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Immediate release (03 Jun 2013)

Joint Statement Challenges Basis for GM Wheat Trials

An alliance of 27 organisations, including the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, Neal’s Yard Remedies, the Real Bread Campaign and War on Want, today issued a statement challenging Rothamsted Research, the Government and funding bodies to be more open and transparent about the aims of the current GM wheat trials and to justify the expenditure of public money when alternative aphid control methods in wheat are demonstrated to be effective. [1]

The joint statement raises a number of crucial issues including:

  • The lack of public discussion about the necessity or appropriateness of such research.
  • The lack of consensus among stakeholders, such as farmers and citizens, as to the need and value of this project.
  • The lack of clarity about the aims of the research are not clear.
  • The failure to justify a need for outdoor experiments at this stage.
  • Why viable non-GM options for aphid control have been ignored and this work fails to build on previous taxpayer-funded work.
  • The lack of information and accountability about the benefits accruing from any patents or intellectual property rights associated with this research.
  • The lack of cost-benefit analysis, or even clarity, about who will benefit from this research if it is commercially developed.

The alliance also criticises the process for deciding priorities and allocation of funding for agricultural research in the UK.

In September 2011 Defra authorised Rothamsted’s GM wheat trial to test two versions of GM wheat  genetically modified to emit aphid repelling pheromones in Spring 2012 and 2013. [2] An application to release the same GM wheat in Autumn 2013 is currently being considered by DEFRA. [3] In addition Defra Rothamsted asked Defra for authorisation to increase the permitted sowing rate for the Spring crops from 350 to 500 seeds per square metre following the poor establishment of the crop in 2012. The change in the consent was approved in March 2013. [4] The overall cost of developing the GM wheat and the trials has so far used £1.28 million of taxpayers’ money in the form of grants from the BBSRC. [5]

Answers to Parliamentary Questions recently asked by Michael Meacher MP reveal that the GM traits in the wheat are already patented by private companies. [6]

The recent discovery of GM contamination of wheat plants growing on an Oregon farm focuses attention on preventing contamination of non-GM and organic wheat, including if GM wheat is ever commercialised in the EU.

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

“From the information currently available the scientific objectives if 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.”

Lawrence Woodward of Citizens Concerned about GM added:

“One of the most frustrating aspects of the GM wheat project is that a large body of research on creating farm environments that attract natural predators and parasites of aphids into crops has been ignored. If there was funding to ensure these were widely established on the UK’s arable farmers there would many other benefits for farmland birds and mammals, pollinating insects, landscape and for increasing soil organic matter. The public needs better and more transparent explanations as to where their money is being spent, why and who will benefit in the long term if the GM wheat is ever commercialised.”

ENDs

Calls to:

Lawrence Woodward 07967 305 791

Notes

[1] GM Freeze and 26 other organisations, 3 June 2013. “Statement on GM Wheat Trial at Rothamsted Research

[2] Defra, 15 September 2011. Consent 11/R8/01

[3] Defra, undated. Application from Rothamsted Research for a variation to its consent for a trial of genetically modified wheat

[4] Defra, 16 March 2013. 11/R8/01: Consent variation (16 March 2013)

[5] GM Freeze, 1 May 2013. Objecting to Rothamsted’s GM Winter Wheat Application

[6] Hansard, 17 April 2013. HC Deb, 17 April 2013, c489W

and

Hansard, 17 April 2013. HC Deb, 17 April 2013, c490W