The recent coverage of the Rothamsted (London, England) wheat trials provides an excellent case study of how being open to real dialogue among supporters and detractors of biotechnology can result in a positive outcome.
“Rothamsted is the longest running agricultural research station in the world, providing cutting-edge science and innovation for nearly 170 years” and their mission is “to deliver the knowledge and new practices to increase crop productivity and quality and to develop environmentally sustainable solutions for food and energy production.” Quite noble goals, yet Rothamsted was recently the site of one of the most public and inflammatory debates on biotech crops in some time.
One of this research station’s many projects is a controlled field trial on a variety of wheat that can potentially repel debilitating aphid attacks. A group of protesters, under the tagline of “Take the Flour Back”, wanted to “remove the threat of GM contamination” by destroying this trial. According to principal investigator Professor John Pickett, there was “a very, very remote chance” of any cross-pollination given the highly controlled nature of the facility and the trial itself.
This article goes on to address how, with protesters threatening to destroy the wheat trial, scientists agreed to a public debate at a neutral venue (even offering to pay) only for the protesters to back out shortly after the proposal was accepted. This willingness of proponents to engage in a real debate (and unwillingness of opponents) rallied public and media opinion, helping to save the trials.
The triumph of science and open communication over the emotional, fear-based motivations of the opposition provides an encouraging story for the industry, and a model worth emulating.