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SCIENCE & POLICY: Alliance of UK environmentalists questions government funding for GM wheat research



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:   ALLIANCE OF ENVIRONMENTALISTS QUESTIONS GOVERNMENT FUNDING FOR GM RESEARCH

SOURCE:  Farming, UK

AUTHOR:  

URL:     http://www.farming.co.uk/news/article/8448

DATE:    04.06.2013

SUMMARY: "a coalition of environmental and sustainable food organisations released a joint statement questioning the UK?s allocation of research funding, specifically public funding for a trial of genetically modified wheat at Rothamsted Research Institute that caused massive controversy last spring. The controversial trial of GM wheat, modified to repel aphids by releasing an ?alarm signal? to attract predatory wasps, is set to undergo a second trial in autumn 2013. [...] The alliance, made up of 27 individual groups, called on the government to justify its research spending on genetic modification. They said this is imprudent at a time when authorisation of GM crops has ground to a halt in Europe and more sustainable integrated pest management strategies have been proven to be effective."

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ALLIANCE OF ENVIRONMENTALISTS QUESTIONS GOVERNMENT FUNDING FOR GM RESEARCH

On Monday (3rd June), a coalition of environmental and sustainable food organisations released a joint statement questioning the UK?s allocation of research funding, specifically public funding for a trial of genetically modified wheat at Rothamsted Research Institute that caused massive controversy last spring.

The controversial trial of GM wheat, modified to repel aphids by releasing an ?alarm signal? to attract predatory wasps, is set to undergo a second trial in autumn 2013. When it was first trialled last year, the research programme proved so divisive that a debate was held on BBC Newsnight between Rothamsted scientists and opponents from protest group Take the Flour Back.

The alliance, made up of 27 individual groups, called on the government to justify its research spending on genetic modification. They said this is imprudent at a time when authorisation of GM crops has ground to a halt in Europe and more sustainable integrated pest management strategies have been proven to be effective.

The organisations behind the joint statement include the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union, Friends of the Earth, anti-poverty charity War on Want, and the Real Bread Campaign. In their statement, the groups pointed out that no market currently exists for the wheat being grown at Rothamsted and urged decision makers to learn from issues of contamination from GM wheat trials that are causing concern for growers in the United States.

GM wheat last trialled eight years ago in the United States was discovered in a field of conventional wheat last week. The wheat, developed by agribusiness Monsanto, was abandoned after several years of trials due to a lack of demand. The discovery has prompted widespread concern amongst importers and exporters alike, with a number of wheat buying states introducing testing programmes and suspensions on US wheat imports over the past week.

On Monday, the coalition said, ?there has been no public discussion about the necessity or appropriateness of such research.? In their statement, the groups suggested stakeholders including farmers and consumers are generally opposed to the project, which they condemned as ?an inexcusably profligate use of resources,? and added that ?the aims of the research are not clear? Rothamsted Research has given several conflicting rationales.?

The research into GM ?Whiffy Wheat? has cost an estimated £1.28 million in public money, allocated by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The groups claimed that it has not been made clear who will benefit from the research, if the wheat is commercially developed.

Sceptics call for government review

The alliance called on the UK Government to undertake a review of the way in which research decisions are made in the UK, and outlined a number of issues of key concern and made recommendations, including:

- Making sure research is justifiable, transparent and subject to public consultation.

- Requiring applicants to submit impact assessments that are subject to public consultation.

- Increasing transparency and preventing confidential business information issues from concealing information the public has a right to know.

- Undertaking public deliberations to provide a context for discussing individual research projects.

- Providing open public access to decisions on research.

Although Rothamsted staff managed to deflect initial opposition to their project in 2012, in part by emphasising that the research was publicly funded, Business Secretary Jo Swinson revealed that the GM traits in the wheat being trialled at Rothamsted have already been patented by private companies. Swinson was responding to Parliamentary questions by Oldham MP Michael Meacher.

Finally, the joint statement showed that long-term research (including a large amount from Rothamsted) has shown that encouraging natural predators and parasites, such as parasitic wasps, ladybirds, lacewings, hoverflies, spiders and beetles, can keep aphid populations low, and that this approach carries other co-benefits. Managing wild flower-rich field margins, hedgerows and beetle banks can also enhance the landscape, provide food and shelter for important pollinator species and farmland birds, prevent of soil erosion and boost carbon storage, according to the sceptics.

The alliance warned that current research spending has seen the investment of ?more public money into GM solutions that may not work and that will bring fewer co-benefits and synergies.? They pointed out that the project runs contrary to both Rothamsted?s historical achievements in bringing together different disciplines (such as with the push-pull system of weed control) and French public spending, through agricultural research institute INRA, which has made a commitment to prioritising agroecological research.

