A coalition of environmental and sustainable food organisations released a joint statement questioning the UK's allocation of public research funds to GM wheat.
NOTE: Read the joint statement:
Press release about the joint statement:
Background on the PR campaign behind the GM wheat trial
EXTRACT: Although Rothamsted staff managed to deflect initial opposition to their project in 2012, in part by emphasising that the research was publicly funded, Business Secretary Jo Swinson revealed that the GM traits in the wheat being trialled at Rothamsted have already been patented by private companies. Swinson was responding to Parliamentary questions by Oldham MP Michael Meacher. [http://bit.ly/14AjcDE ]
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Alliance of environmentalists questions [UK] government funding for GM research
Farming News, 4 June 2013
On Monday, a coalition of environmental and sustainable food organisations released a joint statement questioning the UK's allocation of research funding, specifically public funding for a trial of genetically modified wheat at Rothamsted Research Institute that caused massive controversy last spring.
The controversial trial of GM wheat, modified to repel aphids by releasing an "alarm signal" to attract predatory wasps, is set to undergo a second trial in autumn 2013. When it was first trialled last year, the research programme proved so divisive that a debate was held on BBC Newsnight between Rothamsted scientists and opponents from protest group Take the Flour Back.
The alliance, made up of 27 individual groups, called on the government to justify its research spending on genetic modification. They said this is imprudent at a time when authorisation of GM crops has ground to a halt in Europe and more sustainable integrated pest management strategies have been proven to be effective.
The organisations behind the joint statement include the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union, Friends of the Earth, anti-poverty charity War on Want, and the Real Bread Campaign. In their statement, the groups pointed out that no market currently exists for the wheat being grown at Rothamsted and urged decision makers to learn from issues of contamination from GM wheat trials that are causing concern for growers in the United States.
GM wheat last trialled eight years ago in the United States was discovered in a field of conventional wheat last week. The wheat, developed by agribusiness Monsanto, was abandoned after several years of trials due to a lack of demand. The discovery has prompted widespread concern amongst importers and exporters alike, with a number of wheat buying states introducing testing programmes and suspensions on US wheat imports over the past week.
On Monday, the coalition said, "there has been no public discussion about the necessity or appropriateness of such research." In their statement, the groups suggested stakeholders including farmers and consumers are generally opposed to the project, which they condemned as "an inexcusably profligate use of resources", and added that "the aims of the research are not clear… Rothamsted Research has given several conflicting rationales."
The research into GM "Whiffy Wheat" has cost an estimated GBP1.28 million in public money, allocated by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The groups claimed that it has not been made clear who will benefit from the research, if the wheat is commercially developed.
Sceptics call for government review
The alliance called on the UK Government to undertake a review of the way in which research decisions are made in the UK, and outlined a number of issues of key concern and made recommendations, including:
*Making sure research is justifiable, transparent and subject to public consultation.
*Requiring applicants to submit impact assessments that are subject to public consultation.
*Increasing transparency and preventing confidential business information issues from concealing information the public has a right to know.
*Undertaking public deliberations to provide a context for discussing individual research projects.
*Providing open public access to decisions on research.
Although Rothamsted staff managed to deflect initial opposition to their project in 2012, in part by emphasising that the research was publicly funded, Business Secretary Jo Swinson revealed that the GM traits in the wheat being trialled at Rothamsted have already been patented by private companies. Swinson was responding to Parliamentary questions by Oldham MP Michael Meacher.
Finally, the joint statement showed that long-term research (including a large amount from Rothamsted) has shown that encouraging natural predators and parasites, such as parasitic wasps, ladybirds, lacewings, hoverflies, spiders and beetles, can keep aphid populations low, and that this approach carries other co-benefits. Managing wildflower-rich field margins, hedgerows and beetle banks can also enhance the landscape, provide food and shelter for important pollinator species and farmland birds, prevent of soil erosion and boost carbon storage, according to the sceptics.
The alliance warned that current research spending has seen the investment of "more public money into GM solutions that may not work and that will bring fewer co-benefits and synergies". They pointed out that the project runs contrary to both Rothamsted's historical achievements in bringing together different disciplines (such as with the push-pull system of weed control) and French public spending, through agricultural research institute INRA, which has made a commitment to prioritising agroecological research.
The groups concluded, "The decisions that are being made largely focus on technologies that can be patented and exploited by private companies in future, even though those responsible deny that they intend to patent. This means that knowledge-based solutions, such as creating habitats on farm for aphid predators and parasites, are sidelined, marginalised and frequently ignored."
In response to their claims, a spokesperson for Rothamsted told Farming Online that the GM research has been "open and transparent," and that information on the project is available from the Rothamsted website. The spokesperson continued, "In fact, we recently supplied GM freeze with further information they requested to address the specific points they have made [here]. Our position has not changed, we are happy to speak to any individuals or groups about our experiment to investigate novel methods for non-toxic aphid control." Rothamsted maintains that its project is BBSRC sponsored and not being conducted for commercial gain.
However, Pete Riley of GM Freeze reiterated, "There is currently no GM wheat grown commercially anywhere on the planet, and we feel Rothamsted and the BBSRC need to explain why this project took priority over other non-GM agriculture research projects that could be have delivered benefits more quickly while commanding public support."