Injunction granted to protect GM wheat trial crop

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A HIGH Court civil injunction has been granted to protect a trial crop of genetically modified wheat.

Rothamsted Research are currently conducting experiments to grow wheat which is resistant to the damage caused by aphids.

The site itself is protected by a large perimeter fence and monitored by CCTV and 24-hour security patrols.

However anti-GM protesters have openly declared they want to trash the experiment, with one man - a farmer and son of an aristocrat from Devon - having been arrested late last month on charges of criminal damage after causing minor damage at the facility.

Rothamsted sought the order due to concerns that a protest group, Take The Flour Back, would carry out further damage, having threatened to “decontaminate” the site of the crop in Hertfordshire.

The injunction makes it illegal to access to the field trial site without proper authorisation. Contravention of the injunction could result in a fine or even prison.

Last weekend hundreds of protesters staged a demonstration at the Rothamsted building and police had to be called in to prevent them from destroying the crop.

The heavy policing followed a successful application from bosses at the local council to the Home Secretary for greater police powers to stop anyone going on the land belonging to Rothamsted Research.

Two men were arrested in the banned area on suspicion of public order offences during the demonstration which involved around 200 people, Hertfordshire Police said.

Coordinator Gathuru Mburu told those assembled: “Experimenting with staple crops is a serious threat to food security. Our resilience comes from diversity, not the monocultures of GM.”

Professor Maurice Moloney, director of Rothamsted Research, insisted the chance of any cross-pollination was minuscule.

He said: “We have no idea who is advising them scientifically, because it is absolutely incorrect.

“Wheat is a self-pollinating plant so there is virtually no chance of any cross-pollination with local wheat.

“The way we have grown the wheat is desynchronised with local wheat as well, meaning it flowers at different times. It is the equivalent risk of worrying that a tornado would hit you.”

The experimental crop of GM wheat was planted in April and is due to grow until September. It has been developed with genes from the mint plant.

Prof Moloney said: “As a result, the wheat produces a volatile chemical which the aphids don’t like and it makes them go elsewhere. The purpose of it is to see if we can come up with a strategy that would avoid the use of pesticides in wheat crops, as they kill other creatures like bumblebees.”

A similar experiment carried out by Leeds University to try and grow a genetically modified strain of potatoes that were resistant to potato blight was trashed by protesters before it could even get going.

mark.casci@ypn.co.uk