Document Directory

04 May 00 - GMO - US tightens its GM food rules
03 May 00 - GMO - Greenpeace activists face new trial over attack on GM crops
02 May 00 - GMO - GM pigs produce new wonder 'green' droppings
01 May 00 - GMO - Farmers demand retrial of protesters
29 Apr 00 - GMO - April showers wash out GM trials
23 Apr 00 - GMO - Mutant lobster is food of the future
23 Apr 00 - GMO - Hi-tech crops are bad for the brain
22 Apr 00 - GMO - 'Feed the world' opportunity seen for GM salmon
21 Apr 00 - GMO - GM crop farms fear backlash over field trials
20 Apr 00 - GMO - Greenpeace farm raiders cleared of stealing GM crops
20 Apr 00 - GMO - Jury split on Greenpeace GM raid
20 Apr 00 - GMO - Jury split over GM crop destroyers
20 Apr 00 - GMO - Melchett faces a retrial over raid on GM farm
19 Apr 00 - GMO - GM Crop Protestors May Face Retrial
15 Apr 00 - GMO - GM Crops Secretly Planted In 425 French Plots
15 Apr 00 - GMO - Berlin bans genetic tests on employees
13 Apr 00 - GMO - MEPs reject GM food liability
13 Apr 00 - GMO - Benefits Of GM Foods 'Overstated'
12 Apr 00 - GMO - GM fish fail to hook Scottish salmon farmers
12 Apr 00 - GMO - Genetically altered salmon may go on sale within a year
11 Apr 00 - GMO - Farmer Drops GM Crop Trial After Protests
10 Apr 00 - GMO - Cancer expert says GM crops can be healthier
05 Apr 00 - GMO - GM mutations can't be halted, says peer
05 Apr 00 - GMO - Tests jeopardise organic farms
05 Apr 00 - GMO - We attacked crop to protect nature, peer tells court
05 Apr 00 - GMO - GM crops are greatest threat, says Melchett
04 Apr 00 - GMO - GM raid peer made appeal to farmer
04 Apr 00 - GMO - Group led by peer and vicar 'ruined GM crop'

04 May 00 - GMO - US tightens its GM food rules

By Mary Dejevsky in Washington

Independent ... Wednesday 04 May 2000

The United States has changed its procedures for the approval of new genetically modified foods and crops in an attempt to fend off consumer resistance at home and importers' resistance abroad.

The regulations, announced by the White House yesterday, close many of the holes in current regulations but did not include the compulsory labelling of GM products.

The monitoring of GM food had been shared by several agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency. Many products escaped scrutiny - which well suited the biotech and food companies.

Companies are now required to submit detailed research results and information on new GM products to the FDA. This had been voluntary.

The Department of Agriculture will oversee new tests to detect the presence of GM ingredients in food. As much as 90 per cent of American food contains at least traces of GM ingredients because of the widespread use of soya-based additives in processed food. Half of US-grown soya , an estimated one-third of maize , and a lesser proportion of potatoes are genetically modified.

The FDA has been given six months to devise a system to label GM-free food without suggesting that GM food is in any way unsafe. While allowing that GM crops might turn out to have environmental drawbacks , the US has insisted - and continued to insist yesterday - all GM food grown or sold in the US is safe for human consumption.

US food producers' groups, which had resisted further regulation, said the measures would foster public confidence. Their views have been influenced by the recent threat to farmers' livelihoods posed by the decision of some major companies, including McDonald's, not to buy GM produce.

But the fact that the regulations do not stipulate compulsory labelling of GM food was criticised by some groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, which said it also feared there was insufficient monitoring of the long-term health and environmental implications of GM food.

03 May 00 - GMO - Greenpeace activists face new trial over attack on GM crops

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Correspondent

Independent ... Wednesday 03 May 2000

The Greenpeace director Lord Melchett and 27 of the group's activists are to be retried in the GM crop-wrecking case over which a jury could not agree, the Crown Prosecution Service said yesterday.

The Greenpeace defendants were tried at Norwich Crown Court last month on charges of criminal damage and theft after a raid last July on a farm at Lyng, Norfolk to cut down genetically modified maize.

After a 12-day trial the jury of six men and six women cleared all 28 of the theft charge, but failed to reach a verdict on criminal damage. Lord Melchett and his activists admitted using a motor mower to attack the six-acre field, part of the Government's programme of farm trials of GM crops.

But they claimed the defence of "lawful excuse" under the Criminal Damage Act, 1971, which allows someone to damage property to prevent damage to other property.

They told the court the maize they attacked, genetically engineered to be tolerant of a powerful weedkiller, was about to come into flower, and its pollen could have "genetically polluted" other crops, which they wished to protect.

The Crown Prosecution Service said it would ask for an early trial date. The case is again likely to be heard at Norwich Crown Court, but if a jury once more fails to agree, it is unlikely to go to a third trial.

"I welcome the opportunity to argue once again, and convince a second jury that what we did was the right thing to do and was justified," Lord Melchett, 52, said last night.

02 May 00 - GMO - GM pigs produce new wonder 'green' droppings

By Mary Dejevsky in Washington

Independent ... Tuesday 02 May 2000

If consumers were dismayed by the news that hundreds of giant, genetically modified salmon are under production in Canada, they will be even more alarmed by the arrival of "enviro-pig" , a beast genetically modified to produce low-phosphorus faeces that are deemed less harmful to the environment.

A special report in The New York Times yesterday claimed that the pig is one of a whole menagerie of animals - cows, goats and sheep - being modified in America .

Most are being altered to produce milk with specific medicinal properties, for instance sheep's milk used to treat cystic fibrosis.

The fish could be on US dinner plates as early as next year and could be followed by the other animals shortly, thanks to scant intervention from the official US food safety watchdog, the Food and Drug Administration, The New York Times claimed.

As with GM vegetables, the FDA's remit extends only to food safety , and so long as the mega-fish are not found to damage human health, they will be certified safe. Federal regulation, the paper says, is running well behind advances in the bio-technology sector, and the ease with which GM fish, pigs etc can reach consumers only exposes the many loopholes. In what one scientific critic described as "ludicrous", the FDA has decided to treat GM salmon as a drug and not a food for regulatory purposes .

It currently has no authority to approve new foods before they go on the market - an omission which suits the producers, many of which are big and politically influential conglomerates. Nor can the growth hormone be regulated as an "additive" because it is not deemed to change the nature or quality of the fish.

A further obstacle to the regulation of GM produce in the US is that ecological concerns are handled by the Environmental Protection Agency, quite separately from food safety, and it is environmental concerns that could be uppermost with GM fish.

The newspaper cited one recent study as showing that certain types of wild fish could become extinct if they mated with GM fish: second generation GM fish, it was found, are shorter-lived and may be more prone to disease than conventionally bred fish.

01 May 00 - GMO - Farmers demand retrial of protesters

By Elizabeth Judge

Independent ... Monday 01 May 2000

Environmental vandals will take it as a signal to destroy every genetically modified crop trial if charges against Lord Melchett are dropped, farmers fear.

Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers' Union, is demanding that the case be pursued against the peer, who is charged with criminal damage on a farm in Norfolk.

Lord Melchett, chief executive of Greenpeace, led 27 protesters in an attempt to tear up genetically modified maize being grown in a government trial last July. On Wednesday the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will announce whether there will be a retrial after a jury at Norwich Crown Court failed to rule whether the protesters had acted illegally.

In a letter to the CPS, Mr Gill said: "This case is not just about GM crops... but, more importantly, about trespass and vandalism. Farmers need to know that the law will protect them and the police need to be clear on the appropriate action to take."

