UK GM field trials

GM false flax

In January 2014 Rothamsted Research appled for authorisation to field test a GM false flax (Camelina sativaa ) claiming the crop accumulates high levels of Omega 3 oils in its seeds, so could be used as feed in factory fish farming or as a health supplement. Media reports suggest the crop could be sowed "in a few months".

GM Freeze will examine the application and Defra's public consultation. GM Freeze expects to object to the proposal for a wide range of reasons, including the risk of contamination from the trials and the fact that this crop does not actually tackle the core issues of unsustainable exploitation of the marine environment. Rather than solving problems, this GM crop creates new ones:

  • Thousands of hectares of land would be required to grow sufficient amounts of the crop to be commercially viable at a time when land is needed to grow crops to feed people rather than farmed fish.
  • It is unclear if the crop will be safe either in terms of unexpected alterations of the crop due to the GM process itself or because high Omega 3 levels may be linked to prostate cancer.
  • It is doubtful if there is any market for GM health supplements.
  • It is unclear how the research spend on this crop, which has already taken some 15 years to reach this stage and is not expected to be commercially available for at least another 10 years, is justified given the promise held by other less risky non-GM approaches to crop development that are not rejected by consumers.

A balanced diet is the answer, not GM false flax.

We will offer action advice as appropriate.

GM wheat

In Spring 2012 a two-year trial of GM wheat began in Hertfordshire. See GM Wheat? No Thanks for information and action. The trial concluded, after an extension, at the end of 2014.

GM potatoes

There have been two recent field trials of GM potatoes authorised in the UK.

Trials have a long and patchy history in the UK, including government authorisation after rejection of the trials by other countries (like the Netherlands and Ireland) on safety grounds and government collusion with industry.

Below is a summary of the current situation with regard to potatoes. We will bring you any developments. It is unclear if the Leeds trial was planted in 2010 as it was not publicly confirmed or reported in the press as is usual, but in a response to a Parliamentary question in July 2011 Farming Minister Jim Paice said, "The Sainsbury Laboratory planted potatoes under this consent in 2011 at the same site as the 2010 planting." The license for both trials are vaild.

1) GM potato trials in the UK - Leeds

In 2010 the Centre for Plant Sciences at the University of Leeds was granted authorisation by Defra to conduct field trials of a GM potato resistant to potato cyst eelworm or potato cyst nematode (PCN).

This is a different GM potato to the one previously trialled in 2008 (see also Objecting to an Application to Trial GM Potatoes in Yorkshire 2008 for more information about that trial), and different to the potatoes being trialled in Norfolk (see below), but many of the problems are the same.

The trials were due to run from 1 May to 3 November 2010 and continue for a further 3 years until 2012. They took place at the Leeds University Farm at Tadcaster, North Yorkshire covering not more than 1,000 square metres with up to 4,000 GM plants per year. 

2) GM potato trials in the UK - Norfolk

In 2010 the Sainsbury Laboratory at the John Innes Centre, Norwich was granted authorisation by Defra to conduct field trials of GM potatoes engineered to resist late potato blight. These potatoes contain genes from a potato relative from South America. They are different from the genes in BASF's GM blight resist potatoes field tested near Cambridge in 2007 and 2008, and different to the GM potatoes trialled in Leeds (see above), but many of the problems are the same.

The trials were due to run from 1 May 2010 to 30 November 2010 and continue for a further 2 years until 2012. The release took place at the John Innes Centre, Norfolk, in an area of 1,000 square metres with 200 square metres used each year for GM potatoes with not more than 200 GM plants per year.