Document Directory

09 Oct 00 - GMO - GM crop trials are 'deeply disturbing'
08 Oct 00 - GMO - Revealed: secret GM crop trials
08 Oct 00 - GMO - Gene scientists disable plants' immune system
08 Oct 00 - GMO - GM Crop Trials Condemned As 'Deeply Disturbing'
03 Oct 00 - GMO - GM fodder firm will not give evidence
02 Oct 00 - GMO - Mother fights GM maize seed being listed before full trials
02 Oct 00 - GMO -Green campaigners call for GM crop approval delay
01 Oct 00 - GMO - 'Secret test' threat to GM crop trials
30 Sep 00 - GMO - GM crops get public hearings
24 Sep 00 - GMO - New blow to GM as big stores extend their ban
24 Sep 00 - GMO - GM crops risk is too great, says Melchett
24 Sep 00 - GMO - They were wrong
22 Sep 00 - GMO - Success has its own dangers, too
21 Sep 00 - GMO - Further cases 'to be treated on merit'
21 Sep 00 - GMO - Beauty therapist and accountant united by belief in their cause
21 Sep 00 - GMO - Unlikely radical continues family tradition
21 Sep 00 - GMO - Radical groups fear escape of pollen
21 Sep 00 - GMO - GM battle fears as Melchett is cleared
21 Sep 00 - GMO - GM trials chaos as Melchett is freed
21 Sep 00 - GMO - Greenpeace wins key GM case
21 Sep 00 - GMO - GM food protests
21 Sep 00 - GMO - Farm trials in jeopardy after verdict
21 Sep 00 - GMO - Confrontation on GM battlefield

09 Oct 00 - GMO - GM crop trials are 'deeply disturbing'

By Jo Willey and Andrew Woodcock

Independent ... Monday 9 October 2000

Environmentalists yesterday criticised "secret " genetically modified crop trials being run across England.

Friends of the Earth said the trials of GM maize , sugar beet and oilseed rape on tennis court-sized patches of land were "arrogant , secretive and contemptuous ".

The small-scale trials had been announced in a parliamentary answer but not widely publicised, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

They were approved by the Minister of Agriculture, Nick Brown, and are being carried out by the National Institute for Agricultural Botany on sites in Oxfordshire, Somerset, North Yorkshire, Cambridgeshire and Shropshire.

The ministry said details of the parishes where trials were located would be made available to the public on request, but no list of the sites had yet been drawn up. Only one, Rowton in Shropshire , could be identified. The trials have been under way for more than a year, in parallel with 25 separate farm-scale trials, which haveattracted protests and cropdestruction raids by environmentalists.

Adrian Bebb, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth, said: "This news is outrageous and deeply disturbing . These crops threaten organic and conventional crops through crosspollination . Now farmers don't know where that threat is coming from and if bee farmers don't know where GM crops are being grown, they won't be able to move their hives to prevent honey being contaminated.

"This is typical behaviour from the biotech industry - arrogant , secretive and contemptuous of public opinion."

However, the ministry said the trials were on "very small sites" and were being "very closely observed".

08 Oct 00 - GMO - Revealed: secret GM crop trials

By Geoffery Lean, Environment Editor

Independent ... Sunday 8 October 2000

Top Secret trials of GM crops are under way in five British counties despite repeated government promises that it would never allow them to take place.

The secrecy surrounding the experiment is so tight that even Michael Meacher , the Environment minister in charge of GM crops, has been kept in the dark.

The trials were authorised by Nick Brown , the agriculture minister, but he is under no obligation to tell his colleagues about the sites, leaving Mr Meacher acutely embarrassed by today's revelation. He has constantly stressed the openness of the Government's GM tests.

The crop trials, authorised by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food , are of the same GM maize as was destroyed by Lord Melchett and 27 other activists who were acquitted by a jury last month.

Tim Yeo, the shadow agricultural spokesman, said that Mr Meacher had written to him earlier this year giving the impression there were no secret trials . Last night he accused Mr Meacher of "a serious evasion" , and demanded an explanation.

The experimental crops - in Oxfordshire , Somerset , North Yorkshire , Cambridgeshire and Shropshire - are of a maize genetically engineered by the Franco-German firm Aventis to withstand spraying by a herbicide.

The company is refusing to give evidence on its safety to an official public hearing which opened in London last Monday into whether it should be grown commercially in Britain. Environmentalists have already lodged 67 objections to the maize. So far the company has refused to produce witnesses for cross-examination resulting in a warning from the hearing's chairman, Alun Alesbury, that Aventis was damaging its case .

The GM maize is being grown on plots the size of tennis courts by the National Institute for Agricultural Botany, under contract to the Ministry of Agriculture . It is cultivated side by side with a conventional relative and then the crops are compared for yield, disease resistance, their ability to stay upright in harsh weather, and other characteristics.

(UK Correspondents note: the major objection to GMO crops is cross contamination with conventional crops. The purpose of the farm trials - secret and open - is to facilitate this contamination, once this has been achieved the main argument preventing the implementation of GMO crops will have been removed. The one month delay earleir this year between the notification to MAFF of contaminated oil seed rape having been sown and the information being made public was to enable the crop to flower, to contaminate the normal crop.)

These secret tests are entirely separate from the 25 farm-scale trials being carried out into the environmental safety of GM crops by Mr Meacher's Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

Environment ministers constantly trumpet the openness of these trials, and insist on publishing six-figure grid references to them so that neighbouring farmers, local people, and objectors can pinpoint the fields involved.

By contrast, the Ministry of Agriculture says that it will, at most, only disclose the parishes where the tests are taking place, and then only on request. But late last week, despite being given 24 hours notice, it could only identify one parish - Rowton, in Shropshire - to the Independent on Sunday.

In June, Julia Drown, Labour MP for South Swindon, asked Mr Meacher to list any sites not publicised by his department . He replied that he had "no information" on them. The tests do not have to be disclosed to his department.

And on 25 April Mr Meacher wrote to Mr Yeo that there were no GM trials "apart from the GM herbicide-tolerant maize in the farm scale evaluations" , the sites for which "six-figure grid references" were "widely available".

Yesterday Mr Yeo described the minister's letter as "a serious evasion, at the very least, if not actual deceit" . He said the Government was "misleading people about what is going on" .

08 Oct 00 - GMO - Gene scientists disable plants' immune system

Antony Barnett, Public affairs editor

Guardian ... Sunday 8 October 2000

Scientists working for Swiss food giant Novartis have developed and patented a method for 'switching off' the immune systems of plants , to the outrage of environmentalists and Third World charities who believe the new technology to be the most dangerous use so far of gene modification .

Patents filed by Novartis, manufacturers of Ovaltine , reveal that its scientists expect to be able to use the radical biotechnology for almost every crop on Earth .

Novartis claims that the new use of genetic modification will give farmers greater control over disease and boost production. But critics insist that it will make Third World farmers dependent on buying the company's chemicals each year to produce healthy harvests.

A spokeswoman for Novartis said: 'We are trying to help farmers, not hinder them. We are looking at ways to improve the way plants fight disease.'

She agreed that the company had discovered a way of genetically modifying crops so that their immune systems were disabled , but stressed that this was for 'research purposes' only.

The process involves transferring a single DNA molecule, described by the firm as the 'NIM gene', to the plant. This gene then reacts with the plant's immune system , allowing it to be switched on selectively by the use of chemicals when disease threatens. But the patent also describes plants where the entire immune system has been switched off , making them highly prone to disease.

Environmentalists fear the new technology could have a disastrous ecological impact if crops with their immune systems suppressed are allowed to cross-pollinate with surrounding plant life. The use of GM technology, which uses chemicals to activate genetic traits, was specifically condemned by the UN earlier this year. It recommended that the technology should not be field-tested and called for a moratorium on its development until the impact had been fully assessed .

The patent documents seen by The Observer suggest that Novartis intends to use the new GM technology on 'barley , cucumber , tobacco , rice , chilli , wheat , banana and tomato' .

The company cites an extensive list of more than 80 crops, including several cereals, dozens of fruit such as apples, pears and strawberries, vegetables like beans and lentils, and cash crops like cotton and tea.

