Protesters trample GM crops and enrage agrochem firms

22 May 1998

Protesters trample GM crops and enrage agrochem firms

By Johann Tasker

ENVIRONMENTAL protesters this week enraged scientists and agrochemical companies by stepping up their campaign against genetically modified (GM) crops. But agronomists have pledged to continue field trials regardless of intimidation or setbacks.

During the past week, at least two fields of GM crops have been wrecked by demonstrators. A major Wiltshire farmer has pulled out of a crop trial for Monsanto, and a farm exhibition has been cancelled over fears that it could be violently disrupted.

Early last Sunday, about eight protesters trampled a crop of GM oilseed rape in Scotland by attempting to mark a huge "X" on a field owned by Walton Experi-mental Farm, near Aberdeen. In a similar incident in Norfolk, vandals damaged part of a trial plot belonging to agrochemical company, AgrEvo.

John Hammond, AgrEvos head of development, said it was regrettable that a minority of individuals found it necessary to wreck research into GM crops.

"The actions of a few people wont stop our work," he said.

The anti-GM campaign may be gaining ground, however. This week a Wilts arable farmer pulled out of a crop trial for agro-chemical giant Monsanto after coming to the conclusion that genetically-modified (GM) crops should not be grown in a farming situation.

Peter Lemon, who farms 1200ha (3000 acres) near Malmes-bury, was asked to grow a demonstration plot of Monsantos Roundup-ready oilseed rape – a GM crop bred to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate.

Mr Lemon initially agreed to Monsantos request and the trial plot was prepared. But he later changed his mind after representations from anti-GM crop campaigners, including the Soil Association and Friends of the Earth (FoE).

"Initially I thought that growing this type of rape would considerably improve the environment, as we would control all the weeds in a crop with a chemical which is totally safe to the operator and the environment," Mr Lemon said. "But I now believe that not enough is known about these crops, and they should not be grown in a farming situation."

FoE described the Mr Lemons decision as a "serious blow" to chemical giant Monsanto. But Adrian Bebb, FoE spokesman, distanced the pressure group from the FoE for taking direct action and destroying GM-crops.

Meanwhile, the Arable Research Centre cancelled an open-day in Hampshire for fear that campaigners would destroy its crop of GM-oilseed rape.

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