UK groups unite against open-air GMO field trial

March 29, 2018 by Staff Reporter

Twenty-six organisations including farmers, scientists, retailers and environmentalists today lodged a formal objection to the latest proposed open-air GM field trial by Rothamsted Research.

If granted consent by Defra, the trial will see genetically modified camelina plants grown in open fields at Rothamsted Research’s farms in Hertfordshire and Suffolk.  Similar trials have been running since 2014, but the proposed new trial introduces plants producing wax esters which, if eaten by people, can cause diarrhoea and an involuntary discharge of oil from the anus.

Key points in the objection include the risk that pollen or seed for plants could escape from the trial and impact on people or local wildlife. In addition to the new wax esters, the GM plants will produce omega-3 “fish oils” which were shown in a recent study to cause serious harm to butterflies [1].

The objection identifies a significant amount of information that is missing from the application, including technical details of the genetic modifications themselves and any assessment of the potential impact on farms already growing non-GM camelina in the UK.

Unacceptable risk

Beyond GM was among the organisations backing the objection. Director Pat Thomas said: “The research establishment and UK Government continue to push for more GMO crops in the face of strong public rejection and in spite of no evidence of public benefit. We see no credible justification for this trial which will turn our fields into open-air laboratories and which takes food and farming further in the wrong direction of industrialisation and ultra-processing.”

Liz O’Neill, Director of umbrella campaign GM Freeze, which coordinated the formal multi-agency objection, said:

“Many vital pieces of information are missing from the application and what is included makes it clear that this trial represents an unacceptable risk to people, wildlife and the wider environment. But the problems with this trial also go deeper.

“Rothamsted Research started off trying to persuade us that GM camelina would save the oceans but now they’re referring to it as a “chassis” on which they will produce an array of industrial compounds [2]. GM Freeze wants to help create a world in which everyone’s food is produced responsibly, fairly and sustainably. This trial would be a step in the opposite direction and should not go ahead.”

Objections to the proposed trial can be lodged with Defra until Sunday 8 April.