Alex Wijeratna of Action Aid, a development charity that works with farmers in developing countries, said: 'We find it extremely frightening that such a powerful multi-national is working on this type of technology, which seems aimed at protecting their profits by threatening the rights of poor farmers .'

Dr Sue Mayer, director of Gene Watch, said: 'These companies should halt development of these potentially dangerous products until there has been a proper assessment of whether they are good for agriculture. '

On Wednesday, the shareholders of Novartis and biotechnology giant Astra Zeneca will vote on whether to merge and create the world's largest GM company.

08 Oct 00 - GMO - GM Crop Trials Condemned As 'Deeply Disturbing'

From Ananova

Guardian ... Sunday 8 October 2000

Environmentalists have criticised "secret" genetically-modified crop trials being carried out on land across England.

Friends of the Earth say the trials of GM maize , sugar beet and oilseed rape on tennis court-sized patches of land are "arrogant, secretive and contemptuous" .

The small-scale trials have been announced in a parliamentary answer but not widely publicised, a Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) spokesman says.

They have been approved by Agriculture Minister Nick Brown and are being carried out by the National Institute for Agricultural Botany on sites in Oxfordshire, Somerset, North Yorkshire, Cambridgeshire and Shropshire.

MAFF say precise details of the parishes where each trial was located would be made available to the public on request, but no list of the sites had yet been drawn up. Only one parish, Rowton in Shropshire, could be identified.

The trials have been under way for more than a year, in parallel with 25 separate farm-scale trials, which have attracted protests and crop destruction raids by environmentalists.

Adrian Bebb, a Friends of the Earth spokesman, said: "This news is outrageous and deeply disturbing . These crops threaten organic and conventional crops through cross-pollination .

"Now farmers don't know where that threat is coming from and if bee farmers don't know where GM crops are being grown, they won't be able to move their hives to prevent their honey being contaminated.

"This is typical behaviour from the biotech industry - arrogant, secretive and contemptuous of public opinion ."

But MAFF say the trials are on "very small sites" and are being "very closely observed".

03 Oct 00 - GMO - GM fodder firm will not give evidence

By Valerie Elliott, Countryside Editor

Times ... Tuesday 3 October 2000

The biotechnology company which wants to sell GM fodder maize in Britain astonished environmental groups last night by refusing to give evidence at a public hearing on the issue .

Aventis, which has applied for a licence to sell GM fodder maize seeds to farmers, yesterday informed the first meeting of the ten-week hearing that it had no plans to call any witnesses to support its case .

Anti-GM campaigners said that the move was farcical and accused Aventis of "keeping the public in the dark" on GM crops. They vowed to put pressure on the company to change its mind.

During procedural discussions yesterday the hearing chairman, Alun Alesbury, a senior planning barrister, reacted angrily when he was told of Aventis's stance by Joel Smith, the firm's legal representative.

He said: "Your client's stance is not helpful to the proceedings at all. It does not make for a balanced set of proceedings and does not facilitate them."

He persistently questioned Mr Smith on the matter and asked him to reconsider . Aventis stood its ground.

A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said: "We want to see Aventis forced to co-operate with the hearing and to put forward witnesses. It is a disgraceful position deliberately intended to keep the public in the dark."

Adrian Bebb, of Friends of the Earth, added: "Why should the public have any faith in their GM products if they are not prepared to stand up and argue for them?"

Yesterday's public hearing at the Novotel Hammersmith in West London took place only because Nick Brown, the Minister for Agriculture, gained the backing of agriculture ministers in the territorial departments to approve the commercial licence for the seed known as Chardon LL in advance of the outcome of the Government's own farm-scale GM trials .

Some 67 witnesses, including pensioners , parents , beekeepers , organic farmers and the main environmental groups , have each paid £90 to lodge their objections to the go-ahead for the commercial planting of Chardon LL.

The hearing is to resume today with objectors giving opening statements on behalf of their witnesses.

Environmental campaigners also staged a protest before the start of the hearing speaking against adding the GM fodder maize seed to the National Seed list before the completion of the Government's farm-scale trials.

Ken Beagley, an amateur beekeeper from Harberton, Devon, who is to represent four national bee-keeping organisations, said last night that there had been insufficient research into the potential damage to the environment , public health and bee-keeping . "It's all happening too quickly . Not enough research has been done and there's not been enough consultation with beekeepers."

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is a member of the scientific steering committee which is overseeing the farm-scale trials and is worried that GM crops will pose another threat to farmland birds .

Mr Alesbury will compile a detailed report of the submissions but not make a recommendation. Ministers will make the final decision.

Last night a spokesman for Aventis said that the company was fully committed to the public hearing but that it had decided against calling any expert witnesses to support its case for Chardon LL as all relevant data and reports were already in the public domain.

02 Oct 00 - GMO - Mother fights GM maize seed being listed before full trials

By Valerie Elliott

Times ... Monday 2 October 2000

A mother of two is one of 200 anti-GM campaigners who have forced an unprecedented hearing today to prevent a genetically modified maize seed going on commercial sale in Britain.

Jo Ripley, 42, from Marlborough, Wiltshire, grows organic vegetables, including sweetcorn, and has also started the town's monthly farmers' market. Today she will argue that the Government has no right to permit the sale of the seed, Chardon LL, to appear on the national seed list while official farm trials are incomplete .

She, like all the other objectors, paid £90 to state her case to an independent tribunal which opens in Hammersmith, West London. She is being joined by pensioners , organic farmers , beekeepers , Alan Simpson the Labour MP, Friends of the Earth , Greenpeace , the Soil Associatio n and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to fight this seed listing being put forward by the Ministry of Agriculture.

Chardon LL is a fodder maize to be fed directly to animals, mainly dairy cows. It can make up to 50 per cent of the diet of dairy cattle. Anti-GM campaigners argue that Chardon LL has been approved without any tests on cattle and they are unhappy with the laws covering the safety of GM animal feed.

The campaigners are amazed that ministers are pushing for a final licence application for the seed when official trials are to run for another three years and public opposition to GM crops was demonstrated so vividly last month when a jury acquitted Lord Melchett, executive director of Greenpeace, and 28 other protesters for damaging GM crops. More worrying for ministers is the opposition of the RSPB . The wildlife charity is a member of the scientific steering committee that oversees the GM crop trials and its continued support gives the test vital credibility.

Dr Mark Avery, RSPB's director of conservation, said: "This looks suspiciously like commercialisation through the back door . The environmental effects of Chardon LL are being tested. It makes no sense for this crop to be pushed through the approval process."

The hearings, to be chaired by Alun Alesbury, the planning barrister, are also to be held in Manchester and are expected to last ten weeks. He will report to ministers and a government decision is expected next year.

Mrs Ripley last night spoke passionately about the potential effect of GM fodder maize on human health. She is being supported by her husband David, a computer engineer, who has funded her action.

She said: "It is extraordinary that there are no requirements to test unintended side effects of a seed as you would for a medicine . As a mother with two developing children, I am concerned for them, and as an organic farmer growing organic sweetcorn, I am also worried about cross-contamination of my crops."

Friends of the Earth has been asked to represent the views of 2,000 people at the hearing. Its legal team spotted the loophole under the 1982 seed regulations which allowed them to force a public hearing. The Ministry of Agriculture tried to close the loophole, but was outmanoeuvred by the campaigners .

02 Oct 00 - GMO -Green campaigners call for GM crop approval delay


Press Association ... Monday 2 October 2000

Wildlife and green campaigners are warning against adding a genetically modified fodder maize to the National Seed List before Government-backed GM crop trials are complete .

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Friends of the Earth are both voicing fears over Chardon LL, which has been developed by biotechnology company Aventis CropScience, and gentically modified to be resistant to the herbicide glufosinate ammonium , also produced by Aventis and marketed under the name of "Liberty".

The RSPB is concerned that the use of GM crops and powerful herbicides may be responsible for a huge decline in farmland birds like the skylark, which relies on weeds and seeds for its survival.

Skylark populations have fallen sharply by 75% in the last 25 years, due to loss of food and farmland habitat.

The Government is holding a 10-week series of public hearings over its plans to allow a GM crop to clear a final regulatory hurdle, before it can be commercially grown in the UK. The first opens in London today.

