GeneWatch UK PR: GM wheat trial failure highlights poor GM success rate, need to invest in other R and D

Embargo:  Thursday 25th June 14:00

GeneWatch UK today responded to Rothamsted Research's admission that its field trial of GM wheat failed to repel aphids (1) by highlighting the shocking waste of taxpayers' money used to promote GM.

"With GM crops it's always jam tomorrow and never jam today" said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK, "We have had more than 30 years' of promises of useful traits but they have not been delivered, despite massive promotion of GM technology by governments and PR companies. There is a big opportunity cost because billions in R&D funding could have been spent in better ways. GM has consistently been shown to be a distraction away from developing real solutions to real problems". 

In reality, GM has delivered just two traits; is grown on only around 3 percent of global farmland; and used in only four crops; the products of which mostly go to animal feed and biofuels. The vast majority of GM crops, about 85 percent of land area grown, contain the Roundup Ready trait patented by Monsanto (2). They are now failing in the field due to the growth of superweeds resistant to the weedkiller RoundUp which is blanket sprayed on these GM plants (3). RoundUp Ready GM crops cause well-documented harm to wildlife, including a 90 percent crash in the Monarch butterfly population in the USA over the past 20 years (4) and RoundUp was recently declared a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organisation's cancer agency (5). The next generation of GM crops are tolerant to more weedkillers, such as 2,4-D and dicamba, in an attempt to overcome the superweeds problem (6).

More than 19,000 field trials of other traits have been conducted in the USA, but new traits have not been delivered (7). 

RoundUp Ready maize produced by Syngenta is the only GM crop in the pipeline for commercial growing in the EU that would be suitable for growing in Britain (8).

"We must now recognise that GM has had its chance and failed to deliver" said Dr Wallace. "We must move on to an agricultural system that does work and produces safe food that consumers want and that doesn't damage the environment; and our research systems need to now move away from their stubborn obsession with GM and instead provide what the public wants and the environment needs." 

GeneWatch UK has previously highlighted the high failure rate of experimental GM crops (9) and the collaboration between government-funded scientists, ministers and industry on a PR strategy to try to rehabilitate GM crops in Britain and weaken regulations (10). The industry's PR strategy is based on using public money to get academic scientists to promote promises of future GM crops, which provide magical solutions to complex problems, as a distraction from the actual problems experienced by farmers growing GM crops on the ground today.

For further information contact:

Dr Helen Wallace: 07903-311584 (mobile).

Notes for Editors

(1)    Rothamsted Research Press Release. Scientists disappointed at results from GM wheat field trial; Q&A for Bruce et al. study: The first crop plant genetically engineered to release an insect pheromone for defence - EMBARGO Thursday 25 June 14:00h BST.

(2)    The remaining 15 percent is Bt (insect resistant) cotton.

(3)    'Superweeds' Sprout Farmland Controversy Over GMOs. 30th September 2014. .

(4)    Monarchs in Peril: Herbicide-Resistant Crops and the Decline of Monarch Butterflies in North America. Center for Food Safety. 5th February 2015. ; Pleasants J M and Oberhauser K S (2013) Milkweed loss in agricultural fields because of herbicide use: effect on the monarch butterfly population, Insect Conservation and Diversity, Volume 6, Issue 2, pages 135-144. ; Flockhart, D. T. T., Pichancourt, J.-B., Norris, D. R., & Martin, T. G. (2014). Unravelling the annual cycle in a migratory animal: breeding-season habitat loss drives population declines of monarch butterflies. Journal of Animal Ecology. Volume 84, Issue 1, pages 155-165, January 2015.

(5)    IARC Monographs Volume 112: evaluation of five organophosphate insecticides and herbicides. 20 March 2015.

(6)    GeneWatch UK PR: Second generation of GM crops resistant to more toxic weedkillers expose industry's diversionary PR strategy. 30th August 2013.[cid]=492860&als[itemid]=573169 ; GeneWatch UK PR: Second-generation GM crops: an environmental disaster. 16th October 2014.[cid]=492860&als[itemid]=575242 ; GeneWatch UK PR: EU approval of new GM crop for import condemned for increasing use of toxic weedkiller. 25th April 2015.[cid]=492860&als[itemid]=575675 .

(7)    There have been more than 19,000 field trials in the USA for novel traits but only herbicide tolerance and Bt (insect resistance) have been delivered. Source: (graph of "phenotype category"). 7,458 HT (herbicide tolerant) + 5,213 IR (insect resistant, Bt) = 12,671 trials for the main traits. The others add up to: 19,196 trials for other traits.

(8)    Bt crops are not suitable for growing in Britain as the target pests are not a problem here. GM crops cultivation pipeline. Bund. ; GeneWatch UK PR: Committee spreads misinformation about GM crops to be grown in England. 1st July 2014.[cid]=492860&als[itemid]=574657

(9)    GeneWatch UK PR: Taxpayers' R&D spend needs more accountability: stop wasting it on PR for GM crops. 23rd November 2012.[cid]=492860&als[itemid]=571537

(10) GeneWatch UK and GM Freeze Press Release: Monsanto meets ministers to push return of GM crops to Britain 25th October 2012.[cid]=492860&als[itemid]=571449 ; GeneWatch UK PR: UK Government and GM industry collusion exposed. 6th May 2014.[cid]=492860&als[itemid]=574495

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