Scientists appeal to cereal killers' reason

Academics at the Rothamsted Research laboratory have launched a direct appeal to protesters not to trash a trial crop of genetically modified wheat at a protest planned for later this month.

April 26, 2012

Anti-GM campaign group Take the Flour Back has threatened to remove the experimental plot as part of a “Day of Action” at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council lab on May.

Alongside a picnic, it has called for protesters to carry out a “mass decontamination” of the Hertfordshire site.

But in an open letter published today, eight Rothamsted researchers appeal to the protesters to reconsider “before years of work to which we have devoted our lives are destroyed forever”.

Rothamsted’s trial involves wheat engineered to release an odour that repels aphids, which may reduce the need for pesticides.

In the letter, the scientists say they accept that there is a chance the experiment will not work, but call attempts to stop the research “reminiscent of clearing books from a library because you wish to stop other people finding out what they contain”.

It goes on: “You seem to think, even before we have had a chance to test it, that our new wheat variety is bad. How do you know this? Clearly it is not through scientific enquiry, as the tests have not yet been performed.

“If you destroy publicly funded research, you leave us in a situation where only the big corporations can afford the drastic security precautions needed to continue biotechnology research – and you therefore further promote a situation you say you are trying to avoid.”

Take the Flour Back has claimed that the genes added to the crop are “most similar to a cow”, something the letter says betrays “a misunderstanding which may serve to confuse people or scare them but has no basis in scientific reality”.

In their appeal, the scientists also ask protesters to consider the fate of the longest-running environmental experiment in the world, dating back to 1843, which is based close to the GM test site and may be damaged during the protest.

Researchers say they are publishing the letter “in a spirit of openness and dialogue” and hope that if protesters come to the site they will discuss their issues with staff.

The letter has also been sent to scientists and politicians with a plea to support its message, alongside a video appeal on the lab’s website.

The experiment, funded by the BBSRC and started on 30 March, is one of three GM trials currently under way in the UK.

Others include a trial of nematode-resistant potato at the University of Leeds and blight-resistant potato at the BBSRC’s John Innes Centre in Norwich.

GM appeal


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