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for a responsible, fair & sustainable food system

Call to Reject UK GM Wheat Application

Immediate release (17 Aug 2011)

Calls to: Pete Riley 07903 341 065

GM Freeze has called on Defra Ministers to reject an application from Rothamsted Research [1] to field trial GM wheat in Hertfordshire in 2012 and 2013.

The group has also requested Ministers to hold a public consultation on the use of synthetic animal genes in GM crops as one of the key genes in the GM wheat “has most similarity to that from cow (Bos taurus)” according to the applicant.

Previous developments of GM wheat in the UK were abandoned after strong market rejection. To date no GM wheat has been approved for commercial growing anywhere on the planet [3] with no indication of any change in market acceptance.

The application from Rothamsted Research is for a field trial of GM wheat, which is genetically modified to produce aphid alarm chemicals that cause the insects to stop feeding and take flight to avoid being eaten by predators or attacked by parasites. Aphids naturally produce this chemical, known as EBF [4], when under attack.

The period for the public to object to Defra ends on 19 August. [5]

GM Freeze set out a number of reasons [6] why Ministers should reject the application:

  • The lack of market for GM wheat anywhere on the planet means it is a waste of time and money (£1.28 million).
  • Serious doubts about whether the GM wheat will work as stated.
  • Lack of any data on potential health effects.
  • Presence of an antibiotic resistant marker gene against European Medicines Agencies advice.
  • Risk of cross-contamination with other wheat crops and some grasses already problematic as arable weeds.
  • Unknown impacts on predator and parasites populations which already provide some control for aphid infestations.
  • Unknown impacts on bird species which feed on aphids as part of their diet.
  • The potential for development of aphids desensitised to the alarm chemical after being continually subjected to the GM deterrent over time.

GM Freeze says there are many other possible options for using the affect of EBF on aphids which do not involve GM, some even identified by Rothamstead, and these should be fully explored using the money allocated to the GM wheat project.

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

The application to trial GM wheat should be rejected. We need to gain a far greater understanding of how aphids use attack pheromones and what affect they have on predators and parasites. This area needs researching throughly before deciding on release to the environment. In the past there has been widespread rejection of GM from all sectors and there is no sign that these views have changed in recent years.

There are a number of ethical, scientific and economic reasons for rejecting this application. Ministers should take this opportunity to send a clear message to Rothamsted Research that their foolish pre-occupation with GM crops must be curtailed and the money re-allocated. The sensible option would be to explore non-GM research into pest control on cereals including the non-GM use of aphid alarm pheromones as part of a balanced and integrated programme.

ENDs

Notes

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

[2] GM Freeze also want the application to be rejected to allow time for a public consultation on whether the use of synthetic genes reassembling animal genes in crops plants raises any moral or ethical considerations. In the application Rothamsted Research 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.”

[3] See Objecting to an Application to Trial GM Wheat in Hertfordshire.

[4] EBF = sesquiterpene (E)-β-farnesene, a pheromone produced by aphids when attacked 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.

[5[ See online action “Object to trialling GM wheat in the UK

[6] See GM Freeze’s formal letter of objection to Defra