Defra approves GM wheat trial – Farming Online
Defra today announced it has granted consent to Rothamsted Research to conduct a research trial on GM wheat in 2012 and 2013. The decision is a controversial one; despite the best efforts of lobbyists, biotech crops still have a large amount of stigma attached to them and are viewed with suspicion in the EU.
A trial crop of wheat that has been genetically modified to be resistant to aphids will be grown by the institute. Defra said it gave Rothasted Research the green light after its application passed an evaluation by ACRE (the Advisory Committee of Releases to the Environment), an independent expert group.
Defra said ACRE was satisfied the Rothamsted trial would not result in any adverse effect on human health or the environment. A Defra spokesperson said, “In line with ACRE’s advice, precautionary conditions have been attached to the statutory consent for the trial. These aim to ensure that no GM material from the trial will enter the food and feed chain.”
However, the GM Freeze campaign criticised the government’s decision as “premature” and “a big mistake." The group, which contains members of a range of organisations including Friends of the Earth and the Soil Association, objected to the application earlier in the year.
The group said in a release, “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.”
Pete Riley, spokesperson for GM Freeze, told Farming Online that the Defra approval was “a big mistake and premature given the serious lack of information in the application.” He continued, “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.”
“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.”
Only two types of GM crops are currently grown commercially in the EU; while GM maize plantings were up this year, mostly in Spain, less GM potatoes were sown throughout the union. While a recent relaxation of the laws on GM contaminants in animal feed led many critics to speculate that the EU was preparing to let GM technology in “through the back door,” a ruling earlier in the month by the European Court of Justice on GM honey means the EU could in fact strengthen its near zero-tolerance policy on genetically modified organisms.