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Is it time we faced up to the reality of GM in modern world?

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: April 17, 2012

Comments (0) The Government has given the go-ahead for the first growing trials of GM wheat. Farming Editor Peter Hall looks at the latest developments in this highly emotive topic.

Activists determined to stop the development of genetically modified food in the UK are planning a mass protest against the first trials of GM wheat in this country.

Their opposition has been rumbling for years, and now they will have another chance to voice their dissent.

The more militant among them may even try to establish exactly where the trials are taking place so they can attempt to trash the crop, even though £120,000 is being spent on round-the-clock security. Some years ago we saw masked eco-warriors in white coveralls skirmishing with police on a GM trials plot.

How correct their extreme militancy really is can only be a matter of conjecture. But after all, how can anything be sensibly assessed if its trial has not been given a fair chance?

Interfering with nature is a highly emotive topic. Almost all our crops have been developed by man over the centuries through careful breeding systems, but not genetically.

Do we do it at our peril? The world beyond the European Union doesn't think so, and the GM culture has been widely embraced at a global level. After all, ostensibly it has a lot to offer a world where the fast-expanding population needs more and more food. Drought, disease, insect and parasite-resistant crops, which can also incorporate highly beneficial pharmaceuticals, must surely be the way forward for mankind?

But what are the spin-offs, the detrimental effects on natural flora and fauna, cross-contamination with conventional, and especially organically grown, crops?

This is where the big seed companies, like Monsanto, missed the bounce altogether years ago – failing to do the necessary public relations, failing to show the pros, to accentuate the positive. It was a big mistake and one that has cost them dear.

Within the EU there is widespread and genuine fear of GM and all it stands for, though individual Member States have been given a degree of flexibility over crop trials. Currently the French government faces high court action by maize farmers and seed companies, whom it has prevented from growing GM, when they thought they could. Other EU governments will be watching developments closely.

The economic recession has hit the organic food industry hard, but it still contributes an important, (though albeit modest), part of the nation's dietary needs. And nowhere will you find more organic growers than in the Westcountry – people who are going to take extreme exception if anyone starts growing GM crops within bumble-bee distance of their fields. Their concerns are highly understandable.

Now I know that to feed the world, with its burgeoning populations, it is totally unrealistic to expect the organic sector to play any sort of major part. The projections are mind-boggling; a land mass the size of Western Europe needed under cultivation to organically feed the UK, I have heard.

But producers must be allowed to grow organic food, and make a living from it, and consumers must be able to have the choice of buying organic if that is what they want. It has become virtually a fundamental right in the western world.

That, presumably, is what the protest group, called "Take The Flour Back", is all about. It is planning a mass picket outside Rothamsted Research station in Hertfordshire on May 27, its members intent on making their feelings known about the growing of Cadenza wheat, which has been modified to be aphid-free.

Unsurprisingly, Take The Flour Back has a website, which claims widespread support for its actions, and hopes as many people as possible will arrive at Rothamsted's gates to make their feeling known, as vociferously as they can. They are particularly worried that the trials are happening out in the open rather than inside a laboratory, claiming that when the wheat begins to flower it could cross-contaminate nearby wheat crops, and even wild grasses.

The trials, which gained Government approval last month, are going to cost the nation £1 million and will run over two consecutive seasons, so the results may be fully assessed.

But the trials are not going to be large-scale. In fact there are going to be only eight of them, each on plots of just six square metres, with buffers between. A large security fence will surround the plots, as well as a ditch, to keep out humans, birds, hedgehogs, foxes, rats and mice, rabbits – and anything else that may want to intervene.

The authorities at Rothamsted Research are naturally keen to head off as many protester problems as they possibly can, and are prepared to be conciliatory.

"We are committed to engaging with people who have a diversity of views around our work," said Rothamsted director Maurice Moloney.

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  • MapsofWorld  |  May 07 2012, 7:41AM

    All- New Infographic & Analysis About Genetic Engineering Of Crops & GMO http://tinyurl.com/6rnpfas

  • homerjay  |  April 18 2012, 1:19PM

    We already have a big problem with pollinators and we have scientists bent on further interfering with the ecosystem and to what gain? The crop becomes it's own pesticide and we can only wonder what effects that has on our bodies or other insects and birds. It will not kill all aphids, the survivors will return with resistance to the pheromone, even if it killed 100% you just can't interfere with the natural food chain. GM has the ability to become a natural disaster. UK consumers avoid GM, US consumers would do the same but they don't have the option as it's divisively not listed for that reason.

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  • homerjay  |  April 18 2012, 10:15AM

    Monsanto's biopiracy....http://tinyurl.com/7othaan Organic versus Monsanto...http://tinyurl.com/3d63ffm Monsanto charged for GM pollution (in the US it's the reverse, farmers get polluted with GM and then sued by Monsanto)...http://tinyurl.com/3d63ffm Mother takes on Monsanto...http://tinyurl.com/84h8ldj

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  • homerjay  |  April 18 2012, 9:56AM

    No! This was part of my forum blog: Monsanto stands accused of planting their genetically modified crops and then suing other farmers who've unwittingly suffered cross contamination or 'genetic pollution' for patent infringement, ironically the very thing the farmers wanted to avoid. GM was sold on a lofty principle of ending world hunger but it can now be seen for what it is, patent the seed and plant, the world's food controlled by big corporations. Monsanto produces RoundUp ready GM seed, the crop is not affected by the herbicide, which will then go on to pollute the water table. RoundUp resistant weeds and insects are already appearing as we wonder where this affront and manipulation of nature is going to end. Monsanto is associated with Agent Orange, PCBs hence dioxins, Aspartame and Bovine Growth Hormone so they're no strangers to controversy, albeit under reported. It appears the EU have listened to the people and we say no."

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  • sandyshaw  |  April 18 2012, 2:36AM

    I would be happy with GM bread bap with a pure stem cell created "beef" burger. In the long term their will be no choice anyway as there will be trillions of us on the planet and even with all the current amount of land space all given to food production it would not feed us all. Food will need to be made from scratch grown in large scale labs. Further down the line I expect we will also have green skin and get some of our energy directly from the sun rather than food. We might before we know turn into trees. But of course that's not due this government term.

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  • kjhvm  |  April 17 2012, 9:40PM

    This is a good article, but I wanted to point out one important thing. The "Take the Flour Back" organization and website are not merely planning a protest of the GE wheat. They are planning and advocating for vandalizing the wheat trial. A recent demonstration at the research center contained a demand that the researchers pull the wheat out or they will do it for them. So to be clear, this is not a protest but the threat of vandalism.

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  • josdave  |  April 17 2012, 2:17PM

    Food has been genitically modified for years. You only have to look at wild strawberries to see what they are like naturally. Nearly all our fruit and veg has been modified in some way to make them bigger or give better yields. Now apparently it is not on. I don't see why not. The world's population is constantly growing and unless the food supply keeps up with it there will have to be rationing, altough that would help curb the problem of obesity.