Campaign group GM Freeze cites the failure of Rothamsted Research’s genetically modified (GM) wheat field trial, published in the journal Scientific Reports this week, as clear evidence of the folly of focusing public resources on the development and promotion of GM crops.
Unimpressed by the official description of the results as “disappointing”, the UK’s umbrella campaign on GM food and farming condemned the waste of over £1 million of public funding on a trial confirming the simple fact that when GM tries to outwit nature, nature adapts in response.
The researchers attempted to prove that genetically engineering wheat to mimic an aphid distress signal would deter the pests, reduce pesticide use and, in turn, cut farmers’ costs and environmental impact. In the field, however, it didn’t work because the aphids stopped responding to the alarm pheromone. Liz O’Neill, Director of GM Freeze, is unsurprised.
“A basic understanding of evolution tell us that GM offers, at best, a sticking-plaster approach to complex and evolving problems. We know that pests are very good at adapting to their environment but, like the aphids in the trial, those promoting GM as the first-choice solution to our food and farming needs stopped listening to nature’s alarm signals as soon as they became inconvenient.
“Despite more than 40,000 trials the world has only produced two kinds of commercially viable GM crops: herbicide tolerant crops designed to withstand regular spraying with powerful weed killers and Bt crops which have a pesticide built in. Their use has caused an epidemic of herbicide-resistant superweeds and the emergence of Bt resistant pests, leading the GM companies into a chemical arms race against nature as they build in tolerance of ever more powerful herbicides.”
Lincolnshire Farmer Peter Lundgren was a vocal opponent at the time of the trials:
“Farmers know that there are no quick fixes in pest control so must not be fooled by the GM industry’s increasingly desperate attempts to persuade them that GM can deliver. The truth is that nature is just too complex for the simplistic thinking behind GM. Meanwhile, we are crying out for investment in proven solutions like integrated pest management, companion cropping, conventional plant breeding, and novel chemistry. It’s time to stop throwing good money after bad and put our publicly funded scientists to work on solutions that will give growers effective and financially viable options to control pests and the diseases they carry.”
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