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Immediate release (07 Jul 2011)

Defra Should Reject GM Wheat

£1.28 million of public money for a crop with “no market”

An application to field test a GM wheat in the UK should be rejected by Defra, say GM Freeze, because there is no scientific or agricultural justification for it and no market willing to buy it. The groups says the £1.28 million in public money already poured into the crop by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council should have been better spent.

Previous attempts to develop GM wheat in the UK were abandoned because of strong market rejection. No GM wheat has been approved for commercial growing anywhere on the planet to date, and major wheat exporting countries like Australia and Canada have already said they won’t use GM wheat because there is no market for it.

Rothamsted Research has applied to grow a field trial of the GM wheat in 2012 and again in 2013 on its farm in Hertfordshire. The crop is genetically modified to produce aphid “alarm” chemicals that cause the insects to stop feeding and take flight. Aphids naturally produce this chemical, known as EBF [2], when under attack by predators.

In a briefing published today [3], GM Freeze is calling on people to object to the application from Rothamsted Research by the 19 August deadline. The group lists reasons to reject the application including:

  • The lack of market for GM wheat anywhere on the planet means it is a waste of time and money.
  • Serious doubts about whether the GM wheat will work as stated.
  • The lack of any data on potential health effects of the GM wheat.
  • The presence of an antibiotic resistant marker gene, despite concern raised by the European Medicines Agency that this may contribute to a rise in resistant infections in humans and animals.
  • The risk of cross-contamination with other wheat crops and some grasses.
  • Unknown impacts on predator and parasite populations, which already provide some control for aphid infestations, and unknown impacts on nearby non-GM farms from displaced aphids.
  • The possible development of aphids desensitised to the alarm chemical if it is constantly produced by the wheat plants.

The group says there are many other possible options for using the affect of EBF on aphids which do not involve GM, including some identified by Rothamsted Research, and these should be fully explored using any unspent public money allocated to the GM wheat project.

GM Freeze also say rejecting the application would allow time for a debate on the ethics of using synthetic genes reassembling animal genes in crop plants, as is the case with the GM wheat. [4] GM Freeze says the applicants need to make more information available about these genes and their origins.

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

“This application is a clear sign that the UK agricultural research funding is still firmly set on developing GM crops and that public money is being poured in to make it happen.

“The aphid alarm chemical could be employed using a non-GM approach, and this has already been shown to work, but we need more funding for agroecology-based solutions to pest problems.  

“There are ample grounds for rejecting this application, including the important questions about the use of synthesised animal genes in crop plants. Defra must allow time for this issue to be fully considered and for the alternatives to be researched by saying ‘no’ to this application.”

ENDs

Calls to: Pete Riley 07903 341 065

Notes

[1] For full details of the application see http://archive.defra.gov.uk/environment/quality/gm/regulation/registers/applications/11-r8-01.htm

[2] EBF is sesquiterpene (E)-β-farnesene, a pheromone produced by aphids when attack by predators such as ladybirds and parasitic wasps. The effect of the “attack” pheromone is to cause aphids to develop wings and leave the crop, walk away or drop off the plant to avoid the predators and parasites. Predators and parasites have been shown to provide excellent control over aphids (see examples given in GM Freeze briefing).

[3] See Objecting to an Application to Trial GM Wheat in Hertfordshire, GM Freeze, July 2011

[4] The Rothamsted Research application states, “[E]nzyme encoded by the FPPS cassette has most similarity to that from cow (Bos taurus) but is generally ubiquitous and occurs in most organisms.” See Note [1].