, and horizontal gene transfer,” a statement of the group´s website says.

They say the wheat could not only contaminate other wheat species through its pollen, but it could also genetically affect other species including intestinal microbes living in the digestive tracts of humans and other animals. To prevent pollen for straying off the experimental plot, the Rothamsted scientists have surrounded it with 10 meters of barley and three meters of conventional wheat.

Researchers at Rothamsted released both a statement and a video to appeal to the protesters´ sense of logic and desire for a greater good.

"You seem to think, even before we've had a chance to test it, that our GM wheat variety is bad. How can you know this?” said Lesley Smart, a field entomologist at Rothamsted. “It's clearly not through scientific investigation, because we've not even had the chance to do any tests."

The written statement said that a successful trial could mean a positive environmental impact in the form of fewer pesticides necessary for greater crop yields.

“We have developed a variety of wheat which does not need to be sprayed with insecticides. 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 statement said.

Lucy Harrap, a spokesperson for Take the Flour Back, told UK newspaper The Guardian that the group was preparing a response.

"We are really pleased they want to engage in a discussion. But we know that talking to them is not going to change their minds. They've declared their position because they have already put the plants in the ground."