400 anti-GM protesters marched towards the Herts GM wheat trial on Sunday (27th) in what they'd publicised as an act of mass decontamination. They were, however, “sadly” stopped by police from getting into the field to do any crop-trashing. The mass march was spearheaded by Take the Flour Back and included European activist equivalents like France's les Faucheurs Volontaires.
Flagrant criminal damage or no, there's plenty to protest about. The wheat being trialled by Rothamsted agricultural research establishment incorporates two chemically synthesised genes and is designed to put off aphids by emitting pheremones. The two genes that will pull off this wizardry are apparently a) “similar to that found in peppermint…” and more bizarrely b) have “most similarity to [one] from a cow…”. This is the first synthetic copy of an animal gene to be used in such a way and as such represent s a very wild stab in the dark. Open air trials carry massive risks of cross contamination and hybridization.
The trial is the next chapter of the “second push” going on in the UK towards GM cultivation along with two trials of GM potatoes, and is backed by the government which is the most pro-GM yet. The environment minister Caroline Spelman founded and directed a biotech lobbying firm Spelman, Cormack & Associates until 2010, when the press noticed and and suggested there may be a slight conflict of interests. She relinquished her directorship and sold her shares... to her husband. Still, she must have plenty of experience in denying inconvenient facts. Like how the wheat contains a 'antibiotic-resistant marker gene' that could transfer into our environment and lead to an increase in superbugs like MRSA. Or that farmers of non-GM plants could face increased aphid attacks and therefore require more pesticides, or see their crops become hybridized by GM pollen and be forced to stick a 'GM' label on it.
One week before, “significant random damage” was achieved by a lone ranger who didn't wait for the public protest. He was arrested, charged with criminal damage and bailed until July 13th.
On Wednesday (30th) the Rothamsted researchers filed an injunction to stop protesters gaining access to the wheat, after securing a temporary injunction ahead of the action on Sunday. Rothamsted and Lawes spokesperson Stephen James claimed the steps was nessecary because any intervenion would mean "the credibility and reputation of science in the UK would be damaged". More honestly, another spokesperson Rothamsted’s head of Chemical Ecology Professor John Pickett has previously said of the trial's importance “It could be that we generate very good intellectual property for commercial development".