The groups concluded, ?The decisions that are being made largely focus on technologies that can be patented and exploited by private companies in future, even though those responsible deny that they intend to patent. This means that knowledge-based solutions, such as creating habitats on farm for aphid predators and parasites, are sidelined, marginalised and frequently ignored.?

In response to their claims, a spokesperson for Rothamsted told Farming Online that the GM research has been ?open and transparent,? and that information on the project is available from the Rothamsted website. The spokesperson continued, ?In fact, we recently supplied GM freeze with further information they requested to address the specific points they have made [here]. Our position has not changed, we are happy to speak to any individuals or groups about our experiment to investigate novel methods for non-toxic aphid control.? Rothamsted maintains that its project is BBSRC sponsored and not being conducted for commercial gain.

However, Pete Riley of GM Freeze reiterated, ?There is currently no GM wheat grown commercially anywhere on the planet, and we feel Rothamsted and the BBSRC need to explain why this project took priority over other non-GM agriculture research projects that could be have delivered benefits more quickly while commanding public support.?



                                  PART 2

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   ALLIANCE STATEMENT ON UK GM WHEAT TRIAL

SOURCE:  GM Freeze, UK

AUTHOR:  

URL:     http://www.gmfreeze.org/gmwheatnothanks/alliane-statement-uk-gm-wheat-trial/

DATE:    03.06.2013

SUMMARY: "The initial GM wheat experiment is Spring sown, but it is widely accepted that aphid infestation is not a significant problem in the UK for this crop, and the costs of dealing with any significant aphid presence are very low. It is therefore hard to justify the expenditure of UK taxpayers? money when no benefits will be gained by UK farmers. Furthermore the market for GM wheat is likely to be small or non-existent given the long-term bans on GM ingredients for human food by UK and EU retailers and food manufacturers. The presence of GM wheat in the supply chain would immediately create unnecessary problems and costs in order to ensure a non-GM choice for consumers is maintained and the law upheld."

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ALLIANCE STATEMENT ON UK GM WHEAT TRIAL

We the undersigned question the value and validity of the expenditure of taxpayers? money on GM wheat experiments at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire because:

- There has been no public discussion about the necessity or appropriateness of such research.

- There is a lack of consensus among stakeholders, such as farmers and citizens, as to the need and value of this project.

- The aims of the research are not clear, and Rothamsted Research has given several conflicting rationales.

- The need for the outdoor experiments has not been established.

- Viable non-GM options for aphid control have been demonstrated and are ignored by this research.

- The research does not build on previous taxpayer funded work, which in the current climate is an inexcusably profligate use of resources.

- There is a lack of information and accountability about the benefits accruing from any patents or intellectual property rights associated with this research.

- There is no cost-benefit analysis, or even clarity, about who will benefit from this research if it is commercially developed.

We call upon the UK Government to undertake a review of the way in which research decisions are made in the UK, with particular reference to key issues including:

- Justification of the need for the research should be open, transparent and subject to public consultation.

- Applicants should be required to submit impact assessments that are subject to public consultation.

- Increasing transparency and preventing confidential business information issues from concealing information the public has a right to know.

- Undertaking public deliberations to provide a context for discussing individual research projects.

- Providing open public access to decisions on research.

Signed by:

Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, Citizens Concerned About GM, Community Food Growers Network, Earth Open Source, Econexus, Ethical Consumer, Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland, The Gaia Foundation, Genetic Engineering Network, GM Free Cymru, GM Free Devon, GM Free Dorset, GM Free Scotland, GM Free Somerset, GM Free Manchester, GM Freeze, GM Watch, Hedon Against GM, Institute of Science and Society, The Kindling Trust, Neil?s Yard Remedies, North Hertfordshire and Stevenage Green Party, NYR Natural News, Organiclea, Real Bread Campaign, War on Want, World Family

Background - The Rothamsted GM trial

A second GM Spring wheat trial will be grown at Rothamsted Research, Hertfordshire, in 2013. The genetic modifications involved are designed to cause wheat plants to produce an alarm pheromone that is produced by aphids when being attacked by predators and parasites and stimulates aphids to flee the crop. Rothamsted Research is a publicly funded institute. Funding for the GM wheat project (£1.28 million) came from another public body ? the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Questions about the efficacy of the GM approach remain unanswered, particularly in relation to:

The impacts of displacing aphids from GM crops to neighbouring non-GM crops.

The habituation of aphid populations to the GM hormones so they cease to respond to it.

The impacts on predator populations in the surrounding ecosystems and their interactions with aphid populations.

Rothamsted has applied to extend the current trial to include an Autumn planting of the same GM wheat. If approved by Defra the trial will be terminated in mid-Winter before any formation of grain has taken place.

The scientific objectives have not been made clear in either trial.

