Review of 2012: GM wheat trial sparks controversy

Thursday 03 January 2013 06:00
GM wheat protests

As we bid farewell to 2012 we look back at the events the marked last year such as the Rothamsted wheat trial that sparked protests from anti-GM campaigners

Scientists developing genetically modified (GM) wheat successfully completed the first of a two-year open field experiment - despite threats to sabotage the crop by protesters.

The £1m trial at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, aims to see whether GM wheat can deter aphids - a major crop pest that cause an estimated £100m of damage each year in the UK alone.

The GM wheat emits a naturally occurring chemical found in peppermint, called E-beta-farnesene, which repels aphids and also attracts their natural predators, such as parasitic wasps and ladybirds, removing the need for pesticides.

The protest group Take the Flour Back had vowed to "decontaminate" the area unless the research was halted. But police thwarted an attempt by 200 protesters to storm the site in May.

In a separate incident, anti-GM protester Hector Christie, 51, of Instow, north Devon, caused "significant" damage to the crop after a break-in at the site in May. He was fined nearly £4,000 after admitting criminal damage.

Scientists at Rothamsted said they felt "relieved" to complete the first year of the trial, especially considering it had come under attack.

The crop was harvested at the end of August in compliance with the Environmental Protection Act.

The trial will be repeated again in April at the same site, which will be protected by fencing, CCTV and 24-hour security. Once the crop is harvested, results will be analysed and a report will be published in a scientific journal.

Public attitudes towards GM remain divided, but scientists insist that solutions such as GM-based food could play a vital role in addressing future food security.

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