Jose Bove Trial in France
Heats Up GE Debate

New Scientist (UK)
September 21, 2002
Cause Celebre Activists go on Trial
By: James Randerson

THE debate in France over the safety of genetically modified crops looks
sure to hot up this week as the trial of nine anti-GM activists begins.
The defendants, who include the farmers' leader and anti-globalisation
activist Jose Bove, are charged with destroying a GM crop trial near Foix in
the south of the country. They are expected to argue that their actions were
justified under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which
grants every citizen the right to live in a safe environment. "With
genetically modified organisms, this is impossible," claims Bove. The trial
echoes a similar court case in Britain two years ago, when 28 protesters,
including Lord Melchett, then director of Greenpeace UK, were acquitted of
similar charges of causing criminal damage, after destroying a GM crop trial
in Norfolk in July 1999. The British court accepted that the protesters
believed they were acting in good conscience to prevent a greater
environmental catastrophe.

The Foix farm-scale trial was set up in 1998 to study gene flow between
herbicide-resistant GM oilseed rape (canola) and the related wild radish
(Raphanus raphanistrum). Local protesters destroyed the trial in 1999. It
was reinstated later that year, and Bove admits to trampling this second
crop in April 2000. The crop trial has now been abandoned.

Bove insists that such trials are too risky. "When you know that you can
hurt yourself from fire you don't need to put your hand on fire to find
out," he says.

The court case comes just as there is growing evidence of the ecological
benefits of GM crops. For example, the rapid uptake of insect-resistant GM
cotton in China has led to a 25 per cent reduction in pesticide use since
the mid-90s, says Gordon Conway, head of the Rockefeller Foundation in
Washington DC. "Many of the environmental benefits of GM have only become
well documented in the last year," he told New Scientist.


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