Who they are
First up, some background. Rothamsted Research is one of the world’s oldest agricultural research stations. They have four main areas of research, one of which is “20:20 Wheat” aka how to increase wheat productivity to yield 20 tonnes per hectare in 20 years (compared to a maximum right now of about 10t/ha). This is really important, because the UK is one of the world’s lead producers of wheat (in that we’re very good at producing high yielding fields, even if we don’t have many of those fields) and the world as a whole is currently miles away from reaching our target of doubling food production by 2050.
What they’re doing
Scientists at Rothamsted are trialling a variety of GM wheat that produces a pheromone that aphids don’t like. Aphids eat wheat, and reduce crop yields. If you can stop them from going near the wheat, then the yields should be higher. As a pre-emptive strike, I’m going to point out that the gene added to the wheat occurs naturally in many species of plant. It is not, as has been said, a ‘cow gene’, though the particular variant being used is more akin to an animal gene than a plant gene because this makes it easier to control its expression.
A group called Take the flour back are not very happy about this. They are planning a ‘decontamination’ aka trampling, setting fire to or otherwise destroying the wheat plots at May 27th. Amongst their reasons for doing this are the fact that GM crops are untrialled. To which the obvious solution is to destroy field trials… Apparently. I’ll get back to you once I’ve figured out how that one works.
Anyway, last week the Rothamsted scientists wrote an open letter to the TtFB guys asking them to actually come and look around and engage in some dialogue about their issues. It’s a good letter. I’m impressed. And today Sense about Science have launched a petition to allow the every day people to make the point that the views of the minority do not represent the rest of us, and that actually we are quite keen for vital GM research of this ilk to continue. I’ve signed it: You should sign it too.