Forty farmers are signed up for the trials, which aim to determine the impact of GM crops on wildlife. Yesterday one farmer said: "Everyone should have the right to protest but when people... destroy people's livelihoods we have quite a serious situation."

Another farmer said: "There should be a retrial. We are doing a perfectly legal thing."

29 Apr 00 - GMO - April showers wash out GM trials

By Andrea Babbington

Independent ... Saturday 29 April 2000

Heavy spring rain is putting government GM crop trials at risk , researchers claimed today.

More than 50 British farmers are preparing to carry out the tests, but BBC1 programme Countryfile found that most had failed to plant their crops because of recent heavy rains.

Unless the weather improves quickly, most of the farmers will miss the window for spring planting and risk delaying the experiments.

Spring planting is an essential part of the Government's farm scale trials to determine whether GM crops are safe.

Bob Fiddaman, who farms near Hemel Hempstead, Herts, was due to drill 25 acres of genetically modified oil seed rape, but his fields are sodden .

"Ideally the seed should have gone in two weeks ago ," he said. He has another two weeks to get the crop in, "otherwise I'd be planting it for the sake of it".

The recent bad weather has disrupted the planting of other GM crops like sugar beet and forage maize.

The Government has put a three-year hold on the commercial planting of genetically modified crops until the current trials have been completed.

Even a partial postponement of this summer's trials could cause an extra delay in any possible licensing of GM crops in Britain.

Other countries are less cautious . In America and China, hundreds of millions of acres are being planted with GM wheat and soya for human consumption.

23 Apr 00 - GMO - Mutant lobster is food of the future

Jonathan Leake and Guy Dennis

Times ... Sunday 23 April 2000

They could call it Claws. Geneticists hope to create the world's biggest lobster after discovering how to block the genes that limit animals' natural growth.

In secret experiments, scientists have already applied the technique to make giant chickens and sheep and are also working on other livestock, including cattle.

The results could revolutionise livestock and fish farming, creating a new generation of animals whose genes have been altered or suppressed in ways that could mean up to double the meat yield. Lobsters are among the species chosen to pioneer the technology because of their high commercial value.

The experiments also have implications for animal rights campaigners who this weekend warned that such technology risked producing mutants that would live their lives in pain and suffering .

The giant creatures are being developed by MetaMorphix, a company set up by Johns Hopkins University in the United States. It was there that Se-Jin Lee, professor of genetics, discovered the gene that controls myostatin, a substance which regulates muscle growth.

He created a family of mice without the gene expecting them to have less muscle than normal - only to find that he had produced a breed of super-mice. "The mice are visually very dramatic, especially when you dissect them and see the much bigger muscles," he said.

Since then Lee and MetaMorphix have been working with livestock such as chickens, pigs, sheep and cattle to see if the effect could be repeated. The data suggest the technique can accelerate rates of growth in all those species by about 12% and create adult animals up to 50% bigger than usual with a much higher proportion of muscle.

The MetaMorphix team has since devised ways to neutralise myostatin, ranging from simple vaccines to genetic manipulation to create mutant animals that lack the controlling gene. The researchers also found that the gene was common to a huge range of species - meaning that the same approach could be used in fish and even in Shellfish.

That discovery has been used by Cape Aquaculture Technologies of Massachusetts, to create giant fish; research is under way on lobsters and Shellfish. Robert Curtis, chief executive of Cape, said he could not identify the fish species or reveal how large his lobsters might grow but added: "Shrimps, mussels and scallops are also a possibility."

Such research is usually conducted in secret. Fifteen years ago scientists at America's Department of Agriculture's research centre announced that they had created the world's first transgenic livestock.

However, the public was not impressed when presented with mutant pigs crippled by gastric ulcers, arthritis and other illnesses . Changes in the genes affecting the way the animals grew had disastrous side effects .

The shocked reaction meant that almost all such research has since been conducted away from the public eye. Among other disasters have been giant salmon that grew far faster than normal but then developed hump backs and green flesh .

Now, however, scientists believe the results are more acceptable. A Canadian firm, A/F Protein, has created a commercially viable transgenic super- salmon by inserting a gene from arctic char which makes the fish grow faster and larger.

Australian researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) have created a flock of 120 transgenic "ball-of-wool" sheep which grow faster, need less food and produce far more wool than normal. Dr Kevin Ward, one of CSIRO's senior scientists, said: "They are strong, they grow faster and bigger but they eat the same amount of grass to do it."

In New Zealand, AgResearch, a government research agency, has created the world's first herd of cloned cows from a "parent" renowned for the vast amounts of milk it produced. Scientists there are also seeking government permission to take a naturally occurring mutant gene isolated from double-muscled Belgian blue cattle, which makes them grow exceptionally large, and insert it into sheep.

Such experiments anger animal campaigners. Joyce D'Silva, director of Compassion in World Farming, said: "These innovations are a gross mutilation of animal physiology. Scientists need to think not just about what is possible but also about what is ethical."

In Britain the public reaction against genetically modified crops has made scientists wary and most research into improving livestock uses conventional breeding techniques, aided by analysis of animal genes.

23 Apr 00 - GMO - Hi-tech crops are bad for the brain

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Correspondent

Independent ... Sunday 23 April 2000

"Miracle" crops, hailed as the answer to global famine, are contributing to widespread brain impairment in the developing world, a new report concludes.

It says that the high-yielding rice and wheat varieties that brought about the much-heralded "Green Revolution" are among a range of environmental factors undermining human intelligence.

The study, which looks at environmental threats to human intelligence , is part of the 15m Global Environmental Change Programme, financed by Britain's Economic and Social Research Council. It is published tomorrow.

It concludes that a deadly combination of soil erosion, pollution and inadequate diet is affecting the intelligence of millions of people, with effects ranging from severe intellectual disabilities to "sub-clinical decline " in whole populations.

The Green Revolution crops, introduced in the late 1960s and early 1970s, produce several times as much grain as the traditional varieties they replaced, and they spread rapidly. They enabled India to double its wheat crop in seven years, dramatically increasing food supplies and averting widely predicted famine.

But the report says that the new crops , unlike their predecessors, fail to take up minerals such as iron and zinc from the soil. So even as people consumed more calories, their intake of these key "micronutrients" fell. "High-yielding Green Revolution crops were introduced in poorer countries to overcome famine," the report says. "But these are now blamed for causing intellectual deficits , because they do not take up essential micronutrients ."

The report is written by Dr Christopher Williams, a research fellow with the Global Environmental Change Programme. Using already published UN data he has calculated that 1.5 billion people - one quarter of the earth's population - are affected by "Green Revolution iron deficiency ". He claims the condition impairs the learning ability of more than half of India's schoolchildren.

He concludes that, eventually, the evolution of the brain could go into reverse as humans develop more extensive digestive systems to cope with the lack of nutrients - sacrificing intelligence in the process.

The professor's sources include the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations which has compiled evidence that the amount of the metal in people's diets fell throughout most of the Third World in the 1970s and 1980s, making iron deficiency the only form of malnutrition to increase over the two decades . The greatest drops in the intake of iron took place in South and South East Asia, the very areas where the Green Revolution was most successful.

Other UN figures show that half the world's pregnant women are anaemic , because they have too little iron, putting both them and their babies at risk. The condition is thought to be responsible for 200,000 deaths a year. And the World Bank reckons that deficiencies of iron , iodine , and vitamin A together wipe out some 5 per cent of the GDP of developing countries, a crippling blow to poor economies.

22 Apr 00 - GMO - 'Feed the world' opportunity seen for GM salmon

Paul Brown, Environment correspondent

Guardian ... Saturday 22 April 2000

Refusal to accept genetically modified fish as food was a rich man's stance that would be a "terrible mistake, a moral mistake", the president of a US company expecting to market GM salmon said yesterday.

