1.Farmers speak out on GM debate
2.Farmers challenge GM trials on Newsnight
NOTE: In last night's GM debate on the BBC TV's flagship current affairs programme, Newsnight's science correspondent Susan Watts took a look at the arguments for and against GM, ahead of a live studio discussion with John Pickett, one of the scientists behind the GM wheat trial at Rothamsted Research, Jyoti Fernandes from the campaign group Take the Flour Back, Laurence Woodward who advises on organic standards, and Tracey Brown from Sense about Science.
For those in the UK who missed it, you can watch again on the BBC's iPlayer:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01hy2qc/Newsnight_17_05_2012/ (17 May, 21mins 40secs in)
Background on Tracey Brown
Background on John Pickett
Background on Rothamsted Research
1.Farmers speak out on BBC Newsnight GM debate
Farmers Weekly, 18 May 2012
Campaigners who have threatened to destroy the GM wheat trial at Rothamsted Research have refused to back down on their hardline stance.
Activists from the protest group Take the Flour Back are threatening "mass action", including the destruction of the trial – unless it is halted – when they meet at the trial site in Harpenden, Hertfordshire for a planned protest on Sunday 27 May.
For the first time, a television debate, broadcast live on BBC2 Newsnight on Thursday (17 May), gave farming leaders for and against the trial the opportunity to put forward their cases.
During the live debate, which included some heated exchanges of opinions, Dorset farmer Jyoti Fernandes, who was representing Take the Flour Back, was repeatedly asked whether activists would carry out their threats to trash the crop.
But she refused to give scientists from Rothamsted any assurances that their experimental trial of Cadenza wheat, which has been genetically engineered to repel aphids, would not be pulled up.
Ms Fernanades, who said she had directly seen the negative consequences of GM crops on the environment on her family farm in Iowa, said she would “stop the trial from going ahead”.
Presenter Emily Maitlis asked whether that meant she would stop the experiment and uproot the plants.
“I would like to decide on the day whether or not that’s a valid action,” she replied.
Ms Fernandes said anti-GM campaigners had been protesting for over a decade that government money should not be pumped into GM technology and there were other solutions.
“Nobody’s listening, so we need to take direct action to illustrate what we need to do,” she added.
John Pickett, lead researcher on the trial, accused Take the Flour Back of “not wanting to go through” with a public debate offered by scientists from Rothamsted this Tuesday (22 May).
“We think that the debate should proceed you attempting to destroy the experiment, if that’s what you’re going to do,” said Prof Pickett.
Ms Fernandes replied: “What we would like to do is take part in a more thorough debate in the Guardian newspaper.”
However, she stopped short of ruling out any direct action. “I’m not saying it either direction,” she said.
Prof Pickett said Rothamsted had been given a mandate to carry out the work by receiving a research grant from the BBSRC.
“It’s top science. It’s in the direction of producing food in a more sustainable way,” he said.
“We are using GM only experimentally at the moment. It’s not going into the food chain. It’s not part of a commercial development.
“By sustainability, I mean that if you can deliver crop protection through the seed. If you can have in the plant it’s own way of dealing with pests, then you don’t need to drive a tractor over the crop with a spray on it.”
Prof Pickett said a lot of work had been done in the laboratory and the experiment was needed in the field to see “how it stands up to the rigours of outside ecology”.
Citizens Concerned About GM
Lawrence Woodward, of lobby group Citizens Concerned About GM, was asked whether the trial was “a green version of GM, a decade on”.
“No. Not at all,” he replied. “Our concerns about this trial are: ‘First of all, we don’t believe it’s necessary.
“Secondly, we don’t believe that the process of vetting and licensing the trial has been adequate.”
Thirdly, he said a three-year £1m trial in 2005 by Rothamsted and other research groups, looking at ecological interactions, dealing with aphids and farming systems, had not been taken into account.
Mr Woodward said the trial was “unnecessary” because it was on a crop (spring wheat) that did not suffer from aphid problems.
He added: “GM research really needs to be done in controlled environments. When you take it out in the field it creates bigger risks and those need to be assessed properly.”
Despite the trial taking place in open air, Rothamsted insists it is in a “controlled environment” and the possibility of cross-pollination is “very low”.
Tracey Brown, director of the pro-GM group Sense About Science, said: “If we cut off this research, then we are never going to find the answers.”
She added: “We have got to stop asking people whether they are pro- or anti-GM. GM opens up a very exciting and interesting area of research that may provide answers to some of the most pressing questions."
2.Farmers challenge GM trials on Newsnight
Farming UK, 17 May 2012
Conventional wheat farmer Peter Lundgren will join other GM sceptics in a public debate on Rothamsteds GM wheat trial hosted by BBC’s Newsnight this Thursday.
The flagship current affairs program will feature footage of the Lincolnshire farmer questioning the value of Rothamsted’s ’1.28 million GM crop trial, which is designed to repel aphids from spring wheat.
Lundgren points out that not only are GM food ingredients currently rejected by every major British supermarket but that ’serious aphid infestations on spring wheat are infrequent, control costs are low and aphid outbreaks are often controlled naturally by predators. Why are we spending scarce agricultural funding on a trial whose aim is to repel aphids from spring wheat, which only accounts for 1% of the UK crop? This crop won’t help me to feed my family, let alone help farmers feed the world’.
The public debate was requested by anti GM campaigners Take the Flour Back in an open letter to Rothamsted Research after the centre ignored concerns raised by other scientists and campaign groups.
Dorset farmer Jyoti Fernandes, will meet with Rothamsted’s John Picket live in the studio. Fernandes has a unique perspective on the impacts of GM through her family who farm in India and the US.
Lundgren is also concerned about risks posed by the crop, which, if applied commercially could see aphid pests displaced into other nearby (non-GM) crops.
’For me as a wheat farmer, this trial is both irrelevant and irresponsible.’ These comments come as influential group of MPs - The Environmental Audit Committee, are calling on the Government to refrain from licensing GM crops until their benefits have been proved. In a report published this week, the Committee challenged the Government’s promotion of the ’sustainable intensification’ model of food production, including questioning its support for GM technology.
The committee heard evidence that food shortage problems could be ’better addressed through other means’, for example by tackling the 30 per cent food grown globally that is lost or wasted. The MPs call on the Government to establish an independent body to research into the impacts of GM starting with ’the scope for, and risks of, the co-existence of GM crops with conventional and organic farming regimes’.