Three senior scientists made impassioned appeals yesterday to anti-GM campaigners not to destroy a field trial of GM wheat that is the culmination of several years' work.
The trial involves a wheat strain modified to be resistant to aphid pests, but an ad hoc group of activists, assembled in a campaign called Take The Flour Back, has said it will march to the trial site this Sunday and attempt to destroy the young crops.
The activists said the trial, at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, Hertforshire, is a threat to agriculture because pollen from the GM wheat could contaminate non-GM plants outside the trial boundary. They believe GM is, in general, a dangerous and inappropriate technology for agriculture. But the scientists say cross contamination from the site is virtually impossible and that the new strain of wheat they are producing, besides being a boost to food security in an ever-hungrier world, has significant environmental benefits because it will mean the use of pesticides is lessened considerably.
At Rothamsted yesterday, three of the leading figures in the project spoke at length of their work and appealed to the protesters not to destroy it, saying they would be at the site on Sunday and would be happy to talk to the activists and answer their questions. "Call off your plans to destroy our experiment and come on the day and talk to us, but don't come in a mindset of destruction," Dr Gia Aradottir said. "This is a sustainable method that would reduce the carbon footprint for agriculture, if we don't need to be driving tractors spraying pesticides. Surely that's a good thing for environment?"
Professor Johnathan Napier said: "I would ask the protesters what their solutions are to the problem of food security with the growth of the human population... how are we going to feed nine billion people?"
The demonstrators plan to march to the trial site on Sunday for "a decontamination" of the site, a spokesman said.