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April 7, 2012
First Genetically Modified Wheat To Be Introduced Into Commercial Market

Under the guise and typical argument for creating most genetically modified (GM) foods, a trial of GM wheat claimed to repel green flies and blackflies has begun, in the hopes for the industry that it will become the first wheat to be grown commercially, with the first phase starting in the UK.

Scientists from Rothamsted Research, based in Hertfordshire, are using biotechnological tools to genetically engineer a wheat plant that produces high levels of an aphid repelling odour.

A controlled experiment is now underway to see if this works in the field, as wheat yields are typically vulnerable to attacks by aphids (also known as greenfly and blackfly).

Dr Toby Bruce, who leads the research project said in a statement: "If successful this wheat would not require treatment with insecticide. This is because it would repel colonisation by the aphid pests and also attract natural predators.

Critics charge that there are natural symbioses that take place between aphids and crops which are essential to their survival and the initiative to repel colonisation is another direct attack on much larger ecosystems. "These scientists are very short-sighted and they aren't looking at the whole picture and consequences of introducing GM wheat. There are many bacterial symbioses that take place between aphids and other microorganisms that will affect their entire ecosystem should an intolerant species be introduced into the food chain," said microbiologist Joseph Sagarese.

"For example proteobacteria provides its host with essential amino acids, which are present in low concentrations in plant sap," stated Sagarese.

"However, we need to carry out the field experiment to discover if this is indeed the case," said Dr Toby Bruce.

"A wait and see approach is a very big mistake when introducing GM crops into the environment and it spells disaster in the long-term," said Sagarese.

Dr Bruce said that it could provide "a possible alternative to insecticides and uses a non-toxic eco-friendly approach to pest control".

"If the trial is successful we really hope the wheat will be allowed because it will give farmers and consumers an alternative to relying on pesticides for insect control in crops."

Wheat is said to be the most important UK crop, worth about 1.2 billion Euro annually.

A large proportion of UK wheat is treated with chemical insecticides to control cereal aphid. The aphid suck sap from plants and reduce farmers' yields by damaging crops and spreading plant diseases.

However, repeated use of insecticides can lead to resistant aphids, as well as kill other insects.

One was to use an odour, or alarm pheromone, which aphids produce to alert one another to danger. This odour, (E)-β-farnesene, is also produced by some plants as a natural defence mechanism, repelling aphids and attracting their natural enemies, such as ladybirds.

The GM wheat plants are engineered to produce this odour.

The GM wheat currently being tested for approval for production in Canada is a new variety of hard red spring wheat which has been genetically engineered to be tolerant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup. Monsanto Canada Inc. requested the approval of GE wheat from Health Canada in July 2002 and for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in December 2002.

There are now even claims by researchers in Australia who have developed a form of salt-tolerant wheat that will allow farmers to grow crops in soil with high salinity. They created the new form of wheat by crossing a modern strain with an ancient species, and the researchers believe this new super-wheat will allow farmers to grow more food crops on land previously thought to be off limits to agriculture. Critics suggest that new strains will be foreign to current ecological systems and will be unsustainable without massive chemical intervention.

Industry claims that the introduction of GM wheat will lead to a reduction in insecticide use, a claim that has been made prior to the introduction of other insecticide tolerant crops such as soybeans, canola and corn. These claims have been contradicted by US government statistics that show that GM insecticide tolerant crops end up using more pesticides than conventional crops. These state GM crops can receive as much as 30 percent more insecticide than non-GM crops. Not only do GM crops use more pesticides but they also force the farmer to purchase one single brand of insecticide.

The campaign group GM Freeze argues that there is a lack of market for GM wheat.

Pete Riley of GM Freeze, also believes it would increase costs for farmers and other parts of the supply chain to maintain constant monitoring of their products for GM presence, which will then have to be labelled.

But there are indications of wider support. Earlier this year the UK government’s chief scientist advisor, Sir John Beddington, said that GM crops could play an important role against a global food crisis and saw no safety reasons to oppose them, provided checks on health and the environmental impact were rigorous.

Some critics of wheat say the grain is such a serious health threat that it can no longer be considered wheat. Author and preventive cardiologist William Davis, MD, says it's when big agriculture stepped in decades ago to develop a higher-yielding crop. Today's "wheat," he says, isn't even wheat, thanks to some of the most intense crossbreeding efforts ever seen. "The wheat products sold to you today are nothing like the wheat products of our grandmother's age, very different from the wheat of the early 20th Century, and completely transformed from the wheat of the Bible and earlier," he says.

Add genetically modified wheat into this mix and you have the perfect recipe for disaster.

Natasha Longo has a master's degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.


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