Anti-GM wheat activists halted by police

Protestors have been prevented by police from entering a research site in Hertfordshire where a trial of genetically modified (GM) wheat is taking place.

Scientists at the research site are combining modern genetic engineering with their knowledge of natural plant defences to test whether wheat that can repel aphid attacks works in the field. 

The Take the Flour Back group planned to ‘decontaminate’ the Rothamsted Research Centre by ripping up the crops this weekend, but this was averted by police yesterday (27 May), who had been ordered to ban protestors from entering the site. The order was successfully granted to St Albans District Council after approval from the home secretary, Theresa May.

Police said around 200 protestors were present at the site and two men were arrested for trespassing in the banned area, where a controlled GM wheat experiment is taking place in a bid to reduce pesticide use. The trespassers are now being questioned at a Hertfordshire police station.

Take the Flour Back reported more than 400 growers, bakers and families from across England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France and Belgium attended the protest, and "walked calmly towards the site, before being stopped by police lines," the protest group said in a statement.

Kate Bell from Take the Flour Back, said: “In the past, kids, grannies, and everyone in between has decontaminated GM trial sites together. Here at the beginning of a new resistance to this obsolete technology, we see GM hidden behind a fortress. We wanted to do the responsible thing and remove the threat of GM contamination, sadly it wasn’t possible to do that effectively today. However, we stand arm in arm with farmers and growers from around the world, who are prepared to risk their freedom to stop the imposition of GM crops.”

British Baker reported of a further break-in, which occurred last Sunday (20 May), where an intruder caused “significant, random property damage, but failed to disrupt the experiment in this attack,” as stated by the Research Centre in an official statement.

Scientists at the research site are combining modern genetic engineering with their knowledge of natural plant defences to test whether wheat that can repel aphid attacks works in the field.

A statement published by the Rothamsted Research Centre yesterday, said: “We are pleased that the protest in Rothamsted Park this afternoon has been peaceful and that both supporters and opponents had the chance to make their voices heard. The police and security response was necessary to prevent the destruction of our work and, with the constant threats to "decontaminate our experiment as well as the vandalism last weekend, it was important to ensure a safe afternoon for our staff, visitors and protestors alike.

"We hope we can now proceed with this BBSRC-funded project without any further threats to find some answers to the question of reducing the use of harmful insecticides in wheat crops, benefitting future generations and the environment. Rothamsted Research remains committed to engaging people with a diversity of views around our work and is still willing to engage in a discussion with people about any issues around our work."

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