Lack of need

The initial GM wheat experiment is Spring sown, but it is widely accepted that aphid infestation is not a significant problem in the UK for this crop, and the costs of dealing with any significant aphid presence are very low. It is therefore hard to justify the expenditure of UK taxpayers? money when no benefits will be gained by UK farmers.

Furthermore the market for GM wheat is likely to be small or non-existent given the long-term bans on GM ingredients for human food by UK and EU retailers and food manufacturers. The presence of GM wheat in the supply chain would immediately create unnecessary problems and costs in order to ensure a non-GM choice for consumers is maintained and the law upheld.

The application to extend the consent to cover an Autumn sown crop in 2013 does not include a scientific justification for the additional release of GM wheat. The application states, ?This is a research trial to assess any change in behaviour of aphids, their parasitoids or predators that result from the modified volatiles given off by these GM plants.?

This is identical to the reason given on the original application, and without further explanation from the applicants it is difficult to see why the extension is required unless data gathered so far from the first Spring crop are insufficient for Rothamsted?s purposes. Once again there is a lack of clarity and transparency.

Viable options for tackling aphids in cereals already exist

Previously published long-term research, which included a substantial input from Rothamsted Research, has shown that aphid populations in cereal crops can be kept below the level at which they cause economic damage to the crop by using/encouraging native predators and parasites, such as parasitic wasps, ladybirds, lacewings, hoverflies, spiders and beetles.

The key to the success of this biological control strategy is to maintain populations of parasites and predators in and around arable fields so if aphids do invade the crops the controls are there ready and waiting. To ensure this happens arable fields need to be managed differently to include wild flower-rich field margins, hedgerows and beetle banks. These habitats also provide other important benefits: landscape enhancement; food, shelter and breeding sites for pollinators, farmland birds and mammals; prevention of soil erosion and carbon storage.

As a consequence of the focus on GM wheat this valuable research is in danger of being ignored and the benefits lost. Rothamsted Research, the Research Councils and Defra need to explain to the public why this is so and why they prefer to invest more public money into GM solutions that may not work and that will bring fewer co-benefits and synergies.

In addition there is a wealth of knowledge regarding agronomic techniques that can reduce aphid presence on wheat, such as longer rotations and different sowing times.

Loss of Rothamsted?s traditional research base

Throughout Rothamsted?s long history a broad research base has enabled the institution to develop a range of solutions to the many challenges of growing food profitably and sustainably, often by bringing different disciplines together. Examples include the push-pull system developed to control weeds and pests in East African maize crops and biological control of aphids in northern cereal crops (see below). We are concerned that the current emphasis on GM crops and genetics will lead to erosion of the investment in research into agroecological-based solutions. In contrast the French public agricultural research institute (INRA) has committed to prioritise agroecological research.

We call upon the Board and management of Rothamsted Research to prevent this from happening and to make their priorities and expenditure of public money as transparent and accessible as possible.

Democratic deficit

The bodies responsible for decisions about publicly-funded GM research strategies operate in a way that makes it is very hard for concerned citizens to influence the direction of research and funding. The introduction of GM into the food chain and environment has already been rejected by people across the whole of Europe, hence the ongoing bans on GM ingredients in food by supermarkets and food manufacturers.

The decisions to fund GM crops research, such as the Rothamsted GM wheat trials, are made by a small body of people who, in the absence of public scrutiny, has agreed that hypothetically GM might be good for the economy despite the lack of evidence that GM crops have brought sustained environmental or socio-economic benefits anywhere they have been grown.

The decisions that are being made largely focus on technologies that can be patented and exploited by private companies in future, even though those responsible deny that they intend to patent. This means that knowledge-based solutions, such as creating habitats on farm for aphid predators and parasites, are sidelined, marginalised and frequently ignored.

The ownership and future commercialisation of the GM wheat has not been transparently addressed by Rothamsted Research. Both gene constructs in the GM wheat are already patented in the US and elsewhere, but the intentions regarding the commercial development and future development of commercial varieties has not been publicly stated. UK public plant breeding institutions, where such development could have taken place, were privatised more than two decades ago.

It therefore is essential that Rothamsted Research and the BBSRC make a clear and unequivocal statement as to who will be responsible for the commercial development of the GM wheat (if it is proved to be viable) and who will profit from its sale and the ownership of any patents. In addition information about any involvement of private sector partners and sponsors at any stage should immediately be placed in the public domain. This information is very important in relation to who would be liable should any harm arise from the release of the GM wheat into the environment or food chain.

We therefore conclude that the Rothamsted Research GM wheat experiments are diverting money that could be used to apply existing knowledge-based solutions to aphid control at farm level. We call upon Rothamsted Research, the BBSRC, DEFRA and BIS to openly and transparently address the issues we have raised.



