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Open letter to Rothamsted

1.Open Letter to Rothamsted
2.Wheat protest group agrees debate
3.Welsh farmer leads anti-GM crop protest against pioneering wheat crop experiment
1.Open Letter to Rothamsted

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07968 776 066

02 May 2012

Dear Rothamsted Research,

Re: Take the flour back! Public day of action

Many thanks for your letter dated 27th April.

We would welcome the opportunity to engage with you in a public debate over the forth-coming weeks, so that both sides of the debate have an equal chance to hear and understand each others’ perspectives. To this end we invite you to join us on neutral ground, with a neutral chairperson, for an open exchange of opinions and concerns.

We are pleased that you are calling for rigorous evidence-backed discussion and are therefore somewhat bemused to note your insistence that aphid-resistant GM wheat will decrease pesticide use. This often repeated biotech industry claim has been widely discredited. (1) On the contrary, findings in the US, Canada and India, show that weeds and predators rapidly develop immunity to GM strategies, resulting in the use of ever increasing amounts of herbicides and pesticides. (2) The concern that the GM Cadenza wheat you are trialling could lead to an increase, rather than a reduction in pesticides, was raised by a geneticist from EcoNexus in her submission to DEFRA, as well as by GM Freeze.

In your letter you make no mention of the serious issue of the antibiotic resistant marker gene. You assert that “all plants in all types of agriculture are genetically modified to serve humanity’s needs”, suggesting that selective breeding is a similar science to genetic modification, which is both false and misleading. You are openly releasing a synthetic version of a compound that can not be regarded as "substantially equivalent", and has had no long-term health safety tests whatsoever for human consumption, or for its impacts on non-target species. This practice does not therefore adhere to the EU’s precautionary principle.

In the last few weeks Swiss scientists have published data demonstrating that the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin Cry1Ab emitted as a pesticide by genetically modified (GM) Bt maize increases mortality in young ladybird larvae. (3) This is just another example of how a non-target organism can end up being inadvertently harmed by unforeseen problems with GM technologies. Again, this fails to show regard for the precautionary principle on which sound and responsible science should be based.

You confuse our description of GM crops as not being “properly tested”, i.e. not being part of long-term detailed tests, as mentioned above, with the idea that you should be able to conduct tests in the open air without the aforementioned tests carried out first, putting our farming industry and our environment at risk.

You state “we have pledged that our results will not be patented and will not be owned by any private company” yet you suggested in an interview in Farmers Weekly only a month ago that “companies are very interested and they are keeping a watching brief”. (4) Which is it? We are of course aware of Professor Moloney’s former presidency of SemBioSys Genetics Inc (5) (of whom Dow Agro Science were investors). (6 & 7) We note that he developed the first transgenic oilseed rape plants using canola, which served as the basis for Monsanto’s Roundup Ready and Bayer’s Liberty Link canola products. (8) Furthermore, the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), who are funding this trial using public money, include a consultant for Dow Agro Science and a Non-Executive Director of Syngenta on their council. (9) If this trial is successful, only a large agrochemical company would have the infrastructure to make the GM wheat commercially available.

We are particularly concerned about ensuring the protection of what is probably the world’s oldest classical grassland experiment. We are appalled that you are jeopardizing the integrity of this scientific inheritance by planting GM wheat metres away from it. We believe your recklessness in planting GM in the adjacent field seriously undermines your institution’s scientific credibility.