Responding to critics, Elliot Entis cited a United Nations estimate that a sevenfold increase in the production of seafood was needed in the next 25-30 years if the present per capita consumption of fish was to be maintained for a growing world population.

Transgenic fish, he argued in an interview with the Guardian, were likely to be one of the few ways of providing protein for millions of people at a reasonable price.

Mr Entis, president and chief executive of Aqua Bounty Farms in Boston, believes that his group could soon get regulatory approval from the US food and drug agency to produce transgenic salmon for the retail market, with the first fish appearing on supermarket shelves in the US by 2002.

Mr Entis has run into serious resistance in Europe, not only from environmental groups but also from salmon farmers, and he acknowledged that consumers in Britain were "not yet ready" for his product.

But, he argued, objecting to GM foods was "a rich white man's argument": activists in Europe had this luxury because people in their region had enough to eat.

Outside the US, Mr Entis is to target his fish particularly at Asia; China is avidly interested in using fish modification to feed its population of more than 1bn.

Criticising some campaigners and some British media, the Guardian included, Mr Entis said: "I feel very deeply that all this focus on the disadvantages merely ignores and puts to one side any benefits.

"There are many benefits to this technology. Bio-technology can lead to greater productivity, far less use of noxious chemicals we all complain about, and far better use of land and water.

"I think that to ignore or put in the trash can this kind of technology is a terrible mistake, it's a moral mistake."

If civilisation was to survive with everyone having enough to eat, he argued, exploitation of bio-technology was essential. But, he added: "I am not stuffing it down people's throats" - capitalism weeded out products based on whether they met a need.

He was critical of some of the assertions made about transgenic salmon. Fish with four to six times normal growth rates did not grow into salmon 12ft long weighing 200lb - they grew to the same size as wild fish, but in a shorter time.

In natural conditions salmon grew to 60 to 70 grammes (less than three ounces) in 15 months. With a growth gene inserted, this weight was achieved in three or four months.

After that, the growth rate began to slow, and at the end of 14-18 months the genetically modified salmon were between one and three kilogrammes (2.2 and 6.6 lbs).

Once the fish reached sexual maturity the growth rate slowed to normal rates, he said. "Quite why this is, we do not fully understand; but we are on the fourth generation of these fish, and we have bred thousands of them and the results are the same."

He said that the largest fish his firm had ever produced, called "Bertha", weighed in at 16 kilos (35 lbs), well below the record sizes of wild Atlantic salmon.

He thought most concerns regarding the technology centred on potential mixing and mating with wild species , rather than on food safety. He predicted that permission for transgenic salmon might initially be given for breeding them on shore in tanks , rather than in sea pens.

Critics argue that sea-based captive breeding could see transgenic salmon escaping and interbreeding with wild species .

Mr Entis said that all his salmon were bred to be sterile and, although no system could be perfect , in the thousands of tests, not one of his fish had been found to be fertile.

21 Apr 00 - GMO - GM crop farms fear backlash over field trials

By Valerie Elliott And Nick Nuttall

Times ... Friday 21 April 2000

Many farmers taking part in the Government's GM crop trials are living in fear of a backlash from local communities and green activists, a Times survey has established.

Some fear for the safety of their children and property while others want to keep a low profile, worried that any publicity could fuel hostile reactions locally or provoke the destruction of their property by anti-GM campaigners.

Farmers are especially concerned after this week's Greenpeace trial, when a jury at Norwich Crown Court could not decide if vandalising GM crops was criminal damage. Lord Melchett, the executive director of Greenpeace, now faces the possibility of a retrial after he tried to tear up a field of genetically modified maize on a farm in Ling, Norfolk, last year.

The Times has spoken to 30 of the 39 farmers now signed up to the trials. Four farms have already pulled out after local protests and two of the 40 admit that they are "wobbling " in the face of intense local pressure.

Others have confided that the "flak is starting to fly" , and one has decided to move the site of his trial.

So far the Government is monitoring 13 trials for oil-seed rape, 14 for sugar beet, eight for fodder beet and five for forage maize.

Some GM farmers now believe that ministers should introduce new emergency powers to protect the GM farm trial sites in the national interest.

A spokeswoman for the GM unit inside the Cabinet Office said that there were no plans for any special protection for the trial sites.

She said that it was impractical for a police officer to be sited at every site, especially as around 80 could be created in the next year.

She said: "Everyone should now rally behind these trials. It does not matter which side you are on in the GM debate, these trials have to take place for us to find out if there is any effect on the environment."

Public protest meetings have already been held by residents worried about "genetic pollution" in Chipping Campden and Kempley, Gloucestershire, St Osyth, Essex, and Sudbrook in Lincolnshire.

Most farmers are determined to fight off any opposition and are convinced that GM crops have the potential to save, not harm, the environment.

They also believe they should be applauded for conducting these trials rather than reviled. Mark Rooke, who is to grow GM fodder beet at his farm, Beadlam Grange, near Nawton, North Yorkshire, is one of just a handful of farmers prepared to speak openly.

He said that some people, especially those supporting the green groups, seemed only too happy to "listen to a short lie rather than a long truth".

He is adamant that GM crops could dramatically cut the level of chemicals sprayed on land.

He estimated that the GM crop would need only one spray of herbicide as opposed to four or five for conventional crops and that his herbicide bill could be drastically cut from 50 an acre to as little as 4 an acre.

It is clear, however, that the handling of the trials by the Government has emerged as a bone of contention.

Most of the farmers had wanted the trial locations to be kept secret .

Michael Meacher, the Environment Minister, has insisted that the trials are open and transparent, and has published six-figure grid references for all sites.

This openness has incensed many rural communities, which believe they should have been consulted about the trial sites before contracts were agreed.

Parish councils in particular are furious that sites were chosen and published without any prior discussion, leaving them unprepared to deal with the inevitable backlash.

The depth of feeling is highlighted by the row in Chipping Campden where furious local residents have held a number of crisis meetings in protest at GM oil-seed rape trials to be sited in fields close to the village.

Martin Samuelson, a local councillor, said yesterday that the trial was right next to houses, gardens and allotments as well as bordering school playing fields.

Local residents fear that pollen might blow from the fields and contaminate their borders and kitchen gardens. Mr Samuelson said that local people had not been consulted by the farmer or the Government and it was felt that the trial had been "dumped on them" .

Greenpeace already claims to have the backing of 45 local authorities for its "five-year freeze" campaign against the planting of GM crops. These include Derbyshire, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Suffolk county councils.

It also emerged yesterday that six councils have banned tenant farmers from growing GM crops.

These are Warwickshire, Somerset, Dorset, Norfolk, Gloucestershire and Cambridgeshire county councils.

20 Apr 00 - GMO - Greenpeace farm raiders cleared of stealing GM crops

By Sean O'Neill

Telegraph ... Thursday 20 April 2000

Lord Melchett, the executive director of Greenpeace, and 27 other environmental activists were cleared yesterday of stealing genetically modified crops during a dawn raid on a Norfolk farm.

Lord Melchett: may face retrial on a further charge of criminal damage The jury in the case was discharged after failing to reach a verdict on a further charge of criminal damage against Lord Melchett and the other protesters. The Crown Prosecution Service has two weeks to decide whether or not to seek a retrial.

Lord Melchett, a former Labour junior minister, and his fellow defendants did not deny wrecking the experimental crop of GM maize at Walnut Tree Farm in Lyng last July. They arrived at the six-acre site wearing white decontamination suits, cut down the crop, sealed it in bags and waited to be arrested after William Brigham, the farmer, called the police.

