Rothamsted Research submitted an application in late January 2014 to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for permission to carry out a GM field trial on the Rothamsted Farm in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
The risk assessment was reviewed by the independent Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE), and a 60-day public consultation was carried out by Defra. ACRE is satisfied that all scientific issues raised by the public with respect to this application have been addressed.
During this period and in addition to the formal consultation run by ACRE, Rothamsted Scientists have also spoken to and answered questions directly from the public, and special interest groups that have been interested in the research project and the trial.
Scientists at Rothamsted Research, who receive strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, have developed Camelina plants that accumulate omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) in their seeds and the purpose of the proposed trial is to evaluate in the field the performance of this trait.
Omega-3 LC-PUFAs have been shown to be beneficial for human health and contribute to protection against coronary heart diseases (CHD) (FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on the Risks and Benefits of Fish Consumption 2011). The primary dietary sources of these fatty acids are marine fish, either wild stocks or farmed fish (aquaculture).
Fish like humans do not produce these oils but rather they accumulate them through their diet in the wild or through fishmeal and fish oil in farmed fish. Currently, over 70 percent of all fish oil harvested each year is consumed by the aquaculture sector and this rapidly expanding modern industry is seeking new omega-3 LC-PUFAs sources to ensure its production practices remain sustainable and nurture the essential aquatic food web (FAO GLOBEFISH).
One potential approach towards flexible and sustainable supply of omega-3 LC-PUFAs is to engineer a crop plant with the capacity to synthesise these fatty acids in seeds. Rothamsted Research, through the strategic funding that receive from the BBSRC, have over the years developed genetically engineered Camelina plants that can successfully produce omega-3 LC-PUFAs in the lab and in the glass house.
Commenting on Defra's approval of Rothamsted's research in to GM camelina, Emma Hockridge, Soil Association head of policy said: “This is a waste of scarce public funds by Rothamsted Research – it is choosing to carry out trials of GM Camelina when two non-GM Omega 3 producing crops are already available to UK farmers.
"Government scientists in the US have recently confirmed that GM crops do not yield any more than non-GM crops, and sometimes even less. GM crops are making farming less fair, more risky and no more sustainable. Instead, we support practical science and innovation that addresses real needs, is genuinely sustainable and puts farmers in control of their livelihoods.”
Professor Johnathan Napier, lead scientist of this project at Rothamsted Research said: “We are very pleased to welcome the decision of Defra to grant us permission to carry out our proposed field trial. We have made considerable progress over the last 10 years in designing and developing these plants and my colleagues and I am very happy that we can now test the performance of these plants in the field, under real life conditions. ”This project is a core element of our strategic programme grant Designing Seeds for Nutrition and Health, which is funded by the BBSRC. Being able to carry out the field trial with our GM plants, means that we have reached a significant milestone in the delivery of our research programme. ” Professor Napier added.
The controlled experiment will be carried out at Rothamsted Research and sowing of Camelina seeds will take place by mid-May this year. The plants will be harvested August/September 2014, and a small amount of seed will be used to analyse the oil content, with all the rest of the seed and plant material will be destroyed according to the consent’s conditions. The GM inspectorate of the Food and Environment Research Agency will be carrying out regular inspections.
Professor Martin Parry, Acting Director of Rothamsted Research said: “We are delighted to be in position to carry out the field trial and to further assess the potential of these GM plants to contribute, as one of many solutions, to the important environmental sustainability issue of providing omega-3 fish oils”.
Prof Jackie Hunter, BBSRC Chief Executive, said: "This research is seeking to provide an alternative source of omega-3 oil for the aquaculture industry that is seeking new ways to maintain and increase its sustainability. After many years of BBSRC supported laboratory research this project has reached the point where only a field trial will show scientists if this could work in real world conditions. I am pleased that the team are now in a position to proceed and will be interested in hearing their results."