You say that to “suggest that we have used a ‘cow gene’ and that our wheat is somehow part-cow betrays a misunderstanding which”¦has no basis in scientific reality.” Yet the description of the gene you have synthetised as being “not found naturally” and having “most similarity to that from cow” is taken directly from own your application to DEFRA. (10)

Many groups challenging GMOs do so in the full knowledge and direct experience that agro-ecological farming practices are more productive than GM and industrial agriculture, and that they ensure the health of humans, ecosystems, livelihoods and food security. The value of their work to revive seed diversity, farmers’ rights, indigenous knowledge, organic agriculture techniques, and local markets was confirmed at the highest levels by the 2008 International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). The largest-ever assessment of global agriculture, it involved more than 400 scientists and 30 governments, and was dismissive of GM’s potential to address global hunger. (11) Instead it recognised that the only way to ensure future food, farming and ecosystems was through a wholesale emphasis on agroecological practices. (12)

We are not in a minority with our fears over this trial and the potential commercial introduction of GM wheat that could follow. Recent EU surveys show that the majority of the public still don’t trust GM food. (13) Leading figures from the bread industry have also come out in strong opposition. Last week the ‘Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union’, and the ‘Real Bread Campaign’ submitted a pledge to DEFRA refusing to use GM wheat, signed by over 350 bakers, millers, farmers and consumers. In planting the GM wheat, you have shown total disregard for the reasonable concerns of the public at large, who say they don’t want to eat GM, and do not want to be treated as guinea pigs.

By pressing ahead with these plans you threaten the future livelihoods of the farming community. Via your close connections to North America you know that cross-contamination can and does happen, and that farmers have lost millions in exports as a result.

You ask us not to pull up the GM wheat. We ask you not to recklessly endanger livelihoods and our food supply by letting it remain in the open air. We do not believe that it should be lawful for you to spread
contamination in this way. If the government, through its close bio-tech industry ties, (14) refuses to take responsibility for this problem, then we are left with no other choice.

We are aware that you have been in receipt of many expressions of concern in regard to this trial. You have shown that you will not listen.

(When a powerful minority threatens democratically expressed wishes of the majority, direct action becomes necessary. The suffragettes’ campaign of direct action helped women get the vote. The vast numbers of people who pulled up crops when the bio-tech industry tried to introduce GM into this country 15 years ago is the reason why our countryside has not been contaminated.)

We invite anyone who is worried about the impact of genetically modified crops on our health, our farming industry, and our environment to join us on 27th May in showing our opposition to this trial. We will come together to ‘take the flour back’, celebrating the thriving wheat industry we already have in the UK, with bakers, farmers, bee keepers, allotment holders, and other bread-lovers.

Yours sincerely,

Take the Flour Back


1. Independent reports from the US show that since 1996, GM corn, soybean and cotton have led to an increase in pesticide use of 122 million pounds (55 million Kilos).



4. Phillip Case, ‘GM wheat trial begins amid high security’, Farmers Weekly, 28 March 2012





9. BBSRC Council, Register of Members’ Declared Interests


11. IAASTD, Executive summary p8

12. IAASTD, ‘Towards Multifunctional agriculture for Social, Environmental and Economic Sustainability’, p1

13. British Science Association GM Survey conducted 17-26 February 2012 by Populus

14. Richard Pendlebury, ‘Special investigation: Do government’s GMfriendly plans make former biotech lobbyist Caroline Spelman Minister for Conflicting Interests’, Daily Mail, 15 June 2010.
2.Wheat protest group agrees debate
The Press Association, 2 May 2012

Activists have agreed to talk with scientists who want to stop them destroying a genetically modified (GM) wheat experiment.

The group, Take The Flour Back, has written to the researchers inviting them to meet "on neutral ground" for a public debate.

The move came after the scientists from the Rothamsted Research agricultural institute in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, sent an open letter to the campaigners pleading with them to call off their planned protest on May 27.

A team of scientists led by Professor John Pickett hopes to grow a GM strain of wheat engineered to release a pheromone that deters aphids.

Take The Flour Back is urging supporters to rally at the test site, where eight six-metre square plots of land have been planted with the wheat.

In their letter, the scientists wrote: "Dear Take The Flour Back, we have learned that you are planning to attack our research test site on 27th May."

They appeal to the group to reconsider before "years of work to which we have devoted our lives are destroyed forever".

