Harpenden Rothamsted scientists’ plea to GM crop protesters

SCIENTISTS involved in trials of genetically modified wheat in Harpenden have pleaded with protesters to reconsider plans to destroy crops during a day of action later this month.

A campaign group, working under the slogan Take the Flour Back, has revealed plans for what they describe as “a day of action with a public picnic and mass decontamination” at Rothamsted Research on May 27, in direct protest at the GM trial.

But in an open letter to those behind the protest, scientists from the historic research facility have this week urged them to come and talk about their concerns instead.

The letter states: “We can only appeal to your consciences and ask you to reconsider before it is too late, and before years of work to which we have devoted our lives are destroyed forever.”

The trial of the GM wheat was given the go ahead by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) back in September last year.

The plants involved have been genetically modified to resist aphids, which are a pest to wheat and can cause huge problems for farmers.

These aphids are normally controlled by insecticides but those involved at Rothamsted said the trial was testing for natural solutions to the problem and that, “GM wheat could, for future generations, substantially reduce the use of agricultural chemicals”.

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However, those against the trial have said it is “grossly irresponsible” to carry out an open-air experiment of this kind and believe the GM crops to be a threat to the UK’s wheat industry and food security.

They argue it could lead to cross-contamination of wild and domestic plants through wind-borne pollen, as well as affecting neighbouring farms.

There are also concerns about the unknown impacts it could have on health.

The open letter from the Rothamsted scientists continues: “You have described genetically modified crops as ‘not properly tested’. Yet when tests are carried out you are planning to destroy them before any useful information can be obtained.”

It concludes: “We would welcome the chance to show you our work and explain why we think it could benefit the environment in the future. But we must ask you to respect the need to gather knowledge unimpeded. Please do not come to damage and destroy.

“As scientists we know only too well that we do not have all the answers. That is why we need to conduct experiments. And that is why you in turn must not destroy them.”

A video plea and a petition against the day of action has also been launched on the Sense About Science website.

However, protesters at Take the Flour Back believe there will be little room for negotiation.

Matt Thomson, from the campaign group, said: “Our concern is that there will be very little room for negotiation, as they are ploughing ahead with the trial anyway.

“We are backed into the corner. I hope we won’t be forced into removing [the crops] ourselves, but this may be the only course of action.”