Agr-Evo UK, the company that planted the crop of herbicide-tolerant maize, said that the demonstrators had caused damage estimated at 17,400 . But during the trial at Norfolk Crown Court the Greenpeace activists claimed that they had lawful excuse in destroying the maize because it threatened to contaminate organic crops in neighbouring fields. Lord Melchett said he was delighted with the result of the case and hailed it as a victory against GM technology.

Lord Melchett, who farms 890 acres at Hunstanton, Norfolk, said: "The prosecution could not convince the jury that these people were guilty of criminal damage and we are delighted that their honesty has not been called into question with their acquittal on the charge of theft. It is disappointing for all the defendants that the charge of criminal damage is left hanging over them but we will simply have to wait on whether the CPS will seek a retrial.

"However, the Greenpeace campaign against the reckless release of GM crops into the environment continues and we will put particular emphasis on working with local communities to create GM-free zones throughout Britain. There is huge opposition to this. We think this is something the Government needs to listen to. The Government should stop this deliberate pollution."

At the outset of the trial Judge David Mellor had told the jury that it would be dealing with issues of international importance surrounding the growing of GM crops. The judge added that the case highlighted "one of the great debates of our time", which had featured recently in The Archers, the BBC Radio 4 drama serial.

The judge warned the jurors: "This is the GM trial, not the Archers one, but the real one. You can tell this is the real one because you won't be paid Equity rates." Mr Brigham, who confronted Mr Melchett at the time of the raid and told the peer he ought to be ashamed, said he was disappointed with the outcome of the case. He said: "I just don't know yet what the implications of this are. But obviously one is very disappointed with today's result."

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said it could not comment on the court case but was awaiting the CPS's decision with interest. The spokesman said: "We recognise people have real concerns about GM crops and that is why we have always said there will be no commercial growing of them unless we are satisfied there will be no unacceptable effects on the environment."

20 Apr 00 - GMO - Jury split on Greenpeace GM raid

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Correspondent

Independent ... Thursday 20 April 2000

A major legal question mark last night hung over the activities of eco-protesters who attacked genetically modified crops after a jury could not agree on whether a Greenpeace raid on a GM maize field had broken the law.

The jury of six men and six women failed to reach a verdict at Norwich Crown Court on the criminal damage charge against Lord Melchett, executive director of Greenpeace, and 27 of the group's activists who took part in the raid at Lyng, Norfolk, in July. They were discharged by Judge David Mellor, who granted the Crown Prosecution Service a fourth night to consider the possibility of a retrial.

Lord Melchett and his colleagues admit that they had used a motor mower to attack the six-acre field, part of the Government's programme of farm-scale trials of GM crops. But they claim the defence of "lawful excuse" permitted under the Criminal Damage Act, 1971, which allows someone to damage property in order to prevent damage to other property.

The defendants told the court that the maize they attacked, genetically engineered to be tolerant of a powerful weedkiller, was about to come into flower, and its pollen could have "genetically polluted" other crops, which they wished to protect from such damage.

All 28 defendants were cleared of a secondary charge of theft , relating to their intention to bag up the maize and return it to its owners, the German agrochemicals company Aventis. But it is the failure of the Crown to convict them on the criminal damage charge which will alarm the Government and in particular the Environment minister Michael Meacher who has made public details of more than 30 sites being used in this year's GM trials. An acquittal on the basis of "lawful excuse" could have triggered more attacks leading to so many farmers dropping out of the trials programme that it would collapse .

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said last night: "Whatever side of the GM debate people are on, these crop trials are vital if we are to find out what effect if any GM crops might have on our environment."

20 Apr 00 - GMO - Jury split over GM crop destroyers

Sarah Hall

Guardian ... Thursday 20 April 2000

The controversy over genetically modified foods intensified last night after a jury failed to decide if 28 Greenpeace protesters had broken the law when they pulled up 750-worth of GM maize on a government-funded site.

In the first case of its kind, the jury of six men and six women cleared the pressure group's executive director, Lord Melchett, and 27 fellow activists of stealing the crop when they uprooted it at Walnut Tree Farm, near Lyng, Norfolk, in July last year.

But, after 7 hours of deliberation, the jury at Norwich crown court admitted it was unlikely to reach a decision on whether they were guilty of criminal damage.

The environmentalists, who pleaded not guilty to both counts, had argued they had a "lawful excuse" since they were acting to protect other maize crops and the environment from genetic "contamination" via GM maize pollen.

The jurors were discharged and the crown was given a fortnight to consider applying for a retrial. The activists came from as far afield as Edinburgh and Aberdeen, and included a Baptist minister, beauty therapist and two teachers.

Speaking on behalf of the group, Lord Melchett, a hereditary peer and former Labour junior minister, said: "We were delighted that the jury didn't find that any of us had been dishonest in any way. We feel vindicated.

"We feel very pleased that the crown weren't able to prove the charge of criminal damage. We think this should send a strong message to Tony Blair about the future of field trials."

The old Etonian, who has a 890-acre, largely organic farm at Hunstanton, Norfolk, added that there was "huge public opposition" to GM trials, with one Norfolk farmer pulling out of the controversial farmscale programme this week and the crop at the centre of the case being banned in Austria during the criminal trial.

He added that the trial, which the protesters hoped would not be repeated, had placed a huge strain on them. But he insisted: "We were proud to stand together and if it takes a few more weeks or even another trial, of course we will defend what we did."

The failure of the jury to come to a decision was described by William Brigham, the farmer whose crop was uprooted, as "not as bad as a not guilty verdict which would have set a precedent".

There was no reaction from Aventis, the German-based agro-chemical firm formerly known as Agr-Evo, which owns the crop, and to which the protesters intended to return the maize.

The government last night refused to be drawn on the case but insisted it remained committed to funding a four-year programme into GM trials, which is costing the taxpayer over 1m a year.

Eight days before the Greenpeace raids on July 26 last year, 400 demonstrators descended on another farm, at Watlington, Oxfordshire, and ripped up a 25-acre crop of GM oilseed rape. The previous August, two women caused 605,000 worth of damage on a farm at Totnes, Devon.

Lord Melchett, 52, had written to Agr-Evo asking that the crop be destroyed and, a fortnight before the raid, attended a "very moving" public meeting, where the villagers of Lyng voiced their fears.

The 28 protesters, who boast 18 degrees between them, did not fully succeed in their bid to cut down the crop. For no sooner had they broken into the field, at 5am, then Mr Brigham arrived on the scene.

20 Apr 00 - GMO - Melchett faces a retrial over raid on GM farm

By Elizabeth Judge

Times ... Thursday 20 April 2000

Lord Melchett, the executive director of Greenpeace, faces a possible retrial after a jury was unable to decide yesterday if he had acted illegally when he tried to tear up a field of genetically modified maize on a farm in Norfolk.

The former Labour junior minister was accused with 27 other Greenpeace campaigners of criminal damage after a dawn raid on William Brigham's Walnut Tree Farm in Ling, where modified maize had been planted as part of a government-supervised experiment.

All 28 campaigners were cleared of theft yesterday, but the jury at Norwich Crown Court was unable to reach a decision about a charge of criminal damage.

Judge David Mellor told the Crown Prosecution Service that it now had two weeks to decide if it would seek a retrial or decide to drop the case.

Outside court, Lord Melchett, 52, said: "We are very pleased the Crown was not able to prove the charge of criminal damage.

"We think this should send a strong message to Tony Blair about the future of these field trials."

Of the trial, he added: "It's been a huge strain but we have been proud to stand together. If it takes another trial we will defend what we did."

Lord Melchett disclosed that during the trial the same maize (G25) used in Mr Brigham's field had been banned in Austria - a fact the defendants had not been able to disclose to the jury.

Wearing white suits, the campaigners are alleged to have used a tractor and cutter to tear up maize in Mr Brigham's six-acre field before police arrested them.

