The proposed trial — likely to generate controversy in a nation
where GM foods have little public support — could start as early as
May and will use Camelina plants engineered to produce seeds high in
Omega-3 long chain fatty acids.
No GM crops are currently grown commercially in Britain and only two — a pest-resistant type of maize and a potato with enhanced starch
content — are licensed for cultivation in the European Union (EU).
But scientists at Britain's agricultural lab Rothamsted Research
have developed Camelina plants to produce Omega-3 fats that are
known to be beneficial to health but normally found only in oils in
increasingly limited fish stocks.
The idea, they told journalists at a briefing on their plans, is
initially to supply the fish farming industry — which currently
consumes around 80 percent of fish oils taken from the sea — with a
non-fish source of these Omega-3s.
Beyond that, possibly within a decade, the GM-produced Omega-3 oils
could be used in food products such as margarine, the researchers
"We now have a vegetable oil enhanced with these two critical fish
oils," said Johnathan Napier, a professor of plant science and head
of a 15-year research project which has so far shown that the
fish-oil producing plants can been grown successfully in
"We know it works in the glasshouse, now (we need to see) does it
work in the real world?" he said.
The researchers said that although the trial would be in the open
air, there was no risk of cross-pollination between the Camelina
plant and other field crops grown in Britain.
The application for permission to conduct the trial, which submitted
to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on
Monday, is subject to a public consultation and an inquiry by a
scientific committee that monitors such GM plans.
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A decision could be made within 90 days.
While Britain and the EU have been very reticent about the use of GM
crops, they are commonplace elsewhere.
The first GM seeds were planted in the United States more than 15
years ago and so far no evidence has been documented of adverse
health impacts for people eating GM-derived foods.
GM crops can also be imported into Britain and used to produce
ingredients for human food and for animal feed.
While he acknowledged there is likely to be some public opposition
to the idea of a GM field trial, Napier said he hoped the potential
for boosting health and protecting the environment would persuade
sceptics of the project's value.
"If you have a crop that has got potential health benefits and
sustainability and environmental benefits, and we can articulate
that clearly, then I think people will see this is an OK thing to
do," he said.
Omega-3 oils found in fish are known to help reduce the risk of
cardiovascular diseases including heart attacks and strokes.
(Reporting by Kate Kelland; editing by John Stonestreet)
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