GM wheat to be trialled in UK this Spring
Friday, 30th March 2012

Protesters are preparing to demonstrate as the UK government give go ahead to Rothamsted Research Centre to trial genetically modified wheat.

Rothamsted Research Centre has been given the go-ahead by the government to trial aphid-resistant wheat in the open air. Permission has been given for planting this Spring and in Spring 2013. £1.28 million of public money has gone into creating a crop modified to secrete a hormonal chemical compound which acts an alarm signal to keep aphids away and attracts aphid predators to the crop.

Bakers, farmers, growers, allotment holders, scientists, beekeepers, and people concerned about food are turning out to voice their opposition to GM crops coming back to the UK. There is to be a public mass action against the Rothamsted genetically modified wheat trial on Sunday 27th May 2012 at 12 noon at Rothamsted, Harpenden, Hertfordshire. 

Sally Kemp who intends to attend the public action says, "I'm coming to Harpenden to demonstrate that the British people stand side by side with people from across the globe to resist the encroachment of genetically modified food. GM isn't safe for farmers, the ecosystem, nor for our plates."

What's wrong with the trial?

- It could be dangerous
This trial is testing a brand-new synthetically-constructed 'fake' gene that is "(S)imilar to that found in peppermint...' and have' , most similarity to that from cow... (Rothemstead Institute)." In March the French government banned the cultivation Monsanto's MON810 maize citing environmental risks. The potential for cross contamination, the formation of super weeds and ecological damage is too great.

- It's not wanted
Last year UK farms grew nearly two million hectares of wheat – equivalent to 90% the area of Wales. Wheat is Britain's most important crop, not only as our main domestic staple but also one of our largest agricultural exports, worth over £1.5 billion last year. The threat of GM contamination of conventional wheat could destroy the UK export market, causing additional hardship to British farmers. Even in the US where large quantities of GM Crops are grown, attempts to commercialise GM Wheat for consumption has been abandoned, because there is no market for it (BBC, 11/05/04). Australia is not growing GM wheat as Japanese buyers, who buy 860 thousand tonnes of wheat from West Australia each year, do not want it (ABC news, 2403/11). Biotech company BASF recently backed out of Europe in the face of continuing mass public rejection of GM food (Greenpeace).

- Once it flowers, it's here to stay
The trial is happening in the open air, meaning that when it starts to flower it can cross contaminate other wheat crops and wild grasses. This is a real threat. If there is more than a 0.9% presence of GM in a crop it needs to be labelled as being GM to the final consumer and would loose organic farmers their status. Cross contamination with non-GM crops has already happened and court cases have resulted such as that against Bayer crop Science for its 2006 contamination of US rice supplies, costing some
US$42 million in punitive damages. There are many frequently occurring plants which can cross-breed with wheat such as couch grass, which farmers are already battling to clear their fields of. Aphid-resistance in these plants could cause an increase in aphids feeding on neighbouring wheat fields. Aphids are also likely to adapt to be tolerate to the alarm signals given off by the plant and the problem will re-occur.

For more information on the event see

The Details

1. The trial in question is designed to emit an alarm chemical which aphids give out when under attack, thus repelling them. The scientists designing the trial have themselves conceded that they anticipate aphids adapting to ignore this chemical after a few years of exposure.

2. The proposed trial is an 80 metre by 80 metre plot surrounded by industrial fencing currently being installed directly adjacent to the field containing the world's oldest classical scientific experiment into grasses, at the Rothamsted Institute in Harpenden.

3. Wheat is self and wind pollinating. Risks anticipated by the Institute in their consent release form include out crossing with wild relatives, like the common weed, couch grass.

3. GM releases have a serious impact on Organic farmers who lose their Soil Association certification if contaminated by a neighbours GM crops.

4. The UK government conducted a public debate on GM in 2003 which showed a categoric rejection of the technology. Academic studies have demonstrated that the more people learn about GM, the less they like it. All the major UK supermarkets ban GM ingredients from their own brand products. Europeans have so firmly rejected the technology, that the only company trying to push through new GM varieties in the Eurozone, BASF, pulled out entirely two months ago.

5. The experiment is being conducted at the expense of the British taxpayer, but its creators hope ultimately to sell on the Patent on Life it could generate to a major agricultural chemical corporation.

6. The worlds largest union, La Via Campesina, which represents over 20 million struggling farmers across the world, regard GM technology as a serious problem, because of its inherently less stable nature, its threat to the diversity and resilience of seed varieties that they are custodians of, and because it hands over what was free to corporate control.

7. Despite over two decades of promises the biotech industry is yet to produce any improvements in salt, drought or disease resistance. The two main varieties of GM sold globally are for herbicide resistance (which has massively increased the use of weedkiller) and in built pesticide. 

Further Information

Diane Tulloch |
Fri, 30/03/2012 - 10:47

Is there a petition that can be signed online for anyone wishing to object living in UK but cannot get to protest.

If this is a similar strain to the MON810, that Poland recently demonstrated against by depositing all the poisoned non-target dead bees on the minister of agricultures doorstep in Warsaw. According to the media this also killed moths and cows in neighbouring fields went into spontaneous abortion.

Very disturbing that the UK goverment would allow this and at our expense.

brianb |
Fri, 30/03/2012 - 13:35

The more information we can gather about GM crops the better, that's why this trial is a good idea. Producing a variety of wheat that will require less pesticide use should be welcomed by all (apart from the pesticide manufacturers, of course). There are a few factual errors in this piece, actually UK attitudes to GM have soften recently:

and GM technology has allowed fairly nasty herbicides to be replaced with the much more benign glyphosate.

(PS: a few typos. It's 'lose' not 'loose', and check the it's/its)

Maddy Harland |
Fri, 30/03/2012 - 15:13

Thank you for pointing out the typos in the above piece which found their way in due to a lack of editorial resources today. I wish the effects of the cross-breeding of GM crops with other plants was as easy to correct as a few typos. Unfortunately we categorically do not know what will happen. Nor do I agree that industrial monocultures are the solutions to food security. And for the record, we all need to eat less processed wheat.

Bodhisattva |
Fri, 30/03/2012 - 18:19

Oh dear, here we go again.

Despite the overwhelming accumulation of evidence that shows the dangers of GM organisms from every conceivable angle, if there is money to be made, people with this sort of incentive will stop at nothing to. I fear the worst, here, just as despite a wealth of evidence that has proven the links between mans actions and climate change, there has been a massive PR campaign financed by those industries that stand to profit, by keeping the status Qua of non action, so the same is happening regarding GM crops.

Global concerns such as Monsento, have high financial clout and the ability to influence scientific studies and even government agencies (read up on the close contacts and career cross overs of those who work for the American FDA and the GM companies).

Given all of this and looking at how these GM companies have gained such a large toehold across American farms, I see them getting into Europe sooner rather then later. By or a blitzecrig of pro GM articles appearing in our media abnd gradually wearing down both politicians and public who are on the whole not aware of the dangers of such crops.