The RSPB and FoE say that if Chardon LL is added to the National Seed List, there will be no legal barrier to prevent it being commercially grown in the UK.

It is being used in the Government's farm-scale trials programme, intended to examine the crop's impact on wildlife.

If the GM maize is added to the Seed List it will do so before the Government's own research is complete .

The maize was approved as a crop by the European Union in 1998. Since then, the risk assessments needed have been strengthened and made stricter .

But the FoE says that Chardon LL would not have a European approval under this more rigorous procedure on the basis of its 1996 application.

01 Oct 00 - GMO - 'Secret test' threat to GM crop trials

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor

Independent ... Sunday 1 October 2000

Britain's embattled GM crop trials were plunged into fresh controversy yesterday when officials admitted keeping a crucial test secret .

The secrecy , which contradicts repeated government assurances that the trials would be open, is bound to spark a furious row as an unprecedented official public hearing into GM crops opens tomorrow.

It will also cast doubt over the granting of formal approval for a new GM maize to be sown in Britain.

Environmentalists are planning to turn the hearing - over whether the maize, produced by the GM company Aventis, can be placed on the official National Seed List - into the biggest public examination yet into GM crops. By entering 67 objections to the listing of the maize - the first of a series of GM seeds due to seek approval - they have forced the Government to hold the hearing , which is expected to last 10 weeks, under the little-used 1982 Seed Regulations.

The secrecy row is a new set-back for the Government and the GM industry after the acquittal, 10 days ago, of Lord Melchett and 27 other Greenpeace protesters, who destroyed a GM crop in Norfolk.

The row centres on a GM trial site at Dartington, in Devon, which became a cause célèbre two years ago after a farmer claimed it could contaminate his organic crops .

After the farmer unsuccessfully appealed to the High Court to stop the trial, the field was invaded by local protesters who uprooted the plants.

The National Institute of Agricultural Botany, which was carrying out the trials, had agreed to supply information about it to the Farm Association, one of its main opponents. But after the invasion, its director, John MacLeod, wrote to the association to say he could no longer provide the information because of "the total destruction of that trial" .

But last week, the association found that information gathered from the trial site two months after they thought the crops had been totally destroyed, is to be used as crucial evidence to justify placing the new GM maize on the National Seed List. It suspected that the results might have been "fabricated" .

But yesterday the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) said there had been a second GM crop on the site which had not been destroyed. It said the letter to the Soil Association had been carefully worded because the institute had not wanted to "volunteer information that could have caused another crop to have been destroyed". Last night, Harry Hadaway of the Soil Association said: "Ministers have repeatedly assured us that there would be no secrecy over the trial programme .

"We are shocked that Maff appears to have sanctioned concealing this trial which could have contaminated organic crops and the surrounding environment. The concerns of the local community were obviously completely disregarded. How many more sites have been hidden? "

30 Sep 00 - GMO - GM crops get public hearings

James Meikle

Guardian ... Saturday 30 September 2000

An unprecedented set of hearings into the future of genetically modified crops begins on Monday, heralding 10 weeks of embarrassing allegations of failures in the government's handling of the introduction of the new technology into British agriculture .

Pressure to exert stricter control over the biotech companies will be put on ministers by anti-GM groups and individual protesters, who forced the hearings, to cost £500,000, by exploiting previously unused official procedures laid down by 1982 seeds regulations to object to plans from a GM company, Aventis, to market commercially Chardon LL , a modified feed maize for cattle.

Nick Brown, the agriculture minister, has indicated he is ready to give permission; if he decides to do so next year, a far more expensive legal battle involving a high court judge is likely. Success for Aventis in getting a national seeds listing for its product, the last legal hurdle it faces , would bring applications from other companies anxious to be ready for the market once farm trials are complete in 2003. Some 68 groups and individuals, all except Aventis against the proposal, have each paid a total of £90 to gain the right to public hearings. Some are calling expert witnesses. On Monday they will be handed 30kg (66lb) of written evidence submitted to the hearings, for which a timetable will then be set.

The hearings will be held over six weeks at a hotel in Hammersmith, west London, with a further four at University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. A further 220 objectors paid £30 to lodge their protests in writing.

24 Sep 00 - GMO - New blow to GM as big stores extend their ban

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor

Independent ... Sunday 24 September 2000

Supermarket chains are striking a potentially fatal blow at GM food in Britain by refusing to sell meat, eggs and dairy products from animals fed on modified crops.

The development slashes the crops' biggest remaining market and marks another severe blow for the biotech industry, following Greenpeace's surprise court victory last week.

Twenty-eight Greenpeace supporters, led by Lord Melchett, were found not guilty of causing criminal damage after they destroyed part of an experimental crop of GM maize in Norfolk earlier this year.

It also coincides with an opinion poll which shows that more than two-thirds of Britons believe that GM crops should be banned from animal feed .

While the main supermarket and food manufacturers have already banned the direct use of GM crops in their own breads, cakes, ice cream and other products, until now they have been willing to sell meat and dairy products from animals fed on them.

But an internal report from the US government shows that exports of American soya beans to Britain have fallen by more than half in the last two years and are continuing to fall.

The report, by the US Department of Agriculture, blames "the hysteria surrounding genetically engineered (GE) food" in Britain for the decline. It adds: "Supermarkets are becoming increasingly keen to ensure that livestock is fed GE-free rations, threatening the multi-million dollar US soybean export trade with the UK ."

Greenpeace has received commitments from most supermarkets to phase out GM-fed meat .

As the table below shows, different chains are at different stages in the process, but almost all have at least begun it . The furthest advanced is Iceland, which two years ago was the first to remove GM ingredients from its products. Earlier this year it announced that all its "livestock for meat production would be reared on a non-GM diet " from then on.

Iceland took the unusual step for a supermarket chain of buying 6,000 tons of non-GM soya earlier this year to help its suppliers make the conversion and says customers will not be paying any more as a result of it.

Asda , Marks and Spencer , Tesco and CWS/Co-op all say that they are planning to eliminate GM-fed meat as soon as possible, and other chains are at least investigating banning it or introducing some non-GM fed products. Only Somerfield says its policy is currently to allow the use of genetically modified crops as animal feed, although already one of its suppliers is avoiding them.

Greenpeace admits that there are no known health risks to people from meat reared on GM crops. But it is aiming to stop their release into the environment and its campaign is aimed at "closing down the market" for them in Britain. Blake Lee-Harwood, the group's communications director, said last week: "The supermarkets are stampeding to get out before the public cottons on to what is going on."

An NOP poll commissioned by the pressure group shows that 67 per cent of Britons want a ban on GM crops being fed to livestock , and that 55 per cent do not want to eat meat, eggs or dairy products from animals that have eaten them .

Ninety per cent of respondents said that any products from animals that had been GM-fed should be labelled as such.

24 Sep 00 - GMO - GM crops risk is too great, says Melchett

By David Harrison

Telegraph ... Sunday 24 September 2000

Lord Melchett, the Norfolk farmer and executive director of Greenpeace, said yesterday that the court decision to clear him, and 27 other campaigners, of causing criminal damage in an attack on a GM trial farm was "a victory for farmers all over Britain ". In his first interview since the verdict last Wednesday, Lord Melchett told The Telegraph: "I care about farming and the countryside. Our battle against GM crops is a fight for the future of British farming. "The public doesn't want GM food, the supermarkets don't want it, and no farmer wants to grow things that nobody wants to buy. GM crops should now be consigned to the dustbin of history as a technology that went wrong."

The peer said: "The trial was a very frightening experience. Nobody wants a criminal conviction. I was surprised by the verdict. It was not what the establishment had wanted but that's the beauty of trial by jury." The 28 campaigners, including a housewife, a grandfather, a Baptist minister and 12 members of Greenpeace, had admitted destroying six acres of GM maize at a farm at Lyng, near Norwich, in April 1999.

The activists were confronted by the farm's owners and arrested when police were called to the scene and Lord Melchett spent two nights in jail. All the protesters were cleared of theft at Norfolk Crown Court in April and of causing criminal damage last week.

