20 September 2000
Farm leader’s fury at GM trial verdict

By FWi staff

FARMERS leader Ben Gill is incandescent after 28 Greenpeace protestors were acquitted of causing criminal damage to a trial of genetically modified crops

The National Farmers Union president said he was shocked and angered by the “perverse” not guilty verdict at Norwich Crown Court on Wednesday (20 September)

Lord Melchett, executive director of Greenpeace, and 27 other supporters were cleared of criminally damaging a GM maize crop.

Mr Gill said that the verdict threw into question whether farmers could do their job without interference from vandals.

He said: “This case was about criminal damage to a farmers crop. 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.”

Mr Gill said he would be writing to Home Secretary Jack Straw to demand better protection for farmers lawfully taking part in trials.

The NFU claims it is right to learn as much as possible about GM crops before making decisions on their commercial cultivation.

Mr Gill said: “It is bizarre that those who are seeking to stop the trials from taking place are also saying there is insufficient evidence on GM crop safety to allow them to be grown.”

The 28 Greenpeace activists went on trial on 4 September on charges relating to a high-profile protest on a farm at Lyng, Norfolk, on 26 July last year.

During the protest, an experimental crop of GM maize was cut down and sealed in bags as part of a campaign to highlight opposition to the technology.

The pro-GM Supply Chain Initiative for Modified Agricultural Crops, said the verdict may have extremely damaging effects on British agriculture.

Commenting on the verdict, SCIMAC chairman Dr Roger Turner said: “This verdict prompts concerns which go much deeper than GM crops.

“This Court case was never about the scientific arguments for or against GM technology. It raises more fundamental questions about the ability of our legal system to cope with the gradual erosion of respect for public order and authority which our society is facing.

“For SCIMACs part, our immediate priority is with the farmers taking part in the trials. Some growers have recently received direct and personalised threats of damage to their business, property and machinery.”

Dr Turner said the governments scientific advisers had made it clear that the GM crops involved in the farm scale evaluation programme are safe.

The overriding objective of this study is to assess the impact of changes in agricultural management practice on farmland wildlife and biodiversity, he said.

Farmers taking part in the trials were acting legally and must be able to operate without fear of violence and intimidation, said Dr Turner.

The participation of farmers was vital in producing sound, scientific evidence on which the public can make informed judgements in relation to GM crops.