Rothamsted to carry out more GM trials
THE director of Rothamsted Research has revealed that more GM trials will be undertaken at the institute over the next five years.
Despite the opposition to the technology in the UK and Europe, scientists are continuing to develop new products in the UK.
A trial of wheat modified to resist aphids using an odour, or alarm pheromone, which aphids produce to alert one another to danger, is continuing at the Hertfordshire institute, after efforts to halt it last year were thwarted.
Rothamsted director Maurice Moloney said, however, that even if ‘everything goes perfectly’ and the the variety is approved, it would then be another five years before it reaches the market, if a commercial company is prepared to take it on.
But there will be more to come. Rothamsted is also working on a GM omega-3 oilseed rape variety which could replace wild fish in food for farmed salmon.
Prof Moloney, a biotech pioneer who was influential in developing some of the first GM crops in the 1990s, said this was a ‘potentially enormous market and could solve a big environmental problem with fish oils and the availability of wild fish’.
“We see that as something that has to move forward and the only way is field trials,” he said.
He added that Rothamsted would continue announcing GM trials over the next five years. These would include crops with traits added to provide economic benefits for farmers and to improve the ‘quality of the final product in ways that could not be done without GM, he said.
Elsewhere, a three-year trial of GM blight-resistant potatoes has shown ‘promising’ early signs, according to the John Innes Centre, Norfolk, which developed the variety.
Prof Moloney was speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, where the debate on GM crops was reignited by a stark admission by leading environmentalist Mark Lynas that he was wrong to campaign against GM crops.
Mr Lynas, who as recently as 2008 was accusing biotech companies of making ‘outlandish’ and ‘misleading’ claims about GM crops, turned on critics of GM technology, accusing a ‘vocal minority of people in rich countries’ of potentially ‘getting in the way’ of feeding millions of people across the planet.
The speech, during which Mr Lynas apologised for ‘ripping up’ GM crops in the 1990s, has provoked an extraordinary response. Around a quarter of million people have read the speech, which has been translated into at least four languages, online, whicle a video of the speech has ben downloaded thousands of times.
The speech has also provoked much debate globally in the media and scientific and environmental communities.
Among the most eye-catching responses was a tweet, accompanied by a private email, by Julie Bourlag thanking Mr Lynas for his ‘honest comments about GMOs’ on behalf of her grandfather, the iconic crop scientist Norman Borlaug, who died in 2009.
Mr Lynas said he was ‘amazed and honoured’ by the response and said, while he has received some vitriolic abuse over his dramatic change of heart, the response had been ‘overwhelmingly positive’.
Defra Secretary Owen Paterson also spoke out strongly in favour of GM crops at the conference, calling for GM to be debated ‘in its proper overall context with a balanced understanding of the risk and benefits’.
He said there were potentially ‘massive gains’ to be made from reducing pesticide use and inputs like diesel with GM crops.