BRITAIN’S first field trial of genetically modified wheat has started under 24-hour security amid fears of attack by anti-GM groups.

Costing almost £1million, Rothamsted Research began a field trial of a wheat crop, which has been modified to repel aphids, last week.The laboratory work and trial will cost £800,000 and £120,000 will be spent on security.

Funding is being provided by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, but there is no commercial funding.

The modified wheat was planted into eight 6m x 6m trial plots at Rothamsted’s research centre in Hertfordshire.

Scientists at Rothamsted have modified the wheat cultivar Cadenza so it produces an aphid alarm pheromone with the aim of making wheat production less reliant on pesticides. The plant produces a non-toxic odour, (E) beta-farnesene (EBF), a naturally occurring chemical found in peppermint plants, which it releases to repel aphids and attract their native predators, parasitic wasps (Braconidae). The wasps lay their eggs inside the aphids and the larvae develop to kill them.

Speaking at the press briefing in London, Professor John Pickett, head of chemical ecology at Rothamsted, said: “We are providing a totally new way of controlling pests that doesn’t really rely on toxic modes of action.

“I hope the trials will benefit the farming community and produce a saleable product in the future.”

However, campaigners have launched an offensive against the trial. GM Freeze’s campaign, called “GM wheat – No Thanks!”, calls on farmers and businesses to pledge not to use or buy GM wheat and demands that research money is directed at “more sustainable food production methods”.

GM Freeze campaign director Pete Riley said: “Defra approved this GM trial against public and scientific objections. It is risky, unnecessary and unwanted. “One of the biggest mysteries of this GM wheat is who is expected to buy it. There is no market anywhere in the world for GM wheat, so why are we putting our countryside at risk?”

A Defra spokesman said: “Protecting consumers and the environment is our top priority and we’re permitting a tightlycontrolled, small-scale scientific trial in which none of the wheat will enter the food chain.”