Tuesday, July 12, 2005
BT Coffee Test Crop Destroyed
In May 2000, researchers based in Montpellier from the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) planted plots of both GM and unmodified coffee plants. The GM plants had been engineered to contain a toxin gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which codes for a protein lethal to insects but harmless to humans. They chose French Guiana for the trial because no coffee grows there, avoiding any possibility that the GM variety could contaminate existing plants. Last August, with two years remaining in the trial, the plants were hacked down by vandals. Smallholders, who make up the majority of coffee-growers, fear that GM strains will enable richer farmers who can afford the technology to put them out of business. Emotions are running high, so the attack on the trial was not altogether surprising.