A U.K.-based agricultural research organization recently threw away nearly $5 million on a failed field trial of experimental, genetically-modified (GM) wheat. Rothamsted Research says it is “disappointed” that the transgenic crop, known as “whiffy wheat,” utterly failed to deter aphids, succumbing to the same amount of insect damage as real wheat.
The company is blaming the controversial nature of the field trial for its high costs; most of the money was spent building elaborate fencing and installing high-tech security systems to keep people from destroying the “Frankencrops.” Most Brits, it turns out, not to mention Europeans and Americans, are vehemently opposed to GMOs, especially when they aren’t properly labeled.
Now that a major research group has flushed away such a large sum of money on an imitation crop that simply doesn’t work, some groups are calling for an end to GMO research altogether. The advocacy group GM Freeze, for example, referred to the experiment as “folly,” noting that it was a complete waste of money that could have been put towards something actually useful rather than just another corrupt attempt at bio-piracy.
The group GeneWatch UK expressed similar sentiments, telling the media that GMOs almost always turn out to be nothing but empty promises that are never fulfilled. Wild claims of improved crop yields and reduced pesticide use often help them gain commercial approval, only to have the opposite come true in the real world.
“With GM crops, it’s always jam tomorrow and never jam today,” stated Helen Wallace, director of GeneWatch UK, as quoted by The Independent. “We have had more than 30 years of promises and useful traits but they have not been delivered, despite massive promotion of GM technology by governments and PR agencies.”
UK taxpayers forced to partially fund failed GM wheat trial
According to reports, the experimental GM wheat was engineered with an artificial gene for a substance known as beta-farnesene, which is what aphids naturally secrete as a pheromone to warn other aphids of an impending threat. The idea was to implant this gene into wheat so the crop could act like an aphid, scaring off real aphids and protecting the plant.
However, just like all other artificial GM trials, the wheat’s release of beta-farnesene ultimately failed to work; aphids in the field apparently grew resistance to the substance and ignored it. This is exactly what occurs with chemical pesticides, which initially ward off pests until eventually pests grow resistant to it or mutate.
If the money for the trial had come from private investors, it would be one thing. However, a significant portion of the funding came from the public purse, representing an absolute misuse of this scarce financial resource.
“The waste of over £1m of public funding on a trial confirms the simple fact that when GM tries to outwit nature, nature adapts in response,” stated GM Freeze Director Liz O’Neill.
Tony Juniper, a British campaigner, environmentalist, sustainability adviser and former director of Friends of the Earth also commented to BBC News about the failure of GM technologies. The power struggle to control the food supply through patented seed traits is wearing thin, and the people have made it clear what they think about the issue.
“I still believe the industry is finding it hard to prove a role for itself and that conversations going on around more integrated approaches to farming — that rely less on technological ‘silver bullets’ — have more potential than the pursuit of GM methods, that often miss the point as to what the actual problem is,” he’s quoted as saying by RT.com
“Then there are the issues about who controls the technology, via patents, contracts and royalty payments, and how the widespread uptake of GM farming could have profound impacts in terms of how power is distributed across the food system.”
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