Newsnight on the Rothamsted Wheat

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?

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Karl earned his Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics at UW-Madison, with a minor in Life Science Communication. His dissertation was on both the genetics of sweet corn and plant genetics outreach. He recently moved back to his home state of California. His favorite produce might just be squash.