06 July 1998
Royal Show beefs up security to meet eco-warrior threat
By Johann Tasker and Mike Stones
SECURITY guards are keeping a close eye on all genetically modified crop displays at this years Royal Show following fears that eco-warriors might try to sneak into the grounds and destroy the plots.
Environmental groups have wreaked havoc on GM crops throughout the UK since the beginning of the year. The latest attack occurred on Saturday when protesters ripped-up an estimated 200 GM oilseed rape plants at Knightsbridge Farm, near the village of Watlington, Oxon.
The protestors, who belong to the militant environmental group Genetix Snowball, are threatening to target other GM sites across the country. The group has sent letters to about 300 farmers, involved in GM crop trials, warning of its intentions.
Thames Valley Police arrested five women protesters responsible for the weekend attack. The site was growing Round-Up Ready oilseed rape, a genetically modified variety developed by US biotech giant Monsanto to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate.
Local farmer David Parker spent a week in the US talking to Monsanto scientists before allowing the crop trial on his farm.
“Im quite convinced that genetically-modified plants pose no greater risk than conventionally bred plants,” he said. “These people are trying to frighten the nation just like they did with BSE. And when theyre threatening to escalate what theyre doing, its just plain wrong.”
Monsanto plant-biologist Cathy Hooper watched the protesters rip up the crop. She criticised the demonstrators actions but Monsanto is not expected to sue for damages.
“This is not the way to go on,” Ms Hooper said. “We dont mind discussing the issues at stake but these people dont want any kind of debate. The sort of stuff they come out with is rubbish.”
The five arrested women were escorted off the site and later released. However, a police spokesman said the protesters might be summonsed at a future date to face charges of criminal damage.
Melanie Jarman, one of the protesters, said Genetix Snowball demonstrators would continue to rip up genetically modified crops once a fortnight until their demands were met for a five year moratorium on the release of GM crops.
Royal Show organisers have every reason to fear attacks from eco-warriors after a number of plots were destroyed at last months Cereals 98 event in Lincolnshire.
“Weve taken steps to protect the plots after recent experiences,” said Roger Atkin of the Institute of Arable Crops Research (IACR) which organised the exhibit.
The institutes plots, on show at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, are intended to spark debate.
“The aim of the demonstration is to start an open discussion from all interested parties, and people of all persuasions about this new technology,” said Mr Atkin. “We want to encourage a debate based on science.”
The IACR exhibit shows how genetic material influencing a specific trait can be introduced into a wheat plant, explained Mr Atkin. “Weve used low quality Australian (wheat) lines and introduced genes that encode for gluten which is important for bread-making quality,” he said.