This Sunday, exasperated farmers and citizens will travel to a field near Harpenden to uproot a crop of genetically modified wheat. They have been denounced in purple prose by pro-GM commentators, as science haters, “Nazi book burners” and vandals. But what else can concerned citizens do when the company conducting the GM wheat trial, Rothamsted Research, presses on recklessly with an open field experiment that has the potential to contaminate neighbouring farmers’ crops and trigger unpredictable impacts on other species?
Recent Swiss research shows that some GM wheat varieties can cross-pollinate with crops more than 2.75km away, and that in the field, they cross-pollinate six times more than conventional varieties. Yet in contamination incidents involving long-grain rice in the US and flax in Canada, GM companies refused to accept liability.
In Europe, despite the US biotech industry’s attempts to ram GM down our gullets, applications for open-field trials of the Harpenden type have been steadily falling since 2009. Why? Consumers consistently reject genetically modified food. This is why Carrefour, the world’s second largest supermarket chain, now labels its own-brand meat and dairy as GM animal feed-free, (“Nourri sans OGM”), to give its customers the field-to-fork guarantee they so clearly desire.
Joanna Blythman is the author of ‘What to Eat: Food that’s good for your health, pocket and plate’ (Fourth Estate)
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