Lord Melchett, who has a 890-acre farm near Hunstanton, 20 miles away, told the court the plan had been to remove the crops before they pollinated , bag them up and return them to Agr-Evo, the chemical company which provided the seed.Lord Melchett and his co-defendants accepted that damage had been done, but they denied the charges on the grounds of lawful excuse, saying that they were protecting surrounding farmland from environmental damage by pollen from the GM crop.

In court, Lord Melchett described the spread of GM crops as the "most irreversible and frightening threat to humankind" .

Judge Mellor had told the jury that the case could not be about which side was in the right in one of today's great debates. Telling them to apply the facts of the case to the law, he cited The Archers, the BBC Radio Four soap opera. In it a character was cleared of vandalising a field of GM crops, using the defence put forward by Lord Melchett. Judge Mellor said: "This is not The Archers trial but the real one."

Among the defendants was Malcolm Carroll, a Baptist minister from Stratford in Staffordshire. He told the court that modified crops were an issue for which he had been prepared to take direct action. He said that it was right to return pollution to the polluter.

Judith Jordan, product development manager for Agr-Evo, told the court that the destruction of the crop had caused 17,400 worth of damage to the Government's testing programme.

Mr Brigham hopes for a retrial. He said: "If you had had your house broken into by someone and they smashed up your property, you would understand how I feel."

Last month the Government stirred up the anti-GM debate when it approved GM trials on 31 sites. Its GM unit refused to comment on the Greenpeace case, because it said it was ongoing. The Department of the Environment said: "We recognise that people have real concerns about GM crops. That is why we have always said there will be no commercial growing of GM crops unless we are satisfied there will be no unacceptable effect on the environment."

19 Apr 00 - GMO - GM Crop Protestors May Face Retrial

Staff Reporter

Evening Standard ... Wednesday 19 April 2000

Greenpeace executive director Lord Melchett and 27 other protesters have been cleared of stealing genetically-modified crops.

However, they face the possibility of a retrial on a more serious charge of criminal damage following protests at an experimental site growing GM maize.

Judge David Mellor dismissed the jury at Norwich Crown Court after the foreman said they were unable to reach a majority verdict on the criminal damage charges. The Crown Prosecution Service now has two weeks to decide whether there will be a retrial in connection with the protest in Lyng, Norfolk, on July 26.

15 Apr 00 - GMO - GM Crops Secretly Planted In 425 French Plots

Associated press

Journal du Dimanche ... Sunday 16 April 2000

Paris (Associated Press) -- A French newspaper on Sunday reported that 425 plots had been secretly planted with genetically modified crops in France, a country where opposition to GM foods has traditionally been very strong.

The Journal du Dimanche said the crops were planted over the past four years without informing the communities or villages nearby.

"Four hundred and twenty five communities have or have had experimental plots over the last four years,'' the paper said. It said the Ministry of Agriculture had illegally kept such locations secret .

A Ministry of Agriculture spokesman said on Sunday that lists of such plots were available in local town halls. He said Agriculture Minister Jean Glavany was due to receive a report on how to reconcile the need for security with the desire for transparency in the next few days.

The perils of releasing such information was highlighted last week when activists led by Jose Bove, a radical farmer who has become a mascot for traditional farming, destroyed a plot of genetically modified rape in the Ariege region, in southern France.

Green groups and opponents say GM foods can be unhealthy and could harm the food chain if they escape from farms into the wild.

The Ministry of Agriculture spokesman said the majority of plots in France were operated by the National Institute for Agronomical Research, which is part of the ministry.

The Journal du Dimanche said that at the end of 1999, 123 plots of genetically modified corn were being farmed, as well as 135 plots of beet and 78 plots of rape.

The newspaper report came just days after the European Parliament rejected tougher conditions for growing and marketing genetically modified foods in the European Union.

The parliament on Wednesday rejected the introduction of "environmental liability rules'' that would have held makers of genetically modified food responsible for damaging the environment or public health.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a Green Party European lawmaker, told the Journal du Dimanche that the vote was a significant step backwards .

"We have suffered a heavy defeat . I want to believe that we have not lost the war,'' he said.

He warned the "powerful agro-food lobbies '' not to underestimate the power of the concerned consumer.

"The boycott option is a sensitive one which should not be used lightly. But, if a decision is taken in the EU countries, the financial repercussions for the companies involved will be enormous,'' said Cohn-Bendit, known as Danny the Red since his days as a student leader in Paris in 1968.

The parliament's vote is not final . The issues now go back to the EU governments for another round of debate there.

15 Apr 00 - GMO - Berlin bans genetic tests on employees

By Toby Helm in Berlin

Telegraph ... Saturday 15 April 2000

Saturday 15 April 2000 The German government is to ban companies from imposing compulsory genetic testing on staff or customers after some of the country's largest insurance firms said such tests might lead to falls in premiums.

The ban, which will cover all companies that might want to test staff or job applicants to find out their health prospects, follows a similar move by the US government in February.

Washington decreed then that genetic tests could not be made a condition of employment and genetic data could not be used when deciding promotions. Yesterday, after hearing that German insurance companies were keen to examine whether tests might help them to better evaluate risk, Andrea Fischer, the German Health Minister, reacted swiftly, saying they "must not be allowed to be compulsorily demanded in future" .

A senior official in the Science and Education Ministry went further, saying the government would introduce "a clear legal prohibition as speedily as possible". He said: "It is of the greatest importance that insurance companies and employers must not be allowed to impose obligatory tests ."

13 Apr 00 - GMO - MEPs reject GM food liability

From David Lister In Brussels

Times ... Thursday 13 April 2000

Genetically modified food companies claimed a major victory yesterday after the European Parliament rejected a proposal that threatened to markedly increase their business costs, possibly forcing them to move elsewhere.

The vote, which followed a three-month debate involving a range of issues on controlling the future of the GM industry, was immediately hailed by biotechnology companies. They had said that more than 50,000 European jobs would have been at risk had the Parliament approved a resolution making producers of GM crops liable for any damage that their products cause . Adoption of the resolution would have led to a huge increase in costs for Europe's biotechnology companies, mainly by way of additional insurance premiums.

However, the rejection provoked criticism from MEPs and environmental groups concerned by the growing acceptability of genetically modified foods. David Bowe, the Labour MEP for Cleveland and Richmond, said the vote meant that there was a "gaping black hole" in genetically modified liability law.

"In the face of pressure from industry and opposition from the European Commission, GM liability has been kicked into touch once again ," Mr Bowe said. "GM companies say their products are safe but today's vote shows they are clearly not prepared to put their money where their mouth is."

Paul Muys, communications director at EuropaBio, a lobbying group representing about 700 European biotechnology companies, described the result as "a huge yes vote for us ".

He said: "The idea of a specific liability regime for biotechnology companies would have been a terrible handicap for smaller firms in particular. The outcome would have been that many smaller companies might have been forced to give up doing business or to move out of Europe."

13 Apr 00 - GMO - Benefits Of GM Foods 'Overstated'

From the Press Association

Guardian ... Thursday 13 April 2000

The consumer benefits of the next generation of GM foods are being overstated by the biotech industry , according to a report.

The Food Commission and GeneWatch UK's report said the major beneficiaries of GM crops were likely to be biotechnology companies, food and animal feed processors and other industrial non-food users .

New GM varieties in the pipeline are targeted at making food processing easier or cheaper , the report said.

It also stated that while GM foods may have a role to play in the developing world, this should not be overstated .

Progress towards eliminating micro-nutrient deficiencies in developing countries was hindered, not by lack of GM foods, but by political, economic, cultural and social factors, the report added.

Despite its obvious consumer benefits, only limited work had been undertaken to remove allergens from allergy triggering foods such as peanuts, rice and milk.

