A man has been charged with criminal damage following a break-in at Britain’s first open-air GM wheat trial.
It follows an incident at the Rothamsted Research centre in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, on the morning of Sunday (20 May).
Officers from Hertfordshire Constabulary arrested a 50-year-old man. He is due to appear before magistrates on 13 July.
A statement issued by Rothamsted said: “The intruder caused significant, random property damage, but failed to disrupt the experiment in this attack.”
It added: “We are very grateful to Hertfordshire Constabulary for their swift and decisive action to this intrusion and damage on our private land.”
The GM trial aims to see whether transgenic wheat can repel aphids in the field. Scientists said the experiment would continue despite the attack.
Rothamsted Research director Maurice Moloney said: “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.”
The non-commercial trial – which could lead to reductions in pesticide use – is being sponsored by Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
BBSRC chief executive Douglas Kell condemned the vandalism.
“We were disappointed to hear that an individual has caused damage to the BBSRC-funded GM field trial at Rothamsted Research and condemn this act of vandalism,” he said.
“We strongly support the right of our funded scientists to carry out approved and regulated trials and we fully support the action of the police which prevented further science losses.
“We will now work closely with Rothamsted as they examine the extent of the damage cause and will provide all necessary funding and advice they need to complete the project.”
Details of the attack initially emerged in a series of tweets by Rothamsted scientist Toby Bruce, who is leading the transgenic wheat research project.
“Just heard there’s been an attack on our field trial, don’t know if crops were vandalised,” he wrote at 8.51am on Sunday morning. “Very sad.”
Dr Bruce later suggested the intruder had cut the tops off “quite a few” of the plants and collected the material. But Rothamsted said this was anecdotal and may not be accurate.
Earlier, Rothamsted scientists pleaded with anti-GM campaigners not to destroy the plots.
An online petition to muster support for the scientists was signed by more than 5,000 people, including the actor and broadcaster Stephen Fry.
But the anti-GM protest group Take The Flour Back refused to back down, vowing to “decontaminate” the site unless the research was halted.
It called has called a mass day of action at Rothamsted on Sunday (27 May).
There is no suggestion the man who has been charged is linked to Take the Flour Back. A spokeswoman for the group said it had no information about the incident.
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