Claimed yield increases with GM wheat are unproven while the fairy gold dust trope used to promote the wheat is deceptive
Below is some coverage by the Daily Mail of the news that a GM wheat trial will go ahead in the UK.
Some genetic engineers have contacted GMWatch to say that the claim of 40% yield increase from this GM wheat is “almost certainly a lie” or a phenomenon confined to greenhouse experiments that will not be replicated in real farmers’ fields.
The “made with fairy gold dust” trope that’s being used to spin this GM wheat has infected a number of news stories on the topic.
It is a piece of deception. The truth is that this GM wheat has been developed via the common and now rather old genetic engineering technique of bombarding plant cells with gold particles coated with DNA (biolistics).
The process is carried out using a gene gun and is very far from a gentle sprinkling with gold dust, as suggested by some of the media hype around the GM wheat.
Genetically modified 'super-wheat' will be grown in the UK after trial is given the go-ahead despite fears of contamination
Daily Mail, 1 Feb 2017
* The wheat has been modified to enhance its ability to use the sun's energy
* Gold particles are used to transport the genes into the wheat
* In experiments, the wheat produced yields 40% higher than normal wheat
* Defra has granted permission to researchers to begin the trial this year
Open field trials of a genetically modified ‘super wheat’ have been approved by ministers, despite fears it will contaminate other crops.
The planting in Hertfordshire, which will be surrounded by a steel fence to keep out protesters, will start in spring.
Scientists claim the wheat is able to dramatically increase the yield of grains.
But the technology is controversial. American farmers have turned their backs on planting GM wheat for fear it will be rejected by shoppers.
Critics fear British wheat sales and exports will suffer if crops here are contaminated with genes from the GM plants.
The wheat has been genetically engineered so that, in theory, it can use sunlight more efficiently. Genes from a wild plant called stiff brome have been inserted.
The process also added an antibiotic marker gene and genes giving resistance to some weedkillers.
Tests in greenhouses at Rothamsted Research have boosted yields by up to 40 per cent. The field trials will determine whether this can be replicated in open air.
It is not the first GM wheat to be tested at the site. British researchers took five years to develop a crop that gave off chemicals supposed to deter insect pests, but the process did not work in field trials.
More than £3million of public money was spent on the trials and associated security measures.
Trials on GM wheat varieties in the US have led to some so-called escapes, creating the risk of contaminating wild plants and commercial crops.
GM Freeze, representing 30 organisations, had called on ministers to refuse permission for the wheat trial.
However, the Government has made clear it is keen to promote GM farming.
Liz O’Neill of GM Freeze said: ‘We raised a number of technical concerns about the application itself and highlighted the potential for GM wheat to escape into the wild, as has happened repeatedly with GM wheat trials in the US.’
Wheat varieties which were modified to make them resistant to weedkillers have been discovered growing outside field trials in the US on three separate occasions in recent years.
Peter Melchett of the Soil Association, which supports organic farming, said: ‘We do not believe that this trial should go ahead.
‘It is vital that the trial crop does not escape from the trial site given the inclusion of antibiotic resistance and herbicide tolerance genes, but that is exactly what has happened on multiple occasions with GM wheat trials elsewhere.
‘If that happens here it will threaten the growing use of UK wheat in British bread.
‘The claimed potential gains from this trial are achievable through other means and there is simply no market for the trial’s eventual end product.’
The trials, which are jointly funded by the British and US governments, have been approved by the food and farming department, Defra.
The Rothamsted team, with researchers from Lancaster and Essex universities, says modified wheat carries out photosynthesis – the use of sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide into glucose and oxygen – more efficiently, resulting in more grain.
Rothamsted’s Dr Malcolm Hawkesford said the trial would assess the plants’ ability to ‘produce more using the same resources and land area as their non-GM counterparts’.
He added: ‘These field trials are the only way to assess the viability of a solution that can bring economic benefits to farmers, returns to the UK taxpayer from the long-term investment in this research, benefits to the UK economy … and the environment in general.’
Essex University’s Professor Christine Raines said: ‘To date photosynthesis has not been used to select for high yielding crops … and represents an unexploited opportunity.’
How the mutant strain escaped across the US
By Tom Leonard in New York for the Daily Mail
Daily Mail, 1 Feb 2017
Genetically modified wheat trials have long been a source of controversy in the US.
While supporters insist GM food is safe, America has failed repeatedly to stop it from contaminating GM-free wheat.
In 2013, a strain of GM wheat was found sprouting on a farm in eastern Oregon where it had never been grown.
The farmer made the discovery after spraying a patch of wheat with herbicide and finding it did not die.
Testing confirmed that the strain, which was resistant to the weedkiller glysophate, had been developed by biotechnology giant Monsanto across the US between 1998 and 2005, and tested in open fields.
However, it was never approved or marketed.
Scientists were puzzled about how the crop had appeared when no seeds should have been available for eight years.
The discovery rocked international wheat markets. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan suspended imports of US soft white wheat for months, while a Kansas farmer sued Monsanto, saying it had caused the price of American wheat to plunge.
The US government insisted the outbreak was confined to a single field. But it was never able to explain what had happened.
A Monsanto boss blamed anti-GM saboteurs. Other theories included a bag of wheat being mislabelled at Monsanto or even passing geese infecting the field as they flew over.
More Monsanto-made GM wheat was found in 2014 in a research field at Montana State University.
There were field trials of the wheat at the research station 11 years earlier but it should have been removed or destroyed.
Roughly half of America’s huge wheat crop is exported. In 1999, Thai scientists claimed they had found GM wheat in a grain shipment from the Pacific Northwest of the US.