Rothamsted challenged over GM wheat trial aims

An alliance of 27 organisations has called for more transparency about the aims of the GM wheat trial.

The letter to Rothamsted Research, also challenged the company, the government and funding bodies to justify the expenditure of public funds when “alternative aphid control methods in wheat had been shown to be effective”.

Up to now, £1.28m of taxpayers’ money has been spent on the trials in the form of grants from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

DEFRA has granted Rothamsted permission to test two versions of GM wheat genetically modified to repel aphids – a major crop pest – in spring 2012 and 2013. An application to trial the same GM wheat this autumn is currently being considered by DEFRA.

Pete Riley of campaign group GM Freeze said: “From the information currently available, the scientific objectives of these GM trials are not at all clear, and the decision to publicly fund the project was not made in an open or transparent manner.

“There is currently no GM wheat grown commercially anywhere on the planet, and we feel Rothamsted and the BBSRC need to explain why this project took priority over other non-GM agriculture research projects that could be have delivered benefits more quickly while commanding public support.”

GM Freeze, the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, the Real Bread Campaign and War on Want were among the 27 organisations that issued the statement.

The call came just days after US regulators discovered unlicensed GM wheat growing in a field in Oregon – despite no GM wheat being authorised for commercial growing in the USA.

Rothamsted Research responded to the criticism saying it has been “open and transparent” about the work ever since it applied to DEFRA to conduct the trial in 2011.

A spokesman for Rothamsted said: “Our scientists have spoken to journalists, special interest groups and many members of the public. For example, we have held a number of live Q&A sessions with the charity Sense About Science.

“We also wrote to various protest groups, including GM Freeze, in 2012 inviting them to speak to us. In fact we have written to GM Freeze again today addressing the specific points they have made in their press release.

“Information about the trial has been available on our website, including a comprehensive Q&A section.

“Our position has not changed, we are happy to speak to any individuals or groups about this specific experiment, which is sponsored by BBSRC and not for commercial gain, or any aspect of Rothamsted’s work to meet the challenge of increasing food and energy production in a more environmentally sustainable way.”

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