The High Court has granted Rothamsted Research a civil injunction to protect its GM wheat open field experimental trial.
Rothamsted sought the order amid concerns that the trial, of wheat genetically modified to repel aphids, was under threat of destruction.
The protest group, Take The Flour Back, has threatened to “decontaminate” the trial site in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, unless the trial is halted immediately.
The application was brought on Tuesday (29 May) by the Lawes Agricultural Trust, the landowner, and other charities to protect work of “significant scientific and historical value to the UK”.
The injunction forbids unauthorised access to the field trial site and the immediate area around it. A large perimeter fence, CCTV and 24-hour security already protect the trial.
Anyone caught breaching this injunction will face prosecution under the Contempt of Court Act, which could result in a large fine or even imprisonment.
Philip Brook Smith QC, for the charities, told the court that “trampling on crops in fields corrupts the scientific objective of the studies being pursued”.
But he explained that the charities had no wish to stifle free speech or protest. “The respondents can still protest, just not on land over which they have no right of entry”.
Stephen James, secretary of Lawes Agricultural Trust, said: “The use of nearby footpaths and access to nearby beauty spots is in no way hampered.
“But the wheat crop, and the barrier of barley that surrounds it, is very fragile and as even a very limited intervention could seriously undermine the scientific credibility of the site, it is imperative that the immediate area be protected to avoid destruction.”
He added: “All scientists value constructive debate on these important issues – indeed, we have invited Take The Flour Back to an open debate session to that end, but they have so far declined our invitation.
“So I am delighted that the court has today, recognised the need to protect this valuable work from destructive acts.”
Andrew Wass, a partner at law firm Withers LLP, which is acting for the charities, said despite appeals to the protestors to desist from damage in place of sensible dialogue, his clients reluctantly had “no option but to seek the protection of the court”.
Rothamsted Research and Lawes Agricultural Trust said they were committed to the trial, which has the “potential of significantly reducing the use of harmful pesticides in wheat crops, benefiting future generations and the environment”.
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