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Rothamsted’s GM Wheat – “A step backwards for farming”

Immediate release (29 Mar 2012)

Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341 065

GM Freeze today responded to the announcement that Rothamsted Research has sowed its experimental crop of GM wheat, calling it “a step backwards for farming”.

The wheat is genetically modified to produce a pheromone that repels aphids. GM Freeze opposes the GM wheat trial and objected to Rothamsted’s application to run it [1] for reasons including:

  • 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.
  • The use of synthetic animal genes (copied from cow genes) in a food crop without a full public consultation.

GM Freeze points to long-term research by UK agricultural research institutions, including Rothamsted itself, which demonstrates how, by providing suitable on-farm habitats for parasitic wasps and aphid predators, the level of aphids on wheat crops could be kept below levels that cause economic harm to the crops. [2]

GM Freeze also sees the GM trial as a first step toward patenting GM traits in wheat, which will lead to famers losing the right to save and replant their own seed. Farm-saving seed is still common practice in the UK for cereals and oilseed rape because it saves farmers money and allows them to maintain and develop local varieties.

Furthermore, the loss of genetic diversity in cereals seed, due to seed production becoming concentrated into a handful of biotech companies, could have major consequences in a changing climate as farmers have to cope with unpredictable weather and new pests and diseases. It is also likely to lead to loss of choice for both farmers and consumers, as has happened with similar concentrations in the soy and maize seed markets.

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

This GM wheat trial is a step backwards for farming. Why are Rothamsted pushing ahead when there is no market for it and when there are viable, non-GM, non-chemical, publicly acceptable agronomic approaches to dealing with cereal aphids?

Farmers should be very concerned this development is likely to lead to biotech companies taking out patents on GM traits in cereals, which would remove their right to save seeds.

The last thing we need in the UK food chain is an unproven short-term techno-fix for aphids that hasn’t even been proved safe for consumers yet. This GM wheat will increase costs for farmers and other parts of the supply chain to maintain constant monitoring of their products for GM presence, which will then have to be labelled.

Farmers and the food chain need to start asking before it is too late who will pay if things go wrong or their non-GM flour is contaminated.



[1] GM Freeze, “Objection to GM Wheat Application Rothamsted Research reference number 11/R8/01

[2] Powell W, A’Hara S, Harling R, Holland JM, Northing P, Thomas CFG and Walters KFA, 2004. Managing biodiversity in field margins to enhance integrated pest control in arable crops (‘3-D Farming’ Project) PROJECT REPORT NO. 356 Part 1 Home Grown Cereals Authority