Report co-author, Sue Dibb, of the Food Commission, said: "In a desperate bid to reverse its failing fortunes, the biotech industry wants to convince us that there will be real consumer advantages to GM foods, but we could find no significant evidence to support this claim.

"GM is unlikely to play any significant role in providing healthier diets, either in the developing or developed world."

Sue Mayer, of GeneWatch UK, said: "These new GM foods may pose safety risks that the current system is unable to deal with. Health claims for functional foods - whether GM or not - are poorly regulated.

"The Government must act to ensure people are not misled and that any GM nutritionally altered foods will be safe to eat."

12 Apr 00 - GMO - GM fish fail to hook Scottish salmon farmers

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Correspondent

Independent ... Wednesday 12 April 2000

Genetically modified salmon , which can grow six times as fast as normal fish and cost half as much to feed, will not be grown in Britain despite the economic benefits they offer, Scotland's salmon farmers pledged yesterday.

The GM fish, which have been developed by an American company, are now only "about a year" away from commercial sale, it was revealed yesterday, but environmental groups said they represented a serious problem for the environment . Farmed GM salmon escaping to lochs, rivers or the sea could transfer their genes to wild stocks of fish and pose a serious and potentially fatal threat to them, they claimed.

The 260m Scottish salmon farming industry, based mainly in the Highlands and Islands regions, employs 6,500 people and produces 120,000 tons of fish a year. Its umbrella body, Scottish Quality Salmon, said yesterday the industry "rejected any use of transgenic salmon ". "There is simply not enough scientific evidence of what the long-term effects might be, and until that is much more apparent, it is not a road we want to go down," said a spokeswoman, Julie Edgar.

The GM salmon are being developed in Prince Edward Island, Canada, by the American bioengineering company A/F Protein, Inc. The firm has altered the fish growth hormone gene, resulting in a species that already has its own trademark - the AquAdvantage Salmon - and grows at an initial rate of four to six times faster than standard fish.

Dr Arnold Sutterlin, the manager of Aqua Bounty Farms where the GM salmon are being grown, said the company was now seeking approval from the US Food and Drugs and Administration for them to be sold commercially and that the process "might take a year".

Recent scientific research, however, has suggested that even a single fish with enhanced growth genes escaping into the wild could lead to the destruction of wild salmon populations. William Muir and Richard Howard, from Purdue University in the US, found that larger modified fish attracted four times as many mates as wild fish and so rapidly spread their genes. But the resulting progeny were weaker, leadingto the population going extinct. "Once these things escape there is good evidence they can very seriously damage the wild population," said Dr Doug Parr, the chief scientific adviser to Greenpeace.

There have been large numbers of escapes from salmon farms in Scotland, with figures collated by Friends of the Earth suggesting that at least 700,000 fish have got free in the past three years. Salmon fishermen are already worried that interbreeding will damage the wild stock, and are angry at disease spreading to wild fish from the farm cages, in particular infestation with sea lice. "There are problems enough as it is with escapes of normal farmed fish," said Jeremy Read, director of the Atlantic Salmon Trust, the main UK salmon research organisation.

12 Apr 00 - GMO - Genetically altered salmon may go on sale within a year

By Charles Clover, Environment Editor

Telegraph ... Wednesday 12 April 2000

Salmon genetically modified to grow four to six times faster than conventional farmed fish could be on American plates within a year, a research company said yesterday.

A/F Protein, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology firm, said it was likely that its Atlantic salmon with improved growth rate would be the first genetically modified animal passed for human consumption. They are being grown at Prince Edward Island, Canada. The GM fish require more food because their conversion rate is higher but they grow faster and can be harvested earlier.

The firm says that its AquaAdvantage fish pose no threat to wild salmon because they are engineered to be sterile . The Government conservation adviser, English Nature, has called for GM fish to be banned in British waters unless they are sterile. A Lords select committee called for an international treaty banning GM fish because of their environmental implications.

The Telegraph reported last August on a study from Purdue University, Indiana, which showed that transgenic fish were likely to have a fourfold breeding advantage as females prefer larger fish. William Muir and Richard Howard dubbed their find the Trojan gene , because it behaved like a Trojan horse, looking at first like something good and then destroying the population.

Dr Doug Parr, Greenpeace campaign director, said yesterday: "They could be sold under licence and there's no guarantee that they will be sold as sterile. How reliable is this sterilisation technique going to be? - 99.99 per cent probably isn't good enough. We only need a small slip up for it all to go wrong. If they are kept in fish tanks they will escape. Once these things escape, there is good evidence that they can very seriously damage the wild population."

Dr Parr also questioned whether the salmon were safe to eat , saying: "I wouldn't want to diminish the possibility that there are uncertainties and possible safety issues ." He believed that they would not be bred in Britain, as genetically modified fish did not match the "brand value" of wild salmon.

A/F Protein, which is also developing genetically modified rainbow trout, suggests that fish could be grown in large tanks using recycled water hundreds of miles from wild populations.

David Brown, Agriculture Editor, writes: a farmer has quit Government-backed field trials of genetically-modified crops after local objections. Richard Thompson had agreed to grow GM sugar beet on five acres near Tittleshall, Norfolk.

11 Apr 00 - GMO - Farmer Drops GM Crop Trial After Protests

From the Press Association

Guardian ... Tusday 11 April 2000

A farmer has pulled out of a major national genetically modified crop trial after protests from local people.

Richard Thompson applied to grow sugar beet on five acres of land he owns near the village of Tittleshall, in Norfolk.

But after residents voted against the Government-funded plan at a packed parish meeting two weeks ago he announced he was withdrawing from it.

Mr Thompson was one of around 100 farmers put forward to the scientific steering committee running the 60 trials to be carried out across the country, although he had not started growing the sugar beet when he made his decision.

A spokeswoman for environmental campaigners Greenpeace, who backed the meeting in Tittleshall, said: "There was a lot of opposition to the plans to use the land for GM sugar beet.

"The villagers hadn't heard anything since then but letters were dropped through their doors, basically saying that with the overwhelming public opposition he felt it was wrong to force it on the community.

"We welcome the decision but we will not be happy until these trials are all cancelled."

A spokesman for the Supply Chain Initiative for Modified Agricultural Crops (Scimac), the association of agricultural bodies which draws up the list of farmers willing to use their land for GM trials, confirmed Mr Thompson had withdrawn but said it would not affect the future of the programme.

Mr Thompson, who lives across the county border in Lincolnshire, was not available to comment.

Carine Offord, clerk of Tittleshall Parish Council, said: "There was a considerable amount of opposition to the GM trial in the village which I suppose is not surprising when people think they do not have enough information about the issue."

10 Apr 00 - GMO - Cancer expert says GM crops can be healthier

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Independent ... Monday 10 April 2000

One of Britain's leading geneticists has attacked Lord Melchett, executive director of Greenpeace, for demanding absolute proof that genetically modified (GM) crops are safe.

Sir Walter Bodmer, principal of Hertford College, Oxford, and a world authority on human genetics, also accuses the Soil Association of being"utterly irrational" when it excludes GM plants in its definition of organic farming.

Sir Walter, a former director of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund and one of the founders of the international human genome project, criticises Lord Melchett for saying to a House of Lords inquiry that uncertainties over GM can never be eliminated because absolute proof is not in the nature of science.

"Lord Melchett's response smacks of blind fanaticism. It is totally alien to the sort of rational argument and discussion that I believe most of us would like to see in order to achieve the greatest benefit with the least risk from these new technologies," Sir Walter says in an article published today.

"There is no such thing as zero risk. The only sure things for a living person are that they were born and that they will die," he says. Sir Walterargues that GM technology is little different to the way farmers have bred conventional crops for thousands of years.