In its reply, Take The Flour Back wrote: "We would welcome the opportunity to engage with you in a public debate over the forth-coming weeks, so that both sides of the debate have an equal chance to hear and understand each other's perspectives.

"To this end we invite you to join us on neutral ground, with a neutral chairperson, for an open exchange of opinions and concerns."

The group added in another part of the letter: "You ask us not to pull up the GM wheat. We ask you not to recklessly endanger livelihoods and our food supply by letting it remain in the open air."
3.Welsh farmer leads anti-GM crop protest against pioneering wheat crop experiment
Sion Morgan, 
WalesOnline, May 3 2012

A West Wales farmer is leading calls against "irresponsible" and "negligent" genetically-modified (GM) crop research which could one day reduce pesticide use on agricultural land.
GM Crops

Scientists developing GM wheat at Rothamsted Research near Luton have come under fire from campaigners who have vowed to "decontaminate" the site unless research is halted.

Action group Take the Flour Back are planning a protest day at Rothamsted on May 27, which they say will involve "a nice day out in the country, with picnics, music and a decontamination".

But researchers fear the action could destroy years of work which uses wheat modified to deter aphids an insect pest in a bid to benefit the environment by reducing pesticide use.

Gerald Miles is one protest group member intending to be in south east England at the end of this month.

The St Davids-based farmer rears livestock and grows organic crops on 120 acres of coastal land in West Wales.

He said: "This is the first GM wheat trial which has taken place in the UK and could have serious implications on Welsh farming.

"If something goes wrong with this field experiment farmers will have to deal with the consequences.”

On Wednesday scientists at Rothamsted responded to campaigners via an open letter which said: “We appeal to you as environmentalists.

"Our GM wheat could, for future generations, substantially reduce the use of agricultural chemicals.”

However, the campaigners say the GM trial presents a clear risk to British farming.

Gerald Miles said: "The wheat is being injected with genes from a cow, antibiotic genes and peppermint genes in order to detract aphids from the crops.

"This is totally irresponsible on many levels.

"Firstly it is totally negligent to conduct an open air trial where there is a significant risk of cross contamination with other wheat crops in the area and the wider country.

"Seven years ago in Canada a GM seed rape crop cross contaminated with naturally grown seed to the point where the country ended up with only GM crops.

"That in turn had a huge detrimental affect on the export of rape seed oil in Canada. The second point is that nobody wants these GM crops. The consumer doesn’t want it, other countries don’t want it and bakers don’t want it.

"Lastly, this research is simply not needed, whereas there is research in other sectors of the industry that is desperately needed."

Last week, the Real Bread Campaign delivered a pledge to the government from more than 350 bakers, millers, farmers and consumers not to sell or buy GM wheat.

The pledge was accompanied by a letter to Caroline Spelman MP, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, expressing deep concerns about the testing of GM wheat at Rothamsted.

Chris Young from group said: "The Real Bread Campaign finds ways to make bread better for us, better for our communities and better for the planet. We cannot see how GM technology fits with any of these aims."

In their open letter scientists at Rothamsted outlined a hope that GM wheat could one day become a common food source and invited campaigners for a discussion.

They said: "If our wheat proves to be beneficial we want it to be available to farmers around the world at minimum cost.

“You have described genetically modified crops as ‘not properly tested.’

“Yet when tests are carried out you are planning to destroy them before any useful information can be obtained.

“We do not see how preventing the acquisition of knowledge is a defensible position in an age of reason.”

Mr Miles added: “I am not against the science behind it but research like this should be conducted in a controlled environment.

“If this experiment works we don’t know if aphids will then begin attacking other crops, we don’t know how other predators will react, we don’t know the affect this could have if introduced into the food chain.

"In the late 1990’s a GM potato crop was injected with the genes of a snowdrop to detract aphids.

"The crop was fed to laboratory rats that later developed intestinal damage and signs indicating the early stages of cancer.

"We should learn from the lessons of the past, the evidence shows us that GM crops do not work.”