7 November 1997

Terror tactics used against GMOworkers

By Tony McDougal

SCIENTISTS working at the cutting edge of plant genetics in the UK are being plagued regularly by extremists opposed to biotechnology.

Michael Wilson, Scottish Crop Research Institute deputy director, said he had to check his post, and underneath his car, for incendiary devices every time the institute applied to conduct trials involving genetically modified organisms.

Speaking at an industry seminar at the Institute of Economic Affairs, Prof Wilson said the antagonism towards GMOs, coupled with inadequate labelling legislation from the EU Commission, was threatening to drive much of Europes fledgling biotechnology industry to North America.

Strike liaison

"I am afraid we will have to strike a liaison with large-scale releases taking place in America and small-scale releases in Europe," he said.

Gavin Cree, chairman of the Bioindustry Associations regulatory affairs advisory committee, said every small-scale GMO trial in Germany had been vandalised, and attacks had also taken place in Ireland.

Julie Hill, Green Alliance programme adviser, argued that the vandalism had been exaggerated. But concerns over post-release monitoring of GMOs in the environment had not been adequately tackled. And the cultural differences between consumers in the UK and America had not been addressed, she said.

Ms Hill stressed there was no legal requirement in the UK for any post-monitoring of GMOs to be carried out, adding that it was time for the industry to establish a definitive policy on who would pay for the work.

Extensive monitoring

Colin Merritt, Monsanto technical manager, admitted that regulations did not specify what post-release monitoring should take place in Europe, but argued that the company carried out extensive monitoring – both in North America and more recently with Round Up Ready tolerant oilseed rape in France.

He admitted industry had faced problems in getting across its message that biotechnology could help feed three billion more people by 2025, improve crop quality while reducing inputs, and develop new crops as renewable resources.

Delegates concerned

Delegates also expressed concern that new EU labelling laws covering GM maize and soya, designed to provide the consumer with "clear, honest and neutral" information, would merely lead to the majority of the products carrying the label "may contain GMOs."