9 May 2000
‘Witch-hunt’ against GMtrial hosts
By FWi staff
A WITCH-HUNT is being conducted by green pressure groups to force farmers to withdraw from trials of genetically modified crops, it has been claimed.
Guy Smith, of St Osyth, Essex, was due to host a trial of GM oilseed rape , after protests, agreed to a local referendum on whether the trial should take place.
But before this could happen, umbrella body SCIMAC – which is co-ordinating the trials – decided the trial should not proceed because of the uncertainty.
Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Farming Today programme, Mr Smith compared the pressure he had been under to a “Tudor witch-hunt”.
He accused environmentalists of whipping up opposition and creating a sinister atmosphere in the area.
“Peoples fears and superstitions were played on, rumours were going round the village about children becoming ill, gardens being blighted, crops being ruined, or something bad in the air.”
Mr Smith feels strongly the government let him down and should do more to reassure the public.
“Because the government didnt explain this properly, its not surprising that people put lurid and weird ideas into their minds as to what the GM trial entailed,” said Mr Smith.
Greenpeace genetics campaigner Sarah North denied her organisation was intimidating farmers holding trials, nor that it ran a witch-hunt against Mr Smith.
She said there had been no democratic consultation prior to the announcement of sites and that Greenpeace had only written to inform local residents.
“Were not targeting the farmer; we never were targeting the farmer.
“Were trying to bring about some form of consultation and discussion in the absence of the government doing so,” she said.
“I dont think Greenpeace is turning public opinion against the farmers; public opinion is already against them.”
Environment minister Michael Meacher said it was the responsibility of SCIMAC to persuade the public to accept GM technology.
“If industry wishes to introduce this technology into this country, it has to play a much bigger part to win over the hearts and minds of the people who are going to have these sites near them.
He said industry must not “shield behind government, but get out there an start talking to people just like Greenpeace and the other non-government organisations are doing”.
But Mr Meacher