© 2017 The Harpenden Society

Society Meetings - Plants and Plans

Winter 2012 Newsletter


Protests this summer over the GM food trials at Rothamsted made the TV news. This led over 70 townsfolk on 4th October to hear Professor Maurice Moloney, Director of the Rothamsted Institute speak at one of our regular public meetings about the research work on GM food. Professor Moloney is a high-powered and highly qualified figure, with over 80 scientific papers published in international journals and the holder of 300 patents in plant biotechnology.

Above: Professor Moloney (left) with Chris Marsden.

Rothamsted runs the oldest experimental plot in the world, known as the Broadbalk, which has had no fertilisers or chemicals in its 168 years. Yields there are about one tenth of what British farmers are achieving today with normal agricultural dressings.

As well as providing nutrients, agricultural chemicals can protect against pests and diseases, but it is known that in nature plants can defend themselves without our help, mint and hops being well known examples. If we could find out how they do this and apply the lessons to other crops, yields could be protected, the process is biologically less harmful, food security could be improved and a giant step towards feeding the world could be taken.

Mint and hops can’t be crossed with wheat, so scientists have been looking for another way to transfer these natural protections to wheat. GM is the chosen technique. Far from being the plaything of madmen, GM is used in schools in Canada, in 3,000 laboratories around the world, and in the production of food that we and millions of others in Europe, the USA, China and Australia eat every day. And insulin for diabetics, animal feed and rennet for cheese are all made with GM products.

Canadian experience shows that soil structure, moisture retention, crop yields and CO2 retention are all improved with chemical usage reduced. And with the world population expected to grow to about nine or ten billion people by 2050, but with no more land than we have today, where is the food for all these extra people to come from?

Professor Moloney looked at the objections to GM, and dealt confidently with many questions from the audience, inclusive of several very sincere opponents of the scheme – and we would like to hear readers' views on this important topic whether 'aye' or 'nay'.

The topic of GM is lively, and our evening was helped by Professor Moloney’s equally lively style. The many non-scientists in the audience were able to follow his clear explanations, and left with a better understanding of what is involved, and why the work is so important.

Richard Thomas


There was a big turn-out of customers eager to participate when Tim Riley, Society committee member and highly-rated and progressive architect, invited them to comment on his Harpenden Community Plan at the Society's public meeting on 25 October at Park Hall. In his suggestions for the how the town centre and its immediate surrounds might be holistically rejuvenated, he concentrated on how the Farmers' Markets might be reconfigured on both sides of the main road and the pedestrian spaces in the High Street might be better developed, how the 'Argos' library site might be made more flexible, how the Public Halls should be refurbished and how a cafe, plus add-on facilities, might most viably be built in Rothamsted Park.

Above: Tim Riley (right) with Chris Marsden

In summing up an evening of lively and interesting exchanges, Chris Marsden, the Society's Chairman, succinctly concluded that there were mixed views about re-shaping the market, strong feeling against hard-coring any of the green pieces on the High Street, a wave of opinion in favour of pedestrianising the Lower High Street, firm support for more flexibility in the usage of the new library, massive encouragement for ideas about rebuilding the Public Halls and overwhelming backing for the cafe in the park.

And when it all comes to pass, a good time will be had by all... Eric Midwinter