John Innes Centre Norwich Research Park Colney NORWICH NR4 7UH UK
Date: 20th June 2001
Contact: Dr Ray Mathias
Over the weekend of 15-17th June 2001 a small research plot of genetically modified (GM) barley plants at the John Innes Centre*, Norwich (JIC), was destroyed by trespassers. "This trial was part of a publicly funded programme to provide important information to the UK Food Standards Agency" said Professor Chris Lamb (Director of JIC). "The John Innes Centre deeply regrets the deliberate destruction of this non-commercial research. Actions of this sort are clearly intended solely to suppress the collection of sound evidence on which UK government policy and key consumer and environmental safety decisions can be based".
The main aim of the trial was to use a range of sensitive techniques to determine whether any unintended effects could be detected in the grains of the GM plants when they were grown under field conditions. The results of this research would then have contributed to recommendations as to the best approaches for use in food safety assessments. The experimental plot was part of long-term research at the JIC aimed at establishing a better understanding of the way genes function in GM plants and how they interact with the environment. Such understanding is a pre-requisite to establishing a more environmentally sustainable agriculture and ensuring consumer safety.
The plants were experimental research material and not field trials of commercial crops. The plants were carrying genes of experimental interest chosen to make it easy to compare the GM plants with non-GM plants. Following experimental analysis of the plants and grain, the remaining plant material was to be destroyed by autoclaving (pressure cooking) prior to disposal.
The trial was conducted in full compliance with strict UK governmental biosafety regulations; its objectives and experimental protocols were previously made public through filings with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. The barley being tested was the spring cultivar Golden Promise. Pollination between spring barley plants is very rare and in previous trials, no pollination between the GM plants and non-GM plants, growing in adjacent rows, was detected despite examining many thousands of plants. To provide even more data on pollen movement, non-GM barley plants were again sown among the GM test plants and as a 1 metre wide perimeter band in this trial to detect any possible effects of the transgenic on the non-transgenic plants. The barley in the trial presented no environmental hazard. Furthermore, insects do not cross-pollinate barley and the small trial plot was completely netted to prevent dispersal of seed by birds.
NOTE FOR EDITORS:
*John Innes CentreThe John Innes Centre (JIC), Norwich, UK is an independent, world-leading research centre in plant and microbial sciences. The JIC has over 850 staff and students. JIC carries out high quality fundamental, strategic and applied research to understand how plants and microbes work at the molecular, cellular and genetic levels. The JIC also trains scientists and students, collaborates with many other research laboratories and communicates its science to end-users and the general public. The JIC is grant-aided by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.