Fortress security for GM wheat trial


Past two barriers of security, a mile inside the Rothamsted Research centre, I was taken to see what must be the most closely guarded field in the United Kingdom.

With groups of police and security guards dotting the lanes throughout this centre, a relatively small plot of land lies behind high steel fencing.

This is where genetically modified wheat is being grown, part of an experiment to see if the plants can repel a common pest, aphids, without having to resort to insecticide.

One of a small group of journalists, I was allowed through the fencing into the plot itself - this is crop science conducted inside a fortress.

Under a blazing sun, the earth was baked dry, and the GM wheat, a pale green, twitched and fluttered in the breeze.

The wheat is being cultivated in small squares, surrounded by other plants which will be checked to see if they are contaminated by the wheat.

The plants themselves look unremarkable and it was a strange sensation making the visit under such stringent conditions.

Walkie-talkies crackled, a police helicopter hovered overhead and acres of day-glo clothing were apparent on the guards monitoring the perimeter.

The initiative to take journalists inside the trial site is part of a major PR offensive by the scientists and their backers to be open and transparent about the research - in an effort to explain its value to the public.

The director of the centre, Professor Maurice Moloney, has been giving endless interviews this morning to describe the work.

His appeal is simple: let us do the experiment to see if this technique makes sense.

For the community of plant scientists, and its supporters in government and the wider world of science, this is a vital test of strength.

The planned protest by anti-GM campaigners, Take the Flour Back, is gathering at the edge of the centre.

Their argument is that the risks of conducting GM trials in the open are too great and that the site should be "decontaminated".

No one can be sure how this will play out. I'm off to see the protestors now.

David Shukman Article written by David Shukman David Shukman Science editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    ''They say crops could contaminate the surrounding area. Site owner Rothamsted Research says that is highly unlikely.''
    They said it was ''highly unlikely'' that the Titanic would sink.

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    @202 'Arcid'
    Finally! What a relief to see a post from you that acknowledges the danger of specific GM intervention on plants/crops.

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    200. Drunken Hobo said:
    "... Now you're just talking nonsense ... I find it so disheartening that people are so wilfully ignorant when the facts can be so easily found if they only took the effort to find them."

    Maybe you didn't understand my point - I couldn't make it any simpler.

    I must admit I don't know the guy's name, I'm sorry about that. But what else do you need to know?

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    @198.David Agnew
    It just seems a little too coincidental

    your logic is the same as
    Iran has been developing nuclear weapons since roughly the time GM crops were grown therefore GM crops caused Iran to start developing nuclear weapons

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    #171 Most GM would involve implanting genes to cause the plants to manufacture specific proteins. The interaction of these proteins plus the ones that are already in the plant could form a compound that could cause allergic reactions. the trouble with these is that they would be horribly specific, and at this point our understanding about how thy interact would be down to trial and error

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    @188/192 'Matthew'
    You mention bees, and your posts are voted down. Very odd.

    I agree our bees are struggling - for many reasons - including GM open crop research that's been going on for decades in the UK.

    Demonstrations are futile. DEFRA are responsible for allowing Rothamsted to grow in open fields in order for US private GM companies to achieve a licence and circumvent EU Regulations?

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    197 Peter Barry - Now you're just talking nonsense (well, you were before, but now more so). I find it so disheartening that people are so wilfully ignorant when the facts can be so easily found if they only took the effort to find them.

    But then again, about 4/5ths of the world is religious, so I shouldn't be surprised. I suppose that's it, being anti-GM is a religion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    @198.David Agnew
    Sir thanks for the reply, and in relation to your comment, and I am NO bio chemist but BEES have survived on the earth for over 1 billion years, they have gone through dozens of 90%+ extinction level events etc. It just seems a little too coincidental that we play god and they start dying in huge numbers, has there been a study done about the issues I have raised,

    Thank you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    could GM have caused this issue by mutating the BEE’S gene’s or even cause honey to turn toxic for them.

    Absolutely not, impossible for biochemical reasons but at a simpler level there would be a very high correlation of colony collapse disorder to quantity of GM crops grown & there's not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    193. Drunken Hobo said:
    "... Funny that organic food seems to get away with that, but for some reason it means we should abandon all GM research."

    Organic food didn't get away with being guaranteed safe - it evolved.

    E.g. a couple of million years a guy died died after eating a toadstool - we don't eat them now.

    GM trials represent nano-seconds - too short to be sure of the consequences.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    @188 & 192 Myself
    Hello, Could you be so kind as read my comments and tell me why my postings have been marked negatively, after all we need to look at this issue with urgency, after all there is no point developing crops for the future if, if the very things needed to pollinate them so they grow in the first place, die out because of the crops we have developed,

    Thank you in Advance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    A bit pointless as far as I can see. The planet is overpopulated due to do gooders keeping poulations alive who should have died due to starvation. X amount of food, Y dies, Z survives. Happens with animals so why not with humans, their food chain works as they don't overpopulate. Look at S.Asia and Africa. No wonder they live in poverty and complain about having no food!

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    Science is no more than common sense "writ large". If you have some contribution to make the scientific environment welcomes you to put your contribution to the test. Get your theory "corroborated" by independent testing or shut up.

    If you have an opinion or belief but no knowledge that can be corroborated get it corroborated. Make "objective knowledge" or shut up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    190 Peter Barry - No, it was your argument that was deeply flawed. You used the phrase "Guaranteed safe" so I provided an example that disproves that it's always safe.
    I never said GM food was "guaranteed safe", I was pointing out that nothing can ever be "guaranteed safe". Funny that organic food seems to get away with that, but for some reason it means we should abandon all GM research.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    Just to clarify my point I am pro-science, but also pro-common sense, the EARTHS BEE population, our only mass pollinators are dying out, with only Australia and NZ, free of both losses due to parasites and second unknown quantity, could GM have caused this issue by mutating the BEE’S gene’s or even cause honey to turn toxic for them, I say this as without BEE’S we have no food

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    Let us also remember what science teaches us....

    For every action their is an opposite and equal reaction.

    So once crops are genetically modified, the aphids and disease and other bugs will also modify their DNA so that they can become tolerant of crops.

    We actively witness this with bacteria and viruses.
    Will GM crops have a side effect on those who eat it?

    CJD was directly caused by humans.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    185. Drunken Hobo wrote:
    "... 45 deaths & 3785 infections (e-coli-bean-sprouts). Sounds safe.Would people stop making such terrible arguments so we can have a proper debate about GM food?"

    Your argument is neutral - therefore deeply flawed.

    Both Organic and GM produce can be contaminated by sloppy methods.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    This particular anti-GM group(s) want to stop GM research because they believe GM is dangerous. If they're right the way to stop it is to allow more research to be done as evidenced by
    "A decade-long project to develop genetically modified peas with built-in pest-resistance has been abandoned after tests showed they caused allergic lung damage in mice"
    Research caused that GM work to be stopped

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    I am fully aware that science can even with the best of intentions mess things right up without even knowing it, I am also aware that the planets population is growing and needs feeding. However just a thought here, we all know that BEES are dying without any reason separate from the parasite issue effecting them worldwide, could GM crops be causing a genetic mutation that is killing them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    Monsanto’s Roundup assaults the planetary biosphere, We depend on the health of our soil, glyphosphate does not degrade as quickly as they say and ends up in our drinking water and in the air.


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