"Many natural sources of plant food are toxic without treatment or selective breeding, a process carried out by conventional agriculture over thousand of years," Sir Walter says in the magazine Science and Public Affairs. "It is much more likely that there is a risk from newly introduced crops than from genetic manipulation of known crops. The greatest ecological catastrophes have occurred through the introduction of alien species," he says.

Sir Walter decided to speak out because of his knowledge of genetics and evolution. "This is an area where I've got no commercial or academic interests. I talk entirely from the point of view of a geneticist," he told The Independent. He is particularly scathing about the Soil Association's decision to eliminate GM crops from its definition of "organic" farming. "This is completely and utterly irrational, reflecting an extraordinary prejudice for an apparently respectable organisation."

By transferring the genes for nitrogen fixation - the ability to convert nitrogen in the atmosphere into nitrates for plants - GM technology offers to reduce the dependency of farmers on artificial fertilisers, Sir Walter says. "One would have thought that would be important for the organic farmer."

Arguments that GM crops are likely to transmit alien genes to wild plants are not supported by the evidence of conventionally bred crops, which often contain quite different combinations of genes to those found in the wild.

"Domesticated cereals have been cultivated alongside their wild progenitors in Israel for thousands of years without apparent problems. Why should there be any greater likelihood of gene transfer from a genetically manipulated crop than from one produced by conventional breeding?" Sir Walter says.

"How ironic that Friends of the Earth should welcome a conventionally bred pest resistant oil seed rape when it probably has more unknown consequences than its genetically manipulated counterpart," he says.

05 Apr 00 - GMO - GM mutations can't be halted, says peer

By Michael Horsnell

Times ... Wednesday 5 April 2000

Lord Melchett, the executive director of Greenpeace, told a jury yesterday that the spread of genetically modified crops represented the "most irreversible and frightening " threat to humankind . The former Labour junior minister said that, unlike the toxic pollution of chemicals and radiation, which eventually degrade, the planting of GM crops involved unpredictable consequences .

"Something that is alive goes on for ever and spreads for ever, and for that reason it's one of the most irreversible and frightening things that I have come across," he said.

His vision of a future that was beyond human control was outlined at Norwich Crown Court, where he is accused with 27 other Greenpeace campaigners of criminal damage and theft.

The group is alleged to have attempted to destroy a six-acre field of GM maize that was under cultivation in a government-supervised experiment at a farm near Dereham, in Norfolk.

Lord Melchett, 52, who farms the 890-acre Courtyard Farm near Hunstanton, Norfolk, 20 miles away, accepted that the damage was perpetrated last July. But he and his co-defendants plead not guilty to the charges on the ground of lawful excuse, because they were protecting farmland from environmental damage threatened by the pollen from the GM crop.

The hereditary peer, who grows organic sugar beet, wheat and barley, and raises beef cattle, told the jury that the destruction carried out at William Brigham's Walnut Tree Farm followed a report in Farmers' Weekly that the trial maize was about to pollenate within ten days. He said that the plan was to remove the crop before pollenation - including the roots if possible - put it into bags and return it to the chemical company behind the trials.

Lord Melchett, who said that he had resigned from the National Farmers' Union because of the organisation's position on GM crops, said: "We don't have a religious objection to it.

"We don't object to scientists doing experiments in laboratories that are contained and controlled. What worries me is when you use this for crops or feed you are putting it out into the environment on which all human and animal life depends.

"It seems to me extraordinary that scientists would think of putting these artificial GM crops out into the open when they know so little of what they're doing."

He added: "I felt that really a lot of the scientists from the chemical companies who were describing what goes on don't really understand what it is like on a farm." The Soil Association recommends a six-mile buffer zone around any GM field, the distance that a bee carries pollen. But the wind was capable of carrying the billions of grains of pollen produced by maize for possibly thousands of miles , Lord Melchett said.

"Scientists working for the chemical companies, I don't suggest, are dishonest or dishonourable. I think they genuinely believe that what had worked in the laboratory would work outside and I don't think they have much idea, some of them, what the real world is actually like. In private I have never met a scientist working for anybody who does not admit that there is some risk."

Lord Melchett said that he had had two meetings with Tony Blair in 1998 and 1999, and formed the view that the Government "was not going to rein in or slow down the introduction of these crops into the environment".

He said: "I thought it was completely wrong, the rate at which this was happening was being decided by multinational chemical companies and not by more cautious scientists or concern the public may have."

Earlier Owen Davies, for the defence, told the jury that the defendants were "educated, peace-loving, responsible members of society, who cared very much about the environment."

He said: "This wasn't an act of vandalism and, if it wasn't done for kicks, why was it done?"

The court has been told that the case does not centre on whether GM crops are good or bad, but whether the defendants believed that they had to take action to stop damage being done to the environment.

The case continues.

05 Apr 00 - GMO - Tests jeopardise organic farms

By Valerie Elliott, Countryside Editor

Times ... Wednesday 5 April 2000

Thirty-Four farms are at risk of losing organic status because they are sited too near the Government's trials of genetically modified crops.

The Soil Association, which accredits organic farmers, has identified five farms as being at particularly high risk of contamination from GM pollen . The farmers are being sent a letter warning them of inspections to check the risk of contamination. The list of farms will not be disclosed until the farmers receive the news. The association is to fund any legal action to compensate farmers for loss of business if organic status is lost.

Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, criticised the Government yesterday for going ahead with the approval of GM sites next to organic farms despite a commitment that the interests of organic farmers would be protected . "We are furious," he said. "To go against pledges that successive ministers have made to protect the rights of organic producers is adding insult to injury."

He accused the Government of "a scandalous disregard for the interests of farmers and consumers. The fact that the trials are proceeding at all, using half-baked research criteria that will take three years to demonstrate nothing of public interest or add to the sum of our knowledge about gene flow, is a violation of the democratic rights of the majority." Last year Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, said that the Government was "absolutely committed" to ensuring that those who did not want their crops cross-contaminated would be protected.

John Dove, 57, of Stow Bedon, South Norfolk, said last night that he was "deeply concerned" that his organic beef and vegetable business could be threatened by GM crops 15 metres from his land . GM sugar beet trials have been agreed by George Pilkington, of Breckles Grange Farming Company, on the neighbouring land.

Mr Dove said: "I am amazed that no one had the consideration to talk to me. I found out when someone mentioned a grid reference for trials and said it could be within a square mile of the farm. We rang the farm manager and he admitted the company was involved. I had been thinking of planting organic sugar beet. But the farm next door is going to plant GM sugar beet: how can I go ahead now?"

Mr Dove hoped there would be a public meeting to discuss the trials. He said that he was concerned that wildlife would pull up the roots of the GM crops and spread them, as well as being sceptical about pollen controls on the crop.

05 Apr 00 - GMO - We attacked crop to protect nature, peer tells court

By Keith Perry

Independent ... Wednesday 5 April 2000

Lord Melchett, the executive director of Greenpeace, helped to destroy a field of genetically modified maize to prevent pollen from the crop polluting the countryside , a jury was told yesterday.

The former Labour government minister told Norwich Crown Court that he and 27 other Greenpeace supporters carried out the attack on the field at Lyng, Norfolk, in July last year with a "great deal of seriousness".

Lord Melchett, 52, of Hunstanton, Norfolk, and his 27 co-defendants, who all deny theft and criminal damage, argue that they had a lawful excuse to destroy the maize because they held a genuine belief that neighbouring organic crops were in immediate need of protection.

"It was a genuine attempt as far as I was concerned to stop and remove this genetic pollution," said Lord Melchett, a minister in the departments of environment, industry and in the Northern Ireland office during the 1970s. "I went to the field with the intention of trying to remove any crop and trying to return it [to the owner]."

