Man Faces GM Wheat Break-In Charges

22 May 2012, 11:03 | Updated: 22 May 2012, 11:10

A 50-year-old man has been charged with criminal damage after an incident at a research centre where a trial of GM wheat is taking place.

Hector Christie, from Devon, was arrested following a break-in at the Rothamsted Research centre in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, on Sunday.

Scientists at the centre are conducting a controlled GM wheat experiment, combining modern genetic engineering with their knowledge of natural plant defences, to test whether wheat that can repel aphid attack works in the field.

In a statement, Rothamsted said an intruder had caused "significant'' property damage during the break-in on Sunday, but had failed to disrupt the experiment.

Dr Maurice Moloney, director and chief executive of Rothamsted Research, said: "This act of vandalism has attempted to deny us all the opportunity to gather knowledge and evidence, for current and future generations, on one possible technological alternative approach to get plants to defend themselves and therefore reduce pesticide use.''

Peter Kendall, NFU president, also condemned the attack.

He said: "If the aim is to feed nine billion people by 2050 there is a sense of urgency to start dealing with this issue now against a backdrop of pressures on natural resources, unpredictable weather patterns, climate change and the need to manage more carefully the use of chemical inputs.

"To achieve this we will need every single tool in our toolbox - and that includes GM crops that have been adapted to cope in dry conditions, need fewer pesticides or offer nutritional benefits.

"Of course there needs to be a strong legal framework for approvals and effective co-existence measures to allow GM and non-GM systems to operate successfully together, but these must be proportional to the need so that growers can retain their markets, and must be based on sound science.''

Campaigners have criticised the trials and a demonstration is to be held by one anti-GM group, Take the Flour Back, on May 27.

Christie, of Tapeley Park Lodge, Instow, has been bailed to reappear before Central Magistrates' Court in St Albans on July 13, Hertfordshire Police said.