In the Media

Old Etonian charged over GM trial break-in

PUBLISHED May 20, 2012

Mr Christie, 50, is the son of Sir George Christie, head of the family which runs the Glyndebourne Festival Opera, and a well-known antiglobalisation campaigner.

He was arrested and charged after allegedly scaling a fence at the 400-acre Rothamsted Research site in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, on Sunday morning and allegedly causing damage to a number of plots. He was bailed to appear before magistrates on July 13.

Rothamsted Research, which is operating the trial, said that the experiment would be able to continue despite "significant" damage to the crops.

But with a larger scale demonstration by a separate group of activists expected on Sunday, there are fears that the trial may only have been granted a short-term reprieve.

Reports on Sunday suggested an intruder had sprinkled natural wheat seeds on some plots where the genetically modified variant was being grown and cut the tops off the wheat on another plot, although the information was not confirmed.

The researchers are trialling a strain of wheat which has been genetically modified to release a chemical signal which aphids give off to warn one another of danger, thereby scaring the pests away and attracting natural predators such as ladybirds.

It is thought to be the world's first GM crop to repel insects rather than kill them, and the scientists claim that if it proves successful, it could cut the use of pesticides on farms.

But opponents of GM technology claim that planting the crop in the open air could allow the strain to escape into the surrounding environment and contaminate normal wheat crops.

Protesters calling themselves "Take the Flour Back" - who are not affiliated with Christie - warned the researchers last month that if they did not voluntarily call a halt to the experiment, they would break onto the site on May 27 and "decontaminate" it by ripping the wheat from the ground.

Maurice Moloney, director of Rothamsted Research, has described the experiment as "the opportunity to gather knowledge and evidence, for current and future generations, on one possible technological alternative approach to get plants to defend themselves and therefore reduce pesticide use."