The UK Government has given Rothamsted Research consent to plant highly experimental GM wheat in an open field near St Albans, GMWatch reported last Wednesday.
GM Freeze, which led the opposition to the trial, joined by GMWatch and other organisations, commented in an email to supporters, “Apparently developed for those who are unable to use a toaster properly, the ‘low acrylamide’ wheat has altered DNA that reduces the production of a chemical that may cause cancer if consumed in large quantities, but is associated with burnt toast rather than sensibly prepared wheat products. Even then, Cancer Research UK [CRUK] says that ‘eating burnt food does not cause cancer’.”
Interestingly, CRUK, the world’s leading independent cancer charity, goes as far as to describe the idea that acrylamide or burnt food causes cancer as a “food myth”. “Studies in people have not shown that eating more foods higher in acrylamide increases cancer risk,” they explain, suggesting the focus should be on a healthy balanced diet, which has been shown to reduce cancer risk, rather than obsessing over burnt toast.
But even if people are worried about the amino acid asparagine getting converted into acrylamide when foods are cooked at too-high temperatures, there is no need for wheat to be gene edited to contain less asparagine, because low-asparagine non-GM wheat varieties have long been available to farmers. Asparagine can also be lowered in wheat by avoiding the growing conditions and environmental stresses associated with intensive farming.
Commenting on the government’s go-ahead for the open field trial, GM Freeze director Liz O’Neill said:
“It’s hard to understand the thinking that leads GM developers to decide that mutilating the DNA of a staple food crop is a more effective response to the disputed dangers of burnt toast than teaching people how to use a toaster properly.
“The damage caused to the genome of these plants goes way beyond the intended traits. The genetic mutations are not stable but are already causing negative impacts on germination and changes in seed size.
“This highly experimental wheat is a risk to farmers and the food chain yet it will be grown in an open field where containment can never be guaranteed. The UK Government needs to listen to its citizens and put in place proper safeguards for all forms of genetic engineering.”
The UK government, via the public funding body the BBSRC, has already spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayer money on failed GM wheat research.
Now it looks set to pursue another white elephant, involving a risky GM crop promoted as the “solution” to an uncertain problem, which in any case is caused by bad practices in agriculture and cooking.
GM wheat trials have a bad record when it comes to contaminating the non-GM wheat supply, rocking commercial wheat markets in the process.