The National Farmers' Union described the verdict as "perverse" and said it "gave a green light to wanton vandalism and trespass on British farmland", but Lord Melchett, speaking at Greenpeace's headquarters in north London yesterday, was unrepentant. He said: "The jury found that we did not commit a criminal offence.

"They were 12 members of the public who listened to fiercely-contested arguments over two and a half weeks, away from all the propaganda. Their verdict was unanimous. They decided we were right to do what we did. This is an extremely serious issue. We did not undertake our action lightly but we felt we had to do something and we have been vindicated."

The hereditary peer, an Old Etonian and former Labour minister, admitted that the verdict could lead to more attacks on GM trial crops. Greenpeace had "no plans" for more action, he said, but he was "not ruling out" raids in the future. The NFU has called on the Government to offer improved protection to farmers taking part in the trials, but Lord Melchett insisted that the protests were non-violent and posed "no threat" to farmers.

He said that Greenpeace's action was justified because contamination from genetically modified crops posed an "extremely serious" threat to public health and the environment . He said: "We cannot just release these things into the environment because once they are out there they cannot be brought back .

"It's not like clearing up oil or nuclear waste. We don't know what effects they will have and that is a risk we cannot afford to take." The Government insists that the trials will go ahead. But Lord Melchett said that many farmers who agreed to make land available for GM crop trials have now pulled out and there are doubts over whether the Government will have enough sites to make future tests scientifically valid.

He said: "That is a terrible indictment of the trials. Farmers are having a tough time at the moment and yet even the offer of up to £300 an acre to plant GM crops has failed to attract enough takers. The Government should have consulted the agricultural community before the trials. Farmers would have told them that contamination spreads easily and quickly in the countryside - on the wind, on tractor wheels, on boots... Anybody who knows anything about farming would agree with that."

The peer also rejected the "feed the world" argument that GM crops could solve the problem of famine in developing countries. He said: "Some of the biggest anti-GM protests have been in India and other parts of Asia, as well as in Mexico and Brazil. They don't want GM foods any more than the British public."

24 Sep 00 - GMO - They were wrong

Richard Dawkins

Guardian ... Sunday 24 September 2000

Defence counsel for the Greenpeace vandals reassured the court that his clients were 'the sort of people you may expect to find sitting on a jury'. He was right, of course, with a vengeance. But far from being a character reference for the defendants, it is an indictment of the jury system. I am not in the least surprised to read that after the trial members of the jury were seen 'congratulating defendants'.

What sort of signal has been sent out by this verdict? Is it, as some have said, a charter for burglars, arsonists and telephone box vandals? Can we now freely commit crimes on the assumption that a jury of Big Brother -watching Sun -readers will reach a verdict uncontaminated by the facts of the case? It hasn't quite come to that. But it is close. This, emphatically, is not to be compared with the sort of civil disobedience that can be justified on genuinely thoughtful grounds.

Lord Melchett is no Gandhi, no Mandela, taking direct action as the only possible recourse against an oppressive regime. On the other hand, he and his friends are probably not as sinister as their 'decontamination suit' uniforms suggest. On balance, Lord Melchett is more airheaded wally than Mosleyite stormtrooper.

The air force general in Dr Strangelove who took devastating direct action in defence of 'our precious bodily fluids', is fiction... just. Popular misconceptions about GM foods are well up in the 'precious bodily fluids' class. If you pick 12 people at random, the majority might well think that GM is a substance, like DDT. Or that if they are 'contaminated' by GM they will undergo some Frankensteinian transmogrification. Or they wouldn't understand what is funny about the protesters' slogan: 'We don't want DNA in our tomatoes.' Aren't there some beliefs too daft for 'sincerity' to be an excuse?

(UK Correspondents not: The above paragraph indicates a contempt for the knowledge and understanding of the general public, most of whom are fully aware that genetically engineered plants have either a modified gene structure and/or genes from other plants or animals inserted)

Many of us believe the News of the World is an affront to decent humanity. Are we now free to torch its editorial offices? Many people sincerely think abortion is legalised murder. Will the Greenpeace verdict signal open season on doctors and clinics, as happens in some parts of America?

Some people sincerely believe that their private opinions on petrol prices entitle them to take unilateral action and blockade the country's vital supplies. Presumably, Greenpeace would oppose them, since high petrol taxes help to reduce pollution. We don't have to project our imaginations far into the future to envision Greenpeace warriors storming the barricades of fuel-protesting lorry drivers. If there are casualties and damage, should the jury acquit both sides, on the grounds that both sincerely believed their (opposite and incompatible) doctrines?

Is this really the sort of country we want to live in? Is this how we want to decide policy? That is where the Greenpeace verdict seems to be leading us.

The Government may be ruefully wondering whether it has been hoist by its own petard. Was it wise to encourage those outbursts of mindless 'feeling' and all that hysterical caterwauling over the 'People's Princess'? Has feeling become the new thinking? If so, the Government may bear some indirect responsibility.

The late Carl Sagan was once asked a question to which he didn't know the answer and he firmly said so. The questioner persisted: 'But what is your gut feeling?' Sagan's reply is never to be forgotten: 'But I try not to think with my gut. If I'm serious about understanding the world, thinking with anything besides my brain, as tempting as that might be, is likely to get me into trouble. It's OK to reserve judgment until the evidence is in.'

I genuinely don't know what to think about genetically modified crops, and nor should anyone else. The evidence is not yet in. Particular kinds of genetic modification may be a very bad idea. Or they may be a very good idea. It is precisely because we don't know that we have to find out. That is the purpose of experimental trials such as the one sabotaged by Greenpeace. Scientists do not know all the answers and should not claim to. Science is not a testament of doctrines; rather, it is a method of finding out. It is the only method that works by definition, since if a better method comes along, science will incorporate it. If we are not allowed to do experimental trials on genetically modified crops, we shall never know the bad things or the good things about them.

We now know that strong doses of X-rays are very dangerous. They can induce mutations and cause cancers. But if used carefully and in moderation, X-rays are a priceless diagnostic tool. We can all be thankful that predecessor of Greenpeace did not sabotage Roentgen's experiments on X-rays or Muller's investigations of mutagenesis.

We depend on scientific research to predict both the good and bad consequences of innovation. It is a reasonable guess (not a gut feeling) that genetically modified crops will also turn out to have both bad and good aspects. Certainly, it will be possible to modify plants to our benefit. And certainly it would be possible to modify plants in deliberately malevolent directions.

Very likely, as in the case of X-rays, even the good modifications may turn out to have some bad side-effects. It would be better to discover these now, in carefully controlled trials, rather than let them emerge later. With hindsight, it is a pity more research was not done earlier on the dangers of X-rays. If it had been, children of my generation would not have been allowed to play with X-ray machines in shoe shops.

We need more research, not less. And if we are to have activists protesting about dangerous crops, let us draw their zealous attention to those crops whose evil effects are already known because the necessary research was allowed to be done. Like tobacco.

Richard Dawkins is Charles Simonyi Professor of Public Understanding of Science, Oxford.

22 Sep 00 - GMO - Success has its own dangers, too

Charles Secrett

Guardian ... Friday 22 September 2000

GM trials may be under threat but democracy must not be forgotten

Direct action protesters have never had it so good. A handful of truckers and farmers bring the country to its knees simply by standing outside Britain's oil refineries and telling tanker drivers to stay put. Then, the acquittal of the Greenpeace defendants in their GM crop- trashing case deals a knock-out blow to the government's farm testing programme.

Peaceful direct action carried out by people who take responsibility for their actions must be allowed to shape what happens in a mature democracy. Britain has a long and honourable tradition of civil disobedience. Sometimes the law is an ass, and needs to be challenged outside parliament. The Greenpeace defendants belong to that tradition. I hope the oil blockaders would have had the courage to risk the high court's judgment if the police had followed usual procedure and charged them.

In an age where conventional politics is as bland and flatulent as processed beans, it is not surprising that activists from all walks of life find other ways to advance their cause. This is especially true when, as in the case of fuel prices and GM crops, the government is seen as arrogant, out-of-touch and wrong . (I believe high prices on polluting fuels are right, as well as good for the economy and environment, but that's another story). I wonder when we'll see the first attacks launched against the dome?