He added: "It had been reported in Farmers' Weekly that the crop was about to pollinate within about seven to ten days. It is at the point of pollenisation that the genetic pollution of a crop of this sort becomes uncontrollable ."

He said the people taking part in the protest, who wore white boiler suits but made no attempt to hide their identities, had been told to act on their consciences and not to be violent . The demonstration was videotaped by Greenpeace and witnessed by an invited journalist.

Lord Melchett added: "I think GM is one of the most serious issues Greenpeace has ever tried to tackle. We don't have a religious objection to it. We would not object to scientists doing experiments in labs which are contained and controlled. What worries me is when you use this for crops you are putting it out into the environment on which all human and animal life de-pends and we know very little about it."

Owen Davies QC, for the defence, said the 28 defendants included a Baptist minister, Malcolm Carroll. Mr Daviescompared the way the demonstrators acted to a firefighter breaking down a wall to reach an injured person. The QC stressed the defendants had only to establish that they held a genuine belief - not that their belief was right.

John Farmer, for the prosecution, said the GM maize was being grown on 2.4 hectares of land as part of an experiment being conducted by theGerman-based agrochemical company Aventis, which was formerly known as Agr-Evo.

The case was adjourned until today.

05 Apr 00 - GMO - GM crops are greatest threat, says Melchett

By David Sapsted

Telegraph ... Wednesday 5 April 2000

Experiments with genetically modified crops were the "most irreversible and frightening " threat to the environment, Lord Melchett told a court yesterday.

The executive director of Greenpeace and former Labour minister said that scientists had no clear idea of the effects on the human race of introducing such crops. Lord Melchett, 52, was giving evidence at Norwich Crown Court to justify why he and 27 other Greenpeace activists tried to dig up GM crops in a Government controlled experiment at Lyng, near Dereham, Norfolk, last July.

He said he had no objection to GM experiments in the controlled conditions of a laboratory. But unlike other forms of pollution, including nuclear waste, such experiments were introducing something living into the environment - "something that goes on forever and spreads forever".

Lord Melchett has a 900-acre organic farm about 25 miles from Lyng. The defendants all deny criminal damage and theft. They say that their actions were warranted by the "lawful excuse" of protecting neighbouring property.

The case continues.

04 Apr 00 - GMO - GM raid peer made appeal to farmer

By Tim Jones

Times ... Tuesday 4 April 2000

Lord Melchett pleaded with a farmer to destroy his genetically modified maize days before he and dozens of other Greenpeace protesters descended on his land to rip up the crop, a court was told yesterday.

The peer is among 28 defendants who deny charges of theft and criminal damage that arise from a dawn raid on the four-acre Norfolk field last July. Before the defendants, dressed in white overalls displaying the Greenpeace name, arrived at Walnut Tree Farm, in Lyng, Lord Melchett had written to the farmer, William Brigham, outlining his concern.

In his letter, Lord Melchett, 51, executive director of Greenpeace and himself a Norfolk farmer, said that other plants, including private vegetable gardens, could be contaminated . He wrote: "From your own experience as a farmer, you will know that weeds, crop diseases and pests spread easily from one farm to another."

A recent poll, Lord Melchett said, had found that 73 per cent of the public did not want GM crops because of contamination risk. He added: "I do hope, in all the circumstances, that you will see the need for this crop to be removed before flowering, as has already been the case with the field trial near Swindon and indeed a number of field trials in other European countries."

As the trial began at Norwich Crown Court, Judge David Mellor told the jury that the case could not be about which side was in the right in one of the great debates of the present time. Telling them to apply the facts of the case to the law, he referred to the BBC Radio 4 soap opera The Archers. He said: "This is not the Archers trial, but the real one. The trial will involve major public controversy."

John Farmer, prosecuting, said a tractor and cutter were used to demolish the crop before the police were called and ten women and 18 men were arrested. "They will be raising a special defence of saying this was carried out with lawful excuse," Mr Farmer said. "They will be saying the law permits you to damage or destroy other property in order to protect property belonging to themselves or others and at the time of those acts that the property was in immediate need of protection."

He said that in the case of the theft of the maize, which was loaded on to a tipper truck, there would be no serious dispute that all the defendants were involved in different ways. But the issue, he told the jury, was whether the defendants had acted dishonestly.

Judith Jordan, product development manager for Agr-Evo UK, the company carrying out the trials, said that the total cost of the GM experiment at sites around the country was 3.3 million, about 17,000 per site. The maize on Mr Brigham's farm had been genetically modified to make it tolerant to a specific form of weedkiller. The idea was that all other weeds and plants on the site would be kept under control by the weedkiller, leaving the GM crop alive.

Mr Brigham, she said, was compensated at a rate of 750 per hectare for allowing the GM crops to grow on his 2.4-hectare field.

Cross-examined by Owen Davies, QC, for the defence, Miss Jordan said the study did not include provision for finding out whether bees could cross-pollenate other plants with GM material having taken pollen from the maize. She also agreed that no element of the study examined whether deer, which proliferate in the area, could transfer pollen from the maize to other plants.

The trial continues.

04 Apr 00 - GMO - Group led by peer and vicar 'ruined GM crop'

By Claudia Joseph

Independent ... Tuesday 4 April 2000

Lord Melchett, the executive director of Greenpeace, led a dawn raid on a farm in Norfolk, causing 17,400 of damage to a genetically modified crop and disrupting a research programme, a court was told yesterday.

The 51-year-old peer, from Ringstead, Norfolk, and 27 other members of the environmental pressure group took direct action last July after William Brigham, the farmer in Lyng who was conducting the trial, ignored a letter inviting him to a meeting between Greenpeace and Agr-Evo, the agrochemical company behind the experiments.

Yesterday the group, which included a vicar, appeared before Norwich Crown Court charged with causing criminal damage and theft . The 28 campaigners, who were arrested during a protest at the site of the farm-scale trial on 26 July 1999, deny the charges.

The court was told the group, dressed in white overalls emblazoned with "Greenpeace", descended on the four-acre field at Walnut Tree Farm in the early hours to uproot and bag the maize, which they put on a seven-and-a-half-ton truck.

Describing the scene that greeted him, after he had been notified by his sister, Mr Brigham said: "There were about 40 other people there milling around, some attempting to get over the gate. A lot of them were treading the crop down, breaking it off, putting it in bags and attempting to load it on the lorry that was parked immediately inside. There was also a tractor and a cutter which was chopping down the crop. I had asked them to stop, but they proceeded to snap off or tread down the crop continuously until they were stopped by the police."

John Farmer, for the prosecution, told Lord Melchett: "This is a free country in which people are entitled to carry on their lawful affairs and the mere fact that you do not approve of what your neighbour is doing means that you can't just ride roughshod over your neighbour's land."

Judith Jordan, the product development manager for Agr-Evo UK - an agrochemical company based in King's Lynn and part of the Berlin-based Agr-Evo group - told the court that the crop of herbicidetolerant forage maize, which was planted in May last year, was due to flower in August and would have been harvested in October. Instead, she claimed, it was destroyed at a loss of 17,400 .

However, under crossexamination by Owen Davies, for the defence, she admitted the testing programme had not been entirely ruined . "We are continuing this year," she replied, "but I am not in a position to say that. The loss is the loss to the researchers who are monitoring the site."

Earlier in the hearing, Judge David Mellor warned the jury not to let their political leanings influence their judgement. "This case is not about whether GM crops are a good or a bad thing," he said.

"It is not and cannot be about which side is in theright on one of the great debates of our time. It will be for you to listen to the evidence, reach honest conclusions as to the facts and apply them to the law."

The trial continues today.