Yesterday, Newsnight on BBC2 hosted a discussion about the genetically engineered possibly-aphid-repelling wheat underway at the Rothamsted Station in the UK. It featured John Pickett from Rothamsted, Tracey Brown from Sense About Science, Lawrence Woodward who is a former head of the Soil Association, and Jyoti Fernandes representing the protest group, Take the Flour Back. Have a watch while it is still up on YouTube:
Also, at the request of the protest group, the researchers arranged a public debate, moderated by George Monbiot for next week. In a stunning reversal, the protestors have declined to come, stating that they do not have the “capacity” to participate in the debate. (Insert wry comment here.) The Rothamsted site provides a timeline of their communications with the group.
After the coercive act of threatening to destroy this research and demanding a debate – and then saying that they don’t want to show up to the debate – Take the Flour Back is acting in bad faith. They seem to be aware of the implications of their actions, and have now expanded their website to prepare would-be wheat thrashers for the various legal consequences they might face. It is uncertain whether or not the threatened vandalism will still go ahead – or the debate for that matter – but perhaps there is still some hope for this whole situation.
At the same time, the petition not to destroy the research at Sense About Science is a hair’s breadth away from obtaining 5,000 signatures. Even actor Stephen Fry has signed it. There has been a lot of support for the research from the public, media, and other scientists as well. Will it be enough, or what else can be done?