The Greenpeace ruling must worry the government on two counts. First, a jury has decided that the GM trials pose an unacceptable threat to neighbouring farms and the environment. Second, they appear to have given the green light to any sincere protester who rips up a GM crop which is about to pollinate. The defendants argued that they had a lawful reason for their actions under the Criminal Damage Act, which allows people to protect land and livelihoods from other damaging intrusions , if the court is convinced that such altruism is the genuine motive. Empirical studies have proven that GM contaminated pollen will be spread by the wind at least 4.5km beyond a pollinating crop. In Britain's crowded countryside, all GM trials thus present the same threat to neighbouring conventional and organic farmers as this site at Lyng in Norfolk.

The government has only one option now - stop the field trials before more damage is done, and go back to the safety of a secure laboratory. Having been defeated on scientific, economic and moral grounds, the government has lost its one remaining legal justification. It should admit honourable defeat.

What a victory that would be for the campaign against GM. But let's not get carried away. Honourable and peaceful direct action is democratic. But it is also fraught with danger and risk. For a start, it is game that anyone can play. Last week's confrontation may have been taken by desperate farmers or concerned environmentalists.

This week's action may be taken by people paranoid about paedophiles, or petrol heads who don't care about the climate destabilising, health-threatening pollution they inflict on everyone else. Most liberals do not possess 44-tonne articulated lorries which they can park on top of the nation's fuel supplies. It is a fine line between legitimately challenging the state, or corporations accused of acting against the common good, and simply shoving due process and the rule of law to one side to get your own selfish way. A society in which conventional politics is seen as having little useful role holds dangers for us all.

The state has many ways of fighting back against protesters, sometimes with good cause, sometimes not. Tony Blair advocates GM crops and foods. He may well decide that all prosecutions should now take place in much less sympathetic magistrates courts. We may well see Jack Straw using his exciting new anti-terrorism powers to target crop trashers, or spy on established campaigning organisations.

The other danger posed by direct action is that such actions are difficult to control. Public sympathy for the cause withers in the face of aggression. The state introduces more restrictive laws and tougher policing. Democracy narrows, and the rights of active, aware citizens are curtailed. Mr Straw's anti-terrorist legislation is a case in point. Partly in response to the May Day riot, it has been deliberately drafted loosely. Now the Home Office has more powers to limit the legitimate activities of awkward pressure groups.

Information is power. The first responsibility of pressure groups is to present the facts and arguments for ordinary citizens. Next, we can create opportunities for constituents or taxpayers, shareholders or consumers, to challenge governments and corporations. This type of citizen action works, as Monsanto found to its cost. And, by using due process, it strengthens not weakens democracy.

Charles Secrett is director of Friends of the Earth.

21 Sep 00 - GMO - Further cases 'to be treated on merit'

By Robert Verkaik, Legal Affairs Correspondent

Independent ... Thursday 21 September 2000

GM activists or other protesters planning to use yesterday's verdict at Norwich Crown Court to launch similar campaigns involving damage to property were warned that each case would be treated on its merits.

Lawyers said that the defence, known as "the Tommy Archer defence" because it was successfully used by a character in the Radio 4 soap, relied on the jury accepting that the defendant genuinely believed that the action would prevent greater damage being done.

Lord Melchett, executive director of the environmental campaign group Greenpeace, who was acquitted of criminal damage, told the court he believed the genetic modification of crops was one of the "most frightening things he had ever come across" .

Malcolm Fowler, chairman of the Law Society's criminal law committee, said this was a "subjective test". He said if further evidence came to light that showed other defendants could not reasonably hold this view then they might find the jury was less sympathetic.

He said the case was one of "life imitating art" as the Law Society had advised scriptwriters of The Archers on the defence mounted by Tommy Archer when he admitted damaging a GM crop.

Peter Tidey, chief Crown prosecutor for Norfolk, said after the verdict: "Criminal damage is a serious offence and allegations that an offence was premeditated and carried out by a group of people are taken into consideration when deciding whether to prosecute."

He added: "Each case is unique and we will continue to review each case on its merits and according to the code for Crown prosecutors, which says there must be sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction."

In a separate case yesterday two nuclear protesters in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, were found not guilty of criminal damage by a jury.

21 Sep 00 - GMO - Beauty therapist and accountant united by belief in their cause

By Michael McCarthy

Independent ... Thursday 21 September 2000

They say people lose their idealism as they get older, but the 27 Greenpeace activists arrested with Peter Melchett at Lyng give the lie to that.

They are far from being a bunch of teenage protesters; there is only one student among them, and she is 44 . The average age of the whole group is 37 , with nine in their 40s and 50s , and only two aged 26 or under.

Thirteen of them are Greenpeace employees, the others are Greenpeace supporters with jobs of their own, ranging from tree surgeon to beauty therapist, from Baptist minister to Oxfam co-ordinator, from care centre manager to accountant. Most are graduates; they come from all over the country.

What unites the whole group is a passionate belief that GM technology has the potential to harm the environment.

"Every one of them", said Judge David Mellor, after hearing them give evidence, "is intelligent, idealistic and committed to their cause. All were willing to take direct action in support of it, with the vital Greenpeace proviso of non-violence : they did not fight the police who arrived to arrest them, the nearest thing to resistance any offered being to go limp."

And all were deeply moved by their acquittal yesterday. There were gasps and cries of delight, and then, in the full minute it took to read out 28 not- guilty verdicts, several of them lapsed into tears.

In the court vestibule they hugged each other while their counsel, Owen Davies QC, called out to them: "I congratulate you on an astounding victory right across the board from a jury of local people."

Malcolm Carroll, 44, a Baptist minister from Stafford, said: "I'm very pleased to have been a member of this group of 28 very remarkable people, all with the same conviction that GM contamination is too risky to be allowed .

"But it has been a big personal investment. My two sons, being sensible children, are mortified when they see their dad on the news and they will be delighted it's over."

Emma Hargreaves, 27, a gardener from London, said: "I feel fantastic and relieved. It's been very worrying and a strain for everybody but it was important not just for us. The Government and the chemical companies must surely sit up and listen ."

21 Sep 00 - GMO - Unlikely radical continues family tradition

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Correspondent

Independent ... Thursday 21 September 2000

It would be hard to imagine a man whose public life has more sharply diverged from his background than Peter Robert Henry Mond, 52, Fourth Baron Melchett and executive director of Greenpeace UK, cleared yesterday of criminal damage in leading a raid to destroy a field of genetically modified crops.

On the one hand - with the background - all is privilege, all is Establishment. Hereditary peerage. Eton and Cambridge. Eight-hundred acre Norfolk estate. Great-grandfather, Sir Alfred Mond, founder of Britain's chemicals giant ICI. Father, Julian Melchett, the Third Baron, founder of British Steel. Mother, Sonia Melchett, perhaps the most celebrated London literary hostess of the past 50 years. (It was at her Chelsea salon that the broadcaster Anna Ford threw a glass of white wine over Jonathan Aitken in an Eighties row over breakfast television.)

On the other hand - with the man himself - all is radicalism. Socialist. Vegetarian. Trainee probation officer. Cannabis researcher. Reporter on pop festivals. Demonstrator at United States air bases. Non-marrier of the mother of his two children. Non-user of his title (he calls himself Peter Melchett, plain and simple). Three-year president of that scourge of the landed nobility, the Ramblers' Association. And for the past 11 years, Greenpeace boss.

For the first 10 of them, until the summer of 1999, Lord Melchett was a figure little-known by the public, a much admired and very popular Greenpeace leader but one who had neither attained nor wanted the high profile of his one-time counterpart at the head of Friends of the Earth (and fellow Etonian), Sir Jonathon Porritt.

All that changed in the rosy dawn of 26 July last year when Lord Melchett personally led a raid at Lyng, Norfolk, on six acres of maize genetically modified by the German agrochemicals company Aventis to be tolerant of one of its weedkillers, and being grown as part of the Government's farm-scale trials of GM crops.

The clash at Walnut Tree Farm between him and his 27 fellow activists, and the three enraged farmers whose maize it was, William Brigham and his brothers, Eddie and John, has become the stuff of legend. It could equally well be the stuff of Monty Python: the Brighams chased the white-overalled eco-warriors and their mower and their flat-bed truck around the field in tractors, ramming them several times until the boys in blue arrived and calmer tempers prevailed.

