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for a responsible, fair & sustainable food system

High iron doughnuts and promiscuous brassicas prompt objections to proposed GM field trials

Immediate release (26 Feb 2019)

Press contact Liz O’Neill on 07811 211 404, liz[at]

Thirty-three organisations including farmers, researchers, seed distributors, retailers and environmentalists today lodged formal objections to proposed open-air field trials of biofortified GM wheat and genome edited brassica in Norfolk.

Disputing health claims made by researchers at the John Innes Centre outside Norwich (where the trials will be planted if Defra allows), Liz O’Neill, Director of umbrella campaign GM Freeze said of the biofortified wheat trial:

Iron-rich wheat may sound positive but, even if it works, this crop is designed to improve iron levels in white flour. Adding a single nutrient to white sliced bread and doughnuts is no substitute for addressing the barriers that prevent people eating a balanced diet rich in wholegrains and other natural sources of iron.

In addition, the objection to the wheat trial cites concerns about GM wheat’s history of escaping from field trials [1] and the fact that the GM plants in the proposed trial are resistant to two different antibiotics, just as authorities around the world are facing up to the growing problem of antibiotic resistant infections [2].

The proposed brassica trial uses the CRISPR genome editing technique to explore the function of a particular gene. However, the John Innes Centre team has not checked for unplanned changes to the plant’s DNA or other errors that are increasingly recognised as a hazard with all forms of genetic engineering [3]. Brassicas are widely grown in the area near the proposed trial site so pollen or seed could escape from the trial and contaminate them, as O’Neill points out:

Brassicas are known for their promiscuity so any escape from the proposed trial could spell disaster for local farmers and growers. This is an early research study that should be conducted in a contained environment. If the John Innes Centre hasn’t got a suitable facility it should invest in one, not carry out experiments in open fields.

Objections to the proposed trials can be lodged with Defra until Monday 4 March. Details can be found at and


For more information, please contact Liz O’Neill on 07811 211 404, liz[at]


GM Freeze is the UK umbrella campaign for a responsible, fair and sustainable food system.

The GM brassica trial application and details of how to respond to Defra’s consultation can be viewed online at The GM wheat trial application and details of how to respond to Defra’s consultation can be viewed online at

The fully-referenced multi-agency responses can be viewed at

Signatories to the objections are GM Freeze, EcoNexus, GeneWatch UK, the Sustainable Food Trust, OF&G, the Soil Association, the Organic Research Centre, Garden Organic, the Landworkers Alliance, WWOOF UK, the Kindling Trust, Sheepdrove Organic Farm, Shepton Farm, the Real Bread Campaign (wheat trial objection only), the Real Seed Catalogue, Banc Hadau Llambed / Lampeter Seed Library, Unicorn Grocery, ACE Energy, the Springhead Trust, GM Watch, Beyond GM, Mums Say No to GMO, GM Free Dorset, GM Free Somerset, GM Free Cymru, Genetic Engineering Network, Agri-Activism UK, Pro-Natural Food Scotland, South East Essex Organic Gardeners, Cardiff Friends of the Earth, East Dorset Friends of the Earth, Sustainable Dorset/Dorset Agenda 21 and Resurgence Dorset


[1] and


[3] Kosicki, M., Tomberg, K. & Bradley, A. 2018. Repair of double-strand breaks induced by CRISPR-Cas9 leads to large deletions and complex rearrangements. Nature Biotechnology 36: 765-771 and Wolt, J.D., Wang, K., Sashital, D. & Lawrence-Dill, C.J. .2016. Achieving plant CRISPR targeting that limits off-target effects. The Plant Genome 9: 10.3835/plantgenome2016.05.0047. Additional references also available.