Warning over UK GM potato trials
2.GM trials begin in Britain amid controversy
NOTE: For more on Jonathan Jones, the senior scientist at the institute behidn the trial:
1.Warning over UK's first GM potatoes as ministers back 'Frankenstein food' trial in Norfolk
Daily Mail, 9 June 2010
The first British field trial of genetically modified potatoes was planted yesterday - in defiance of public opinion and complaints from green campaigners.
The test, funded by the taxpayer, is designed to create a crop resistant to a serious disease called late blight.
But critics argue the experiment is a waste of public money because blight-resistant potatoes produced through natural techniques already exist.
They also say the GM crops could be a risk to food safety.
The trial is being carried out on a plot in Norfolk by scientists from the Sainsbury Laboratory, which specialises in plant research. It is part of a programme that has cost taxpayers GBP1.7million since 2001.
Approval was granted by the department of the new Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman, who has a long history of support for GM farming. Formal approval came from one of her ministers, Lord Henley.
However, studies of public opinion have revealed enormous resistance to the development of so-called Frankenstein foods.
There has been little independent research into the health effects of eating GM food, while trials of other modified crops have identified risks to neighbouring wildlife.
The GM Freeze campaign group last night raised concerns, including food safety fears over an antibiotic-resistant marker gene implanted in the trial potatoes.
Director Pete Riley said using GM technology to tackle blight was expensive, unproven and 'disruptive for the industry because of the measures needed to prevent contamination to protect consumer choice'.
'Conventional breeding is miles ahead of GM in producing very good resistance in varieties that are already on the market,' he added. Friends of the Earth called into question the wider benefits of GM crops.
Food campaigner Kirtana Chandrasekaran said: 'The largest scientific farming study ever conducted saw no clear role for GM crops in feeding the world - and their roll-out in other countries reveals that they benefit big business, not local farmers or hungry people.
'We can feed a growing global population without trashing the planet or resorting to factory farms and GM crops.'
But Professor Jonathan Jones, of the Sainsbury Laboratory, defended the trial, saying it could help reduce the use of chemical sprays.
'We have isolated genes from two different wild potato species that confer blight resistance,' he said. 'We are testing whether these work in a field environment to protect a commercial potato variety, Desiree, against this destructive disease.'
Late blight spreads easily and can wipe out entire fields. It was responsible for the 19th century Irish potato famine.
The trials come as Mrs Spelman moved to close down her biotech lobbying firm.
The minister has attracted mounting criticism about a possible conflict of interest with her role in taking decisions over the future of GM food.
Aides confirmed last night that she had taken steps to wind up Spelman, Cormack and Associates, which was set up with her husband Mark in 1989.
A spokesman insisted Mrs Spelman had taken the decision shortly after being appointed Environment Secretary last month. He insisted that the firm 'did not represent GM clients'.
2.GM trials begin in Britain amid controversy
Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent
Daily Telegraph, 8 Jun 2010
Hundreds of genetically modified potatoes have been planted behind security fences in Norfolk in a new trial of the controversial science.
The GM trial was given the go-ahead by ministers as part of a publicly funded project to develop new disease resistant potatoes in Britain.
Scientists insist the new breed of potato could save the farming industry milllions of pounds and reduce the need for chemicals.
But campaigners claim the project, that has received more than £1 million of taxpayers money over ten years, is a "waste of money" that could threaten local farmers with contamination.
The row comes amid growing concern that the Government is trying to push GM food onto the nation's dinner plates.
A 'public dialogue' on the controversial technology, set up by quango the Food Standards Agency, is in disarray after the vice chairman resigned in protest at 'GM propaganda' and food campaigners refused to take part.
Caroline Spelman, the new Environment Secretary, has also come out in favour of the technology.
The latest trial at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norfolk was the first GM trial to be given the go-ahead by the new Government and the potatoes have only just been planted.
The 192 potatoes have been implanted with a gene from wild South American potatoes that mean they are resistant to blight, the disease that caused the Irish potato famine.
Professor Jonathan Jones, one of the scientists carrying out the trial, said the new breed could save farmers millions of pounds in chemicals to stop disease every year.
"The green groups have very effectively misrepresented the technology to consumers as a dangerous ineffective waste of money. But it seems to me ridiculous to be against a technology that means farmers will have to spray less chemicals on fields when you are interested in the environment."
He was also unhappy at the GBP20,000 cost of security, after previous trials in Britain were vandalised by environmentalists.
"At a time when the public purse is stretched, it is ludicrous we have to spend tens of thousands of pounds on security to plant 192 potatoes when there are 100 million hectares of GM crops planted around the world."
The trial in Norfolk is the second GM trial to be allowed to go ahead in Britain this year.
Leeds University has also received around £1 million in public funding to trial potatoes that are resistant to nematodes, also known as the eel worm, that destroys crops in the developing world. The trial is being carried out on a remote maximum security site near Tadcaster.
Kirtana Chandrasekaran, of Friends of the Earth, said the trials could cause problems for neighbouring farms if pollen from the potato plants is spread.
"The Government is wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers' money by forging ahead with unnecessary and unpopular GM crops trials, which threaten local farmers with contamination," she said.
Pete Riley of GM Freeze said the trials will make people even more uneasy about GM following concerns that FSA dialogue is biased.
"I suspect the public remains sceptical and the fact that these trials are in the ground will only increase their concern. So the need for a broader debate than the one proposed by the FSA is more important than ever."