It was a classic Greenpeace "action", imaginative and eye-catching, right up there with the battle over the Brent Spar oil rig and hassling whaling ships, and the media loved it. They loved it even more when the beak refused his lordship bail and he was banged up in Norwich prison until a judge released him the following day.

Suddenly, everyone was focusing on this unusual man and his contradictions: socialist lord, green toff, anti-establishment member of the Establishment. He had been a decade in the background, and now he was the news. Why had he emerged?

The answer lies in the fact that Lord Melchett, despite his background, is not a New Labour champagne socialist, nor an aristocrat dabbling in eco-chic, but a real radical. Opposition to GM crops is something he feels very deeply, not least because the estate he inherited at Ringstead, near Hunstanton (about 20 miles from Mr Brigham's place at Lyng), he now farms organically.

GM crops are a threat to the very existence of organic agriculture because the possibility of long-distance pollen transfer means that it is very hard to guarantee that an organic crop is GM free if a GM site is anywhere in the vicinity.

This point was emphasised last year by a report commissioned by the Government from Europe's leading GM research institute, the John Innes Centre, and published just six weeks before the raid at Lyng. In essence, it said that it was impossible to guarantee that any foods grown in Britain could be GM free if GM crops were also grown here because of the huge distances pollen could travel.

That was the basis for the raid on Lyng, the Greenpeace activists say - to remove the maize before its flowering (which was imminent) and the consequent "genetic pollution" of other crops or countryside plants. It was the basis of their defence of "lawful excuse" for the damage which they freely admitted they had caused.

That, and his own local interest, caused Lord Melchett to lead the raid. "I am a farmer in Norfolk, and if I didn't do it myself it might have seemed that I was letting other people take action on my behalf," he said.

His radicalism cut short a promising political career which would probably have led to cabinet rank. Harold Wilson and James Callaghan brought him into their governments in the mid-seventies as a young Labour peer and he was a minister of state at the Northern Ireland Office at the age of 28, a post he held for three years. But in the Eighties the lure of direct action drew him away from conventional politics.

Why? There was no Damascene conversion. Lord Melchett himself points to his family's own tradition as business tycoons on the radical side. "Sir Alfred Mond was one of the first employers to give his workers paid holidays," he said. "He spoke out on many issues such as women's rights and Ireland." A family tradition of radicalism, then? He says: "More a family tradition of trying to do the right thing."

He seems in many ways an unlikely radical himself, cherubic-faced and curly-haired with a ready and very warm smile. He is measured and sane in debate and, unusually for someone who went to Eton, he does not sound like an Etonian. He sounds normal. But the Fourth Baron Melchett, rallyer of Britain's eco-warriors, is a long way from being ordinary.

21 Sep 00 - GMO - Radical groups fear escape of pollen

Staff Reporter

Independent ... Thursday 21 September 2000

The field at Lyng in Norfolk attacked by Greenpeace was part of the Government's four-year programme of farm-scale trials of genetically modified (GM) crops.

The programme is not concerned with the human health and safety aspects of the crops themselves - that has already been tested - but with the possible effects on local wildlife of the powerful new weedkillers that the crops have been genetically engineered to tolerate.

It is feared that spraying could kill off all other insect, plant and bird life in the field, leaving only the crops behind as "green concrete" . Repeated on a large scale, that would devastate wildlife over large areas of the countryside already hard hit by the intensification of farming.

The Environment minister Michael Meacher has managed to persuade the main GM companies to put off commercial growing until the results of the trials are received in 2003. If they are unfavourable, it is possible that GM crops may never be grown commercially in Britain, Mr Meacher has said. The trials are supported by English Nature, the Government's wildlife advisers, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

But other more radical groups, with Greenpeace in the lead, feel that the trials present simply too great a risk of large amounts of GM pollen escaping into the environment , and have consistently called for them to be cancelled. At Lyng, Greenpeace went further and took direct action.

21 Sep 00 - GMO - GM battle fears as Melchett is cleared

By David Brown and David Sapsted

Telegraph ... Thursday 21 September 2000

Farmers were braced last night for more attacks on genetically modified crops after 28 Greenpeace campaigners were cleared of criminal damage despite admitting destroying six acres of GM maize .

There were cheers from supporters in the public gallery at Norfolk Crown Court as the unanimous verdicts were returned. Some defendants wept. Victory for the protesters, who included Lord Melchett, a former Labour minister, cast doubt on Government plans to expand farm-scale trials of GM crops over the next three years.

The Department of the Environment insisted that GM trials would go ahead. But farmers feared that the verdicts would be a licence for protesters to declare "open season" on GM farms. The National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners Association said they would be seeking urgent talks with the Government to determine how farmers could be protected when they conducted lawful GM trials.

Leaders of the biotechnology industry said the verdicts could have "extremely damaging effects on jobs and investment, agriculture and our science base as a whole".

Lord Melchett, 52, hailed the verdicts as a triumph for those who wished "to defend the British countryside and farming from GM contamination" . He refused to rule out further attacks and called on the Government to cancel GM farm trials "before any further genetic pollution of the environment occurs" .

Lord Melchett, who is the executive director of Greenpeace, added: "We took this action because we honestly believed we were protecting the environment. Clearly the jury agreed with that. We have known for a long time that people do not want any GM foods and supermarkets will not sell them. Now the time has come for people to stop planting GM crops."

At an earlier trial in Norwich, all 28 defendants were acquitted of stealing the crops from Walnut Tree Farm, owned by William Brigham, at Lyng, near Dereham, last year. But the jury was unable to reach a verdict on the criminal damage charge and this led to a retrial.

The cost of the trials is estimated at £250,000. After yesterday's acquittals, Judge David Mellor awarded Greenpeace its defence costs, believed to be about £100,000. The accused - 18 men and 10 women - had travelled from all over the country to protest in Norfolk. They claimed that their actions were justified by the "lawful excuse" that they were trying to protect property at immediate risk. This is normally a defence for, say, smashing down a person's door during a fire.

Ben Gill, the NFU president, said: "This case was about criminal damage to a farmers' crops. It raises fundamental issues about the right of farmers to go about their lawful business. We find it extraordinary that even with such clear evidence, a not guilty verdict was reached. This gives the green light to wanton vandalism and trespass."

The Crown Prosecution Service tried to allay farmers' fears by saying that the verdicts would not rule out future prosecutions if there were "a realistic prospect of conviction and if it is in the public interest for a case to go to court".

However, such prosecutions seem unlikely in view of Greenpeace's argument that it had lawful excuse to destroy the crops because pollen was posing an environmental threat to neighbouring fields.

The Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops, which organised the farm-scale trials, said the verdicts raised fundamental questions about the ability of the legal system to cope with "the gradual erosion of respect for public order and authority which our society is facing".

Doubt had already been cast on the Government's ability to recruit enough farms - 75 in the next three years - to take part in the trials before the Norwich case began. In March, two of the 31 farms recruited in England and Scotland pulled out after being criticised locally. Yesterday's verdicts may not only discourage others to come forward but persuade existing ones to pull out.

The Department of the Environment was putting on a brave face. It said: "If we halt our strictly controlled research there would be widespread GM crop planting without us getting the real scientific evidence we need. The top priority is to protect the environment and human health. These farm-scale evaluations are vital for us to assess, by growing and managing GM crops, whether there are any unacceptable effects on either."

Tony Juniper, of Friends of the Earth, said: "These verdicts confirm that the Government is going too far and too fast with genetically modified crops. Any further GM testing must be conducted indoors."

21 Sep 00 - GMO - GM trials chaos as Melchett is freed

By Valerie Elliott, Countryside Editor

Times ... Thursday 21 September 2000

The Government's GM trials were under threat last night after a jury verdict appeared to condone the destruction of such crops.

Ministers were under renewed pressure to increase security for GM crop farmers or face the collapse of the experiment after Lord Melchett and 27 Greenpeace protesters who destroyed GM maize crops in Norfolk were cleared of criminal damage .

