Genetic Resisters Strike Again in U.K.
Devon crop destroyed by gene activists
By Geoffrey Gibbs
Guardian (london) Wednesday August 5, 1998
Activists protesting against trials of genetically modified cereals
have destroyed a trial maize crop in fields close to Britain's largest
organic vegetable farm.
Twelve people were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage or
conspiracy to cause damage after the attack on the south Devon site.
Last night they were still being interviewed by detectives.
Maize crops on the test site at Dartington, near Totnes, were damaged
in a separate attack just over a week ago. But protesters missed their
intended target and were said by scientists to have destroyed years of
research into how foreign varieties of maize adapt to British growing
The trial site was recently at the centre of an unsuccessful legal
challenge by Guy Watson, a farmer who fears cross-pollination from the
genetically modified crops could lead to him losing organic status for
the sweetcorn he grows nearby on his 800 acre farm.
The Court of Appeal last month turned down Mr Watson's attempt to halt
the experiment despite finding that the Government had breached the
law in sanctioning the seed trials.
Police were called to the site on Monday night after security guards
employed to mount 24-hour patrols, in the wake of last week's attack,
reported seeing up to 20 people in the field damaging the crops.
Officers arrested eight men and four women.
A statement issued by the Genetic Engineering Network said that
"concerned citizens" had taken direct action "to prevent pollination
of a genetically engineered crop". The protesters said they hoped the
focus on this site and others would push the Government to a
moratorium on genetic engineering.
John MacLeod, director of the National Institute of Agricultural
Botany, which is carrying out the trials for the Government,
criticised the protesters' actions which, he said, had effectively
destroyed the Dartington experiment. "I feel frustrated that
people...are destroying the very data that will allow discussion and
The NIAB said the protesters had pulled up or cut all the plants in
the trial, which was comparing four conventionally-bred control
varieties of maize with the genetically modified ones.
It was too early to say what effect the destruction would have on
national trials of the genetically modified crop, but the loss of one
of the four trial crops was "very important".
Mr Watson, who farms organically, said: "It is unfortunate and I wish
that it hadn't come to this, but there are countless precedents
through history. Look back to the Tolpuddle Martyrs - I think almost
everybody today would think they had a very good case, yet they were
deported to Australia. I think perhaps there are times, when, if you
have really done your research and looked into it, an illegal act is
Environment Minister Michael Meacher yesterday sanctioned the growing
of a different strain of genetically modified maize despite research
showing it could kill beneficial insects. Mr Meacher said the crop
would not be banned but more research was needed to see if lacewings,
which eat crop pests, were killed by toxins bred into the maize.
Friends of the Earth said that in permitting the crop Mr Meacher had
abandoned the precautionary principle.
(London) Times August 5 1998
Activists destroy crop in war on modified foods
BY NICK NUTTALL AND STEPHEN FARRELL
A FIELD of experimental maize has been destroyed by protesters opposed
to genetically modified crops.
Twelve people were held by police on Monday night after reports that
the crop at Hood Barton Farm, near Dartington, Devon, was being
attacked with a spray.
The genetically modified forage maize, which was the subject of a
legal action by a neighbouring farmer recently, was being cultivated
by the National Institute of Agricultural Botany on behalf of the
Ministry of Agriculture. An institute spokesman said first indications
were that all the crop had been destroyed.
Three women and nine men, aged 20 to 41, were arrested on suspicion of
causing criminal damage or conspiracy to cause criminal damage.
A statement from an organisation calling itself the Genetic
Engineering Network later claimed that 30 "concerned citizens" had
been involved in the "direct action" to prevent pollination of the
genetically engineered crop. The statement said the site had been "the
focus of much local opposition due to fears for the environment".
The site was also attacked last week by an organisation called South
West Ethical Consumers Group, but it picked the wrong crop.
Two weeks ago a neighbouring organic farmer, Guy Watson, lost his
legal battle to stop the maize trials. He feared that his sweetcorn
crop would be contaminated by cross-pollination, but the Court of
Appeal ruled that no action could be taken because it had not been
proved that the experimental crop was causing harm.
Mr Watson said yesterday that he regretted but understood the attack
on the maize. "It is unfortunate and I wish that it hadn't come to
this, but there are countless precedents through history."
John MacLeod, director of the institute, said: "What happened was
unfortunate and even irresponsible. We exist to offer as much data as
possible on how such crops would behave. It is only by such
experiments that we can learn the values and dangers of genetically
Mr MacLeod said that, although the trials cost only #5,000 to
implement, the destruction would carry a much higher price. "We must
remember that it took five years of research and development just to
get to the stage of having a trial harvest. In all, we are looking at
Monday's action appears to be the latest in a protest campaign in
England and Scotland by groups formed from a loose coalition of
"eco-warriors" and concerned residents. An estimated 147 local groups
have formed this summer to fight genetically modified crops without
violence, including the Wardens of Wiltshire and the Kenilworth
Croppers. They are linked by telephone and Internet by groups
including GenetiX Snowball.
The destruction is said to be costing seed companies hundreds of
thousands of pounds in lost research and possible future profits. The
locations of seed trials are available from the biotechnology unit of
the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions whose
Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment approves such tests.
Roger Turner, of the British Society of Plant Breeders, said about 40
sites had been targeted by protesters. Six of these contained crops
that were not genetically engineered.
Zoe Elford, a campaigner with the Manchester-based protest group
GenetiX Snowball, said yesterday that damage to conventional crops was
"an unfortunate error".
She said that the organisation had pledged non-violent destruction of
test sites every first and third weekend of each month. Some of the
protesters were former anti-roads campaigners, Ms Elford said, but the
movement was broad-based and included vicars and lecturers.
Andrew Wood, another GenetiX Snowball campaigner, said: "There has
been no opportunity for people to vote about genetically engineered
crops. There has been no formal consultation with the British people
and the Government has waived its responsibility in this matter.
"We are dedicated to non-violent, accountable and open protests. We
always make contact with the farmers first and explain our concerns."
Pure Food Campaign/SOS (Save Organic Standards)
860 Hwy 61
Little Marais, Mn. 55614
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