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May 21 2012

“Take the Flour Back” has started the vandalism, intends more

I am in receipt of a message from the researchers at Rothamstead via Sile Lane (Sense About Science). It’s urgent and it matters so I’ll just post the whole thing.

Dear Petition Signatory

A forwarded note from the GM wheat research team at Rothamsted:

Dear Signatory

Thank you very much indeed for all your support on this petition and kind emails since our appeal.

We have the bad news that yesterday an individual broke into the experimental site and caused substantial damage. However, the overall integrity of the experiment has not yet been compromised. This is even more reason why we are extremely worried that the Take the Flour Back group is continuing with plans for direct action to destroy our GM wheat experiment entirely next Sunday. It has now issued logistical instructions for doing this and a ‘legal briefing’ for activists.

The group says it wants to destroy the crop because of a ‘contamination’ risk through cross-pollination with other wheat in fields a long way away. Their reason for pulling it up on 27 May was that “wheat is wind-pollinated” and that this was the last weekend before pollination is likely to occur. They did not seem to realise when they booked this date that wheat is in fact self-pollinating, and that therefore almost no pollen leaves the plant, let alone the field. We have informed them of this misunderstanding, but to no avail. They have also refused our offer to debate the issues in public in front of an audience, saying they do not have the “capacity” to field a speaker.

In the thousands of signatories on the petition against destroying our research, there are many diverse voices, including farmers, environmentalists, people local to Rothamsted, researchers in other fields, writers, musicians and all walks of life. We know many of you want to do something to help, and may feel angry and powerless about this latest vandalism. However, in discussions with the authorities, we cannot have our supporters counter-protesting on the day as it would provoke the kind of conflict that we have been trying to avoid. The only way forward is through communication and verbal engagement.

Take the Flour Back don’t need to hear angry invective, but as a last ditch attempt at getting them to call off their action, we think they should understand why so many people oppose destroying the research. The only way we know of reaching them is at [email protected]. Although they may not reply, they will be taking note of the strong support that we have received.

Best regards

Toby Bruce (Scientist specialising in plant-insect interactions, Team Leader)

Gia Aradottir (Insect Biology, Postdoc )

Huw Jones (Wheat Transformation, Coinvestigator)

Lesley Smart (Field Entomology)

Janet Martin (Field Entomology)

Johnathan Napier (Plant Science, Coinvestigator)

John Pickett (Chemical Ecology, Principal Investigator)

5 comments

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  1. 1
    Cuttlefish

    Where is law enforcement in this? If this is not a credible and specific threat, what is?

  2. 2
    Bernard Hurley

    I live about six miles from Rothamsted. It has always struck me as a very open place. They have various events/lectures that are open to the public. They also have public recitals in the old Manor house and there is an annual open day. However the site would be very difficult to defend against a raging mob.

  3. 3
    Josh Slocum

    Is Sense About Science daft? Why in the world do they believe “verbal engagement” with these lunatics is going to make a difference. It’s blindingly obvious that these zealots cannot be reasoned with. That’s sort of the definition of this kind of “activist.” Facts don’t matter to them.

  4. 4
    Bernard Hurley

    Verbal engagement may not influence the hard core of these people but, in order to carry out their protest, they will need a number of hangers on who could be swayed. They presumably know this which is why they have refused to have a public debate. When Take the Flour Back says it hasn’t the capacity to field a speaker, it presumably means that it hasn’t the capacity to field a speaker who can do more than chant the mantra ‘natural good, GM bad.’

  5. 5
    Ian MacDougall

    #s 1, 2, 3 and 4 are all good points.

    The law has to be involved, as a threat has been made. Debate is not what the activists of ‘Take the Flour Back’ are about. They appear to be a bunch of self-appointed science police, intent on generating as much publicity for their cause as possible, thereby rallying supporters from far and wide, while maintaining their own internal unity and cohesion.

    If the police insist on staying out, the best tactic for the defenders will be to maximise video and TV coverage of the activists, with as many of the latter talking on camera in as much detail as possible.

    The leaders commonly want to be the sole public face of their movement, and want to minimise verbal input from their followers, lest the whole thing be seen for what it is.

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