Lord Melchett, the executive director of Greenpeace, said that Tony Blair and the biotechnology companies had no choice but to call off the trials, while Ben Gill, the National Farmers' Union president, said the Norwich Crown Court verdict amounted to a declaration of "open season" on British farmland.

Farmers are already pressing for GM crop sites to be kept secret, and without extra protection many farms are likely to boycott or pull out of the three-year GM tests.

During the spring, 12 of 60 farmers pulled out of trials after protests from local communities and anti-GM groups, and only 25 GM farmers were enlisted for this autumn's trials on winter oilseed rape.

Professor Vivian Moses, chairman of the CropGen Panel, which aims to inform public debate on GM technology, said: "The Government needs to take action now to ensure the protection of members of the public conducting legitimate activity within the law."

But the Government, which is reviewing separation distances between GM and other crops, offered no comfort for farmers, although it insisted that the "vital" trials would proceed. A spokeswoman was adamant that the acquittals did not give "carte blanche" to other activists to trash crops.

The jury of seven men and five women had taken five hours to reach its verdict at the end of a £250,000 retrial. The 28 had been cleared of theft earlier this year when another jury failed to reach a verdict on criminal damage charges.

The defendants had argued that they had acted to prevent pollen from the GM maize polluting nearby crops and gardens. Lord Melchett said afterwards: "We acted to protect the environment, the countryside and British farming from GM contamination and we were right to do that . Now it is time for Mr Blair and the chemical companies to stop growing GM crops."

"It is absolutely clear that the law allows for a serious defence if people genuinely believe their action is to protect property and the environment. I do not believe it gives a green light for others to copy, but it does show the law is with us."

But Mr Gill said: "We find it extraordinary that, with such clear evidence, a 'not guilty' verdict was reached. This gives the green light to wanton vandalism and trespass."

The case was one of life imitating art, as the protesters followed in the footsteps of Tommy Archer, the fictional teenage rebel in The Archers, who successfully ran the same defence of "lawful" excuse under the 1971 Criminal Damage Act.

Tommy was at the centre of a long-running storyline in the radio soap about damaging crops last year, months before any case came to trial in real life.

21 Sep 00 - GMO - Greenpeace wins key GM case

Paul Kelso

Guardian ... Thursday 21 September 2000

Greenpeace's executive director and 27 other environmental activists were yesterday cleared of causing criminal damage to a field of genetically modified maize, in a verdict with profound implications for the future of GM crop trials and direct action.

Lord Melchett and his fellow protesters, 13 of whom also work for Greenpeace, were acquitted at a retrial at Norwich crown court after claiming they had lawful excuse to attack the crop at a farm in Lyng, Norfolk, in July 1999.

The not guilty verdicts were greeted with cries of delight and tears from some of the defendants and applause from the gallery. Outside some defendants were congratulated by jury members .

At the original trial in April the 28 were cleared of theft, but the jury was unable to reach a verdict on criminal damage charges after seven and a half hours.

The defendants, who include a Baptist minister, a beautician and the caretaker from Greenpeace's London office, were awarded costs for both trials. The total cost to the crown prosecution service was estimated at £250,000.

Speaking outside the court, Lord Melchett said the verdict sent a clear message to the government. "The time has come for Mr Blair and the chemical companies to stop growing GM crops .

"We have known for a long time that people don't want to eat GM food ; supermarkets won't sell GM food and now the time has come for people to stop planting GM food ."

He said the verdict did not give a green light to other protesters to destroy crops, but refused to rule out similar action by Greenpeace in the future.

"The next step is for the government to take action. We don't have immediate plans, but if the government don't do anything and the chemical companies don't stop planting these crops, we won't rule anything out ."

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said the crop trials would continue. "If we halted our strictly controlled research then there would be widespread GM crop planting without us getting the evidence we need," he said. "Our top priority is to protect the environment and human health."

Seventy three sites were chosen for crop trials this year and already 12 spring-sown oilseed rape crops, 12 forage maize crops and 24 beet crops have been harvested. Twenty five sites are being planted with GM autumn-sown oilseed rape.

Under EU law the government has no plans to ban GM crop planting, but the biochemical companies have agreed to take part in a four-year trial programme, now in its second year.

William Brigham, the farmer on whose land the GM maize was grown, said the verdict gave "the green light to trespass and the green light to vandalism".

"This attack was a frightening experience for myself and my family," he said. "Greenpeace is a massive environmental pressure group and we are a small family farm. They used bully boy tactics to get their point across and today the bully has won."

Scimac, the industry body which represents Aventis, the biotech company which developed the GM maize on Mr Brigham's farm, also condemned the verdict.

"This raises concerns that go much deeper than the safety of GM crops," its chairman, Roger Turner, said. "It raises fundamental questions about the ability of our legal system to cope with the gradual erosion of respect for public rights and authority.

"We are disappointed that an extreme minority do not have enough confidence in the strength of their argument to let science decide."

Mike Schwarz, a partner at Bindman and Partners, the solicitors who acted for Greenpeace, said the verdict was a vindication of the jury system . "Juries understand reasonable citizens' actions. But to get to juries you have to get past police forces keen to clamp down on protesters and a CPS which wants to keep these cases in magistrates courts and away from juries."

The verdict provoked anger from the National Farmers' Union, which described it as "perverse" and as declaring "open season" on farmland.

The NFU's president, Ben Gill, said he would be writing to the home secretary, Jack Straw, ahead of a planned meeting to discuss the issues raised by the case.

"We find it extraordinary that even with such clear evidence a not-guilty verdict was reached," he said. "This gives the green light to wanton vandalism and trespass."

Peter Tidey, chief crown prosecutor for Norfolk, defended the decision to bring a retrial. "Criminal damage is a serious offence and allegations that an offence was premeditated and carried out by a group of people are taken into consideration when deciding whether to proceed," he said.

The attack on Mr Brigham's crop took place at dawn on the July 26 last year when the 28 protesters, 19 men and nine women aged between 22 and 52, converged on his farm.

Dressed in white overalls with the Greenpeace logo on the back and accompanied by four journalists including a video cameraman, the group set about removing the entire six and a half acre crop.

They had brought with them a tractor with a cutting device and a tipper truck. "I was there with the intention of removing the entire crop, of bagging it and returning it to its owners, Agr-Evo Ltd [now Aventis] in King's Lynn," Lord Melchett told the court.

The aim of removing the entire crop was crucial to the defence case. The protesters argued that they had lawful excuse under the Criminal Damage Act 1971 to uproot the crop, as leaving it to flower and pollinate would have led to a greater crime - the contamination of other crops in the vicinity. "We are delighted the jury agreed with us," Lord Melchett said.

Greenpeace targeted the maize on Mr Brigham's land after he gave an interview to the Eastern Daily Press in which he said he would be growing the crop under contract for Agr-Evo.

The publicity prompted villagers in Lyng to hold a public meeting to discuss the crop trial. Mr Brigham was invited but, on the advice of Agr-Evo, did not attend.

Following the meeting, Lord Melchett wrote to him urging him to discontinue the trial. Shortly afterwards the farmer gave an interview to Farmers Weekly in which he indicated that the maize was due to flower within a week. This prompted Greenpeace to carry out its action.

"That crop, when it flowered, would release GM material widely," Lord Melchett said. It posed "the most serious environmental threat... it's alive, so it can't be cleared up like chemical pollution, or even nuclear waste."

21 Sep 00 - GMO - GM food protests

Wendy Gracefield

Guardian ... Thursday 21 September 2000

After 28 Greenpeace activists, including former Labour minister Lord Melchett, were cleared over the destruction of a field of genetically modified maize, environmental groups says that government plans to increase GM trials are doomed. Wendy Gracefield explains the issues.

What were the protesters in court for?

Lord Melchett is a former Labour minister, working farmer and head of Greenpeace UK. On 26 July last year, he and 27 others made a dawn raid on a six-acre GM maize crop being grown by three brothers for seed company Agr-Evo. They broke into remote Walnut Tree farm, near Lyng, Norfolk, shredded the crops with a lorry and cutting machine and started bagging them up. The volunteers, who were all wearing white decontamination suits, were quickly stopped by the vigilant farmers, who fought back by using their tractors as battering rams.

So why did Greenpeace object to the GM maize?

