SCIENTISTS have been given permission to grow genetically-modified plants which could help protect against heart disease.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has given the go-ahead for the trial which would see omega-3 fatty acids usually found in fish added to a crop of camelina plants.
It is reportedly the first ever field trial of nutrient enriched crops in the UK.
Scientists at Rothamsted Research Centre in Hertfordshire who will run the trial hailed the decision as a “significant milestone” for research into genetically-modified plants.
Omega-3 has been proven to be beneficial for human health and contribute to protection against coronary heart diseases.
Researchers spent 10 years designing a sustainable way to produce the oil before successfully growing the engineered plants in lab conditions.
The trials were lauded by the scientists carrying them out but anti-GM campaigners lamented that public money was to spent on technology which they claimed had questionable benefits.
Professor Johnathan Napier, lead scientist of the project at Rothamsted Research, said “We are very pleased to welcome the decision of Defra to grant us permission to carry out our proposed field trial.
“We have made considerable progress over the last 10 years in designing and developing these plants and my colleagues and I am very happy that we can now test the performance of these plants in the field, under real life conditions.”
The research is part of a project looking in to how seeds could be enhanced to benefit the population’s health.
“Being able to carry out the field trial with our GM plants, means that we have reached a significant milestone in the delivery of our research programme” Professor Napier added.
The controlled experiment will start by mid-May with the plants harvested in August or September this year.
A number of seeds from the plants will be used for analysis, while the rest will be destroyed under the conditions of the consent.
The GM inspectorate of the Food and Environment Research Agency will be carrying out regular inspections.
Professor Martin Parry, acting director of Rothamsted Research, said: “We are delighted to be in position to carry out the field trial and to further assess the potential of these GM plants to contribute, as one of many solutions, to the important environmental sustainability issue of providing omega-3 fish oils”
GM technology has proved controversial in Yorkshire. Attempts to carry out GM trials by Leeds University to grow potatoes resistant to blight were trashed by environmental campaigners.
Emma Hockridge, Soil Association head of policy commented: “This is a waste of scarce public funds by Rothamsted Research – it is choosing to carry out trials of GM Camelina when two non-GM Omega 3 producing crops are already available to UK farmers. Government scientists in the US have recently confirmed that GM crops do not yield any more than non-GM crops, and sometimes even less.
“GM crops are making farming less fair, more risky and no more sustainable. Instead, we support practical science and innovation that addresses real needs, is genuinely sustainable and puts farmers in control of their livelihoods.”