UK research firm applies for permit to grow GM broccoli and wheat

Just when you thought your food choices were clear and safe. UK firm The John Innes Centre has applied for permission to plant experimental genetically modified wheat and broccoli in open fields at their farm outside Norwich, in the United Kingdom. The research company hopes to begin two small-scale field trials in April.

In 2017, Innes Centre researchers identified a gene, TaVIT2, which encodes for an iron transporter in wheat. Research trials would take place at the Centre on the Norwich Research Park, between April and September each year between 2019 and 2022.

There is opposition in the UK and elsewhere around the globe to further GM crop trials. Liz O’Neill, director of GM Freeze, writes:

“GM Freeze has consistently led the opposition to GM field trials across the UK and helped our supporters to express their concerns in the most effective way.” However, O’Neill says a full response to these trials will cost is around £2,500 which isn’t in the organization’s budget. 

The Innes Centre says iron deficiency or anemia is a global health issue, “but the iron content of staple crops such as wheat has been difficult to improve using conventional breeding, and as a result many wheat products for human consumption are artificially fortified with iron. Increasing the nutritional quality of crops, known as bio-fortification, is a sustainable approach to alleviate micronutrient deficiencies.” The Centre also contends that the production of sulphur-containing compounds in Brassica vegetables (i.e. broccoli, cabbage, etc.) is of economic and nutritional significance due to their health-promoting potential.

Plant breeding methods to create healthier, more nutritious crops has been the tried-and-true method to increase a variety of favored traits in food crops. At the recent Soil Health Summit 2019, Wayne Hurst of the U.S. National Wheat Growers Association and the National Wheat Growers Foundation said that in 2005 U.S. wheat growers stepped away from genetically modified wheat options .

As an explanation, Hurst said “we (wheat growers) want policies based on solid science!”

But such bold actions have consequences. Now, said Hurst, U.S. wheat growers can’t buy biotech wheat from Monsanto.

The concern for nutrition in food crops is valid, particularly as the rate of soil health has steadily declined around the world. But focusing on GM crops, as promising as they may be, create other problems that sufficient research is now revealing. So consumers unfortunately need to be more aware than ever before of not only what they’re buying but what the latest releases of GM food crops to the public may be. As they say, a well-educated consumer is the best defense.

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