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for a responsible, fair & sustainable food system

Defra Approval of UK GM Wheat Trial a Mistake

Immediate release (16 Sep 2011)

Calls to: Pete Riley 07903 341 065

GM Freeze today described Defra’s decision to approve a GM wheat trial at Rothamsted Research as “a big mistake and premature”.

The consent [1], issued today, includes provision to prevent the GM wheat crossing with couch grass and to stop wood pigeon feeding on the crop.

The group opposed the application during a public consultation in the summer including [2]:

  • The lack of market for GM wheat anywhere on the planet means it is a waste of time and money (some £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 Agency 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 so that they do not respond to it when it is constantly produced by the wheat plants 24 hours a day 7 days per week.

GM Freeze asked 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.

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

It is clear from the authorisation letter that the Government’s scientific advisors have concerns about the possibility of the GM wheat crossing with couch grass, a major arable weed, which could cause long-term problems for farmers if this wheat was ever grown on a commercial scale.

There are also concerns about wild birds carrying the GM seeds off site, but there is no provision to deal with small birds, such a sparrows, or small mammals doing this.

The key question Ministers need to answer is why they are funding research into GM wheat for which there is no market in the UK, Europe or anywhere else when other areas of proven, less risky agricultural research, such as agroecology, are crying out for additional funds.

The decision to approve an open-air trial of GM wheat is a big mistake and premature given the serious lack of information in the application. [3] We need to know far more about the alarm chemicals involved and the formation of wheat-couch grass crosses before we start genetically modifying a staple crop.



[1] See “Defra approves GM wheat trial

[2] See GM Freeze briefing See Objecting to an Application to Trial GM Wheat in Hertfordshire

[3] See GM Freeze action “Object to trialling GM wheat in the UK