                                  PART 3

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   JOINT STATEMENT CHALLENGES BASIS FOR GM WHEAT TRIALS

SOURCE:  GM Freeze, UK

AUTHOR:  Press Release

URL:     http://www.gmfreeze.org/news-releases/222/

DATE:    03.06.2013

SUMMARY: "An alliance of 27 organisations, including the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, Neil?s Yard Remedies, the Real Bread Campaign and War on Want, today issued a statement challenging Rothamsted Research, the Government and funding bodies to be more open and transparent about the aims of the current GM wheat trials and to justify the expenditure of public money when alternative aphid control methods in wheat are demonstrated to be effective."

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JOINT STATEMENT CHALLENGES BASIS FOR GM WHEAT TRIALS

An alliance of 27 organisations, including the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, Neil?s Yard Remedies, the Real Bread Campaign and War on Want, today issued a statement challenging Rothamsted Research, the Government and funding bodies to be more open and transparent about the aims of the current GM wheat trials and to justify the expenditure of public money when alternative aphid control methods in wheat are demonstrated to be effective. [1]

The joint statement raises a number of crucial issues including:

- The lack of public discussion about the necessity or appropriateness of such research.

- The lack of consensus among stakeholders, such as farmers and citizens, as to the need and value of this project.

- The lack of clarity about the aims of the research are not clear.

- The failure to justify a need for outdoor experiments at this stage.

- Why viable non-GM options for aphid control have been ignored and this work fails to build on previous taxpayer-funded work.

- The lack of information and accountability about the benefits accruing from any patents or intellectual property rights associated with this research.

- The lack of cost-benefit analysis, or even clarity, about who will benefit from this research if it is commercially developed.

The alliance also criticises the process for deciding priorities and allocation of funding for agricultural research in the UK.

In September 2011 Defra authorised Rothamsted?s GM wheat trial to test two versions of GM wheat genetically modified to emit aphid repelling pheromones in Spring 2012 and 2013. [2] An application to release the same GM wheat in Autumn 2013 is currently being considered by DEFRA. [3] In addition Defra Rothamsted asked Defra for authorisation to increase the permitted sowing rate for the Spring crops from 350 to 500 seeds per square metre following the poor establishment of the crop in 2012. The change in the consent was approved in March 2013. [4] The overall cost of developing the GM wheat and the trials has so far used £1.28 million of taxpayers? money in the form of grants from the BBSRC. [5]

Answers to Parliamentary Questions recently asked by Michael Meacher MP reveal that the GM traits in the wheat are already patented by private companies. [6]

The recent discovery of GM contamination of wheat plants growing on an Oregon farm focuses attention on preventing contamination of non-GM and organic wheat, including if GM wheat is ever commercialised in the EU.

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

?From the information currently available the scientific objectives if these GM trials are not at all clear, and the decision to publicly fund the project was not made in an open or transparent manner. There is currently no GM wheat grown commercially anywhere on the planet, and we feel Rothamsted and the BBSRC need to explain why this project took priority over other non-GM agriculture research projects that could be have delivered benefits more quickly while commanding public support.?

Lawrence Woodward of Citizens Concerned about GM added:

?One of the most frustrating aspects of the GM wheat project is that a large body of research on creating farm environments that attract natural predators and parasites of aphids into crops has been ignored. If there was funding to ensure these were widely established on the UK?s arable farmers there would many other benefits for farmland birds and mammals, pollinating insects, landscape and for increasing soil organic matter. The public needs better and more transparent explanations as to where their money is being spent, why and who will benefit in the long term if the GM wheat is ever commercialised.?

Notes

[1] GM Freeze and 26 other organisations, 3 June 2013. ?Statement on GM Wheat Trial at Rothamsted Research?

http://www.gmfreeze.org/gmwheatnothanks/alliane-statement-uk-gm-wheat-trial/

[2] Defra, 15 September 2011. Consent 11/R8/01

http://archive.defra.gov.uk/environment/quality/gm/regulation/registers/consents/index.htm

[3] Defra, undated. Application from Rothamsted Research for a variation to its consent for a trial of genetically modified wheat

https://www.gov.uk/genetically-modified-organisms-applications-and-consents#applications

[4] Defra, 16 March 2013. 11/R8/01: Consent variation (16 March 2013)

https://www.gov.uk/genetically-modified-organisms-applications-and-consents#applications

[5] GM Freeze, 1 May 2013. Objecting to Rothamsted?s GM Winter Wheat Application

http://www.gmfreeze.org/publications/briefings/153/

[6] Hansard, 17 April 2013. HC Deb, 17 April 2013, c489W

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm130417/text/130417w0005.htm#130417w0005.htm_wqn0

and

Hansard, 17 April 2013. HC Deb, 17 April 2013, c490W

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm130417/text/130417w0005.htm#130417w0005.htm_wqn1