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27 May 2012, 17:01
Protestors against genetically modified wheat were outnumbered by police at a demonstration at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, Herts on Sunday
A campaign group called 'Take the Flour Back' held a day of action to show their opposition to the scientists' trial of GM wheat.at the site.
While there were only around 150 protestors, scores of police, some on horse back, lined fields belonging to the research centre to prevent the crops being damaged.
Last week the Home Secretary agreed to an application from St Albans council under the Public Order Act that led to footpaths being closed on the grounds that the demonstration may result in significant damage to the land and buildings, which are of historical and scientific importance.
The protestors claim open-air experiments could lead to cross-contamination of wild and domestic plants through wind-borne pollen, as well as affecting neighbouring farms. Placards included the message: "You can't put an injunction on cross-contamination," "GM feeds big b not hungry people" and "No to Frankenstein."
Dr Gia Aradottir of Rothamsted said: "This is just one of the many experiments we have at Rothamsted. We are most worried about the long-term experiment getting damaged, as this is 150 years of data that cannot be replaced. Everything here is valuable and we hope that people respect this."
Around 4,000 people, including high profile celebrities, MPs, farmers and scientists, have signed a petition urging the protestors not to destroy the GM wheat trial.
The petition, run by Sense About Science, includes signatures from Stephen Fry, local MP and former Minister Peter Lilley. A video plea and a petition against the day of action has also been launched on its web site.
An open letter from the Rothamsted scientists states: "You have described genetically modified crops as not properly tested. Yet when tests are carried out you are planning to destroy them before any useful information can be obtained. We would welcome the chance to show you our work and explain why we think it could benefit the environment in the future. But we must ask you to respect the need to gather knowledge unimpeded. Please do not come to damage and destroy. As scientists we know only too well that we do not have all the answers. That is why we need to conduct experiments. And that is why you in turn must not destroy them."
On its web site Take the Flour Back said: "Wheat is wind-pollinated. In Canada similar experiments have leaked into the food-chain costing farmers millions in lost exports. There is no market for GM wheat anywhere in the world. This experiment is tax-payer funded, but Rothamsted hope to sell any patent it generates to an agro-chemical company. La Via Campesina, the world's largest organisation of peasant farmers, believe GM is increasing world hunger. They have called for support resisting GM crops, and the control over agriculture that biotech gives to corporations."