Vandals Interfere With GM Wheat Tests
May 21, 2012

Vandals Interfere With GM Wheat Tests

Just north of London lies a wheat field full of experimental and genetically modified (GM) vegetation. This field was planted by publicly-funded research organization Rothamsted Research, much to the chagrin of a group of environmental protestors known as “Take the Flour Back.”

In response, the protestors began calling for a “decontamination” of the experimental wheat field, saying they are concerned this GM wheat will spread to other nearby fields, ruining other crops.

Earlier in the month, UK agricultural researchers asked these protestors not to take any action or interfere with their research, saying studies should be conducted first to determine if the GM crops pose any threat to surrounding fields.

According to the BBC, these pleas went unheeded, and now a man has been charged with criminal damage after a break in at the Rothamsted Research Center where the GM trials are being conducted.

Rothamsted researchers are saying the vandalism on the crops has caused “significant” damage, though not so significant to completely halt their tests.

Rothamsted Research Center is conducting trials on the GM wheat to see if the crops can deter aphids, a major pest to wheat crops. Should they be successful, the GM crop could do away with pesticides, which can be harmful to the environment.

Such an explanation wasn´t enough to persuade "Take the Flour Back", however. The opponents of the GM tests say planting the crops in the open air will spread the modified pollen to the surrounding environment. The activist movement had warned Rothamsted Researchers they would break into the site on May 27th to “decontaminate” the wheat by ripping it up from the ground.

Now, a week before the promised May 27th demonstration, police were called to the test center to investigate the break-in.

According to Twitter, the wheat was not pulled from the ground as promised, but instead the wheat seed had been thrown around to different plots. Some of the wheat had their tops cut off, according to Toby Bruce, Rothamsted researcher, as he took to Twitter to explain the damage. A spokesperson for Rothamsted later warned that these accounts were “anecdotal” and may not be accurate.

Rothamsted gave their official statement on Monday morning, saying, “On Sunday morning, 20th May, an intruder attempted to break into our experimental trial. The intruder caused significant, random property damage, but failed to disrupt the experiment in this attack."

Maurice Moloney, director at Rothamsted added: "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."

Members of the activist organization didn´t immediately claim responsibility for the break-ins, however.

Eleanor Baylis of "Take the Flour Back" responded, saying: "We have no information about this incident, but are relieved if the quantity of GM pollen released from the trial has been reduced."

A police investigation will continue to determine who was behind the break-in.