Scientists urge protestors not to trash GM trials
SCIENTISTS involved in the genetically modified (GM) wheat trial currently taking place in Hertfordshire have urged protestors not go ahead with plans to trash the site.
A ‘mass protest’ under the banner ‘Take Back the Flour’ is planned for May 27 at the Rothamsted Research institute site, where plots of wheat that will constitute the trial were sown in March.
On a website promoting the protest, organisers invite members of the public to ‘stop the open-air release of GM Wheat that contains genes most similar to that of a cow’.
It says: “Take the Flour Back’ will be a nice day out in the country, with picnics, music from Seize the Day and a decontamination. It’s for anyone who feels able to publically help remove this threat and those who want to show their support for them.”
Eight Rothamsted scientists involved in the trials, led by Professor John Pickett, have taken the unprecedented step today (May 2) of publishing an open letter addressed to Take Back the Flour. They urge the protest organisers to read it ‘in the spirit of openness and dialogue’.
“We know we cannot stop you from taking the action you plan, nor would we wish to see force used against you. Therefore we can only appeal to your consciences, and ask you to reconsider before it is too late, and before years of work to which we have devoted our lives are destroyed forever,” the letter says.
The trial is looking at whether wheat engineered to release an aphid repellent could reduce the need for treating crops with pesticides. The scientists argue that the crop could ‘substantially reduce the use of agricultural chemicals’ and therefore deliver environmental benefits for future generations.
“Are you really against this? Or are you simply against it because it is ‘GMO’ and you therefore think it is unnatural in some way,” the scientists say.
“To suggest that we have used a ‘cow gene’ and that our wheat is somehow part-cow betrays a misunderstanding which may serve to confuse people or scare them but has no basis in scientific reality.”
The scientists urge the protestors to allow the trial to go ahead so that any doubts about the crop, such as ‘whether the aphid alarm pheromone as found in this GM crop would even work’, can be directly addressed.
“As activists you might prefer never to know whether our new wheat variety would work , but we believe you are in a minority – in a democratic society most people do value factual knowledge and understand that it is necessary for sensible decision making.”
They offer to meet the protestors on May 27 and ‘show you our work and explain why we think it could benefit the environment in the future’.
The letter concludes: “As scientists we know only too well that we do not have all the answers. That is why we need to conduct experiments. And that is why you in turn must not destroy them.”