Greenpeace says genetically modified food destroys the environment and is bad for human health. In fact, the group argued that they had a legal excuse to uproot the crops because leaving them to flower and pollinate would have led to a greater crime - the contamination of other crops in the vicinity. Similar widespread objections means supermarkets are stepping up the sale of organic food. Protesters object to crop trials that could possibly spread genetically modified species to other crops that are currently GM free.

What is GM food anyway?

Farmers and growers have always used traditional methods of cross breeding to make their tomatoes sweeter, their trees sturdier and their plants hardier. In the past, genes were transferred between the same species, but new technology means they can be transferred within different species. In Britain, the Department of the Environment has agreed to 73 sites for GM trials this year. They include 12 spring-sown oilseed rape crops, 12 forage maize crops and 24 beet crops. Twenty-five sites are being planted with GM autumn-sown oilseed rape. Environmentalists worry that this will disturb the natural balance and have, as yet, unknown health consequences.

Why bother growing it then?

Scientists argue that genetically modified crops could be the key to richer wildlife and efficient food production. GM foods can be made to be very hardy, resistant to common diseases and faster growing. Sir John Beringer, the dean at Bristol University recently told a London science conference that.the presence of more songbirds on British farms would depend on encouraging the survival of more weeds and insects. Genetically modifying crops would help to do this. (UK Correspondents note: it is difficult to equate this statement with the use of GM Roundup resistant crops, where the objective is to completely eliminate weeds!)

Any other advantages?

Fruit and vegetables can be modified to improve our health. Scientists are now in the process of altering apples and strawberries into antibacterial treatments that would protect against tooth decay. An apple a day really might keep the dentist away. Tomatoes and bananas are also being tipped as a worldwide vaccine for hepatitis B. Scientists say that, if they are genetically altered to contain the vaccine, it would save millions of lives as hepatitis B is the precursor of liver cancer, the single biggest cause of cancer deaths.

What will happen to British grown GM crops now?

It is hard to tell what effect the court case will have on future GM development, but it is unlikely to stop it altogether. The Department of Environment has vowed to continue with its trials. It says that, if it were to stop the strictly controlled research, there would be widespread GM crop planting but there would be no scientific feedback. Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth claims the protesters' victory means other groups are legally able to destroy GM crops that are about to go to pollen. Lord Melchett warned that Greenpeace might take similar action in future. He said: "We don't have immediate plans, but, if the government don't do anything and the chemical companies don't stop planting these crops, we can't rule anything out."

21 Sep 00 - GMO - Farm trials in jeopardy after verdict

Jamie Wilson

Guardian ... Thursday 21 September 2000

Yesterday's verdict acquitting 28 Greenpeace protesters of criminal damage to a field of GM crops is likely to have ramifications far beyond the confines of Norwich crown court .

According to Charles Secret, director of Friends of the Earth, the jury's decision could spell disaster for the government's plans to increase the number of genetically modified farm scale crop trials. "As far as I can see this throws the door open for people to legitimately destroy GM crops that are about to go to pollen.

Under government plans, trials in 25 fields for maize and oilseed rape and 30 more for either sugar or fodder beet are due to get under way by the end of this year, with more farm-scale trials planned for next year and in 2002 before the results are fully evaluated in 2003.

A total of 75 participating farms are needed over the next three years for a viable study, but even before yesterday's verdict, doubt had been cast on the government's ability to recruit enough farms, a fact confirmed by the National Farmers Union yesterday.

"It is vital that any farmers involved in future trials are better protected or of course they are not going to want to take part," a spokesman said. "We are extremely shocked and angered by the verdict. This is about criminal damage to farmers' crops and has distressing implications for all farmers."

In March, two weeks after the government announced the location of 31 farms in England and Scotland that had signed up for the trials, two of the farms pulled out under pressure from local people. Greenpeace has also issued a hit list of 26 farms it says are taking part in the trials.

The government had issued only a six-figure grid reference to identify the fields where the trials are due to take place, but anti-GM campaigners will be hoping that the jury's decision in the Greenpeace case will trigger a domino effect, with more farmers deciding to boycott the trials.

Although the jury's verdict does not set a precedent for future cases, legal experts said yesterday that a number of similar verdicts would probably see the crown prosecution service re-evaluating whether to bring similar cases to trial.

Yesterday the Department of Environment Transport and the Regions was adamant the trials would continue. "If we halted our strictly controlled research then there would be widespread GM crop planting, without us getting the real scientific evidence we need," the department said in a statement. "Our priority is to protect the environment and human health. These farm scale evaluations are vital for us to assess whether there are any unacceptable effects."

21 Sep 00 - GMO - Confrontation on GM battlefield

John Vidal

Guardian ... Thursday 21 September 2000

Greenpeace trial: Short but epic meeting of farmers and protesters

When Lord Melchett, former Labour minister, working farmer and head of Greenpeace UK, arrived at remote Walnut Tree farm, near Lyng, Norfolk, with 27 others just before dawn on July 26 last year, he knew the environmental group had just a few minutes to destroy the six acre GM maize crop being grown by the three Brigham brothers for seed company Agr-Evo.

With luck, the farm machinery they had brought would work faultlessly, the police would be alerted too late and the "polluting" maize would be bagged up and on its way back to the company's head office in King's Lynn before anyone could stop them.

The first half of the operation went to plan. Lord Melchett had set off at night from his family farm, some 30 miles away at Ringstead, Norfolk, with an industrial crop cutter on the back of a wagon. Most of the other Greenpeace members had travelled there from London in two minibuses.

The rendezvous was near the GM field at 5am. By the time Lord Melchett arrived, the 27 volunteers - who included nine Greenpeace staff and supporters from all over Britain including a Baptist minister - were waiting behind a hedge.

Within seconds, the padlock on the gate barring the GM trial field had been cut, lorry and cutting machine had gone in, followed by the volunteers all dressed in white "decontamination" suits. The gate was immediately re-padlocked and Melchett spent an infuriating few minutes trying to set up the machinery.

What Greenpeace had not counted on was the alertness and the anger of the Brigham brothers and their determination to protect their crop. Within seconds of the environment group's cutter speeding through the field like a whirling dervish, the three brothers were heading from the farmhouse towards the field on foot and by tractors.

The meeting was short but epic . There were moments of real drama and danger for the volunteers and the clash was described as a confrontation between outsiders and locals , with Greenpeace being alternately hailed by the anti-GM lobby and condemned by government and most of the media.

William Brigham tried to physically stop the volunteers who had immediately begun cutting the crop by hand and putting it into bags. Meanwhile, John and Eddie Brigham were turning their tractors into mobile battering rams.

The two Greenpeace minibuses were damaged. As one brother on his Massey Ferguson ambushed the Greenpeace cutter on its second revolution round the field, striking it down with one blow of his front end loader, another was slamming a heavy JCB-type shovel on top of the Greenpeace lorry preventing it moving.

Within 10 minutes, the Greenpeace action was effectively over, with only the volunteers left cutting by hand. At most, one sixth of the field which was about to flower and pollinate, causing what Lord Melchett said would be "inevitable pollution", had been cut down.

The brothers had caused an estimated £5,000 of damage to the Greenpeace machinery and Greenpeace had caused about £650 of damage to the crop.

The police arrived at about 5.30am. By this time one of the Brighams was speeding round the field in his tractor in pursuit of anyone in a white suit and the volunteers were hiding or throwing themselves deep into the maize to avoid injury,

As the police moved in to arrest Greenpeace members and lead them to relative safety, the political and ecological arguments started. William Brigham confronted Lord Melchett, accusing him of being a criminal: "I find it amazing that a man calling himself a democrat and is a former government minister sees fit to take the law into his own hands."

Lord Melchett said: "This is decontamination of the countryside. This crop shouldn't be grown . We are doing something that the public wants and is for the benefit of the environment ." He added that Greenpeace was trying to protect other farmers.

William Brigham argued that he, rather than Lord Melchett, was working for the community, and that he and his brothers were acting in an ecologically responsible way.

"I wanted to trial these crops to see if there were any downsides," he said.

Within hours, the Greenpeace 28 had been driven off and Lord Melchett was preparing to spend two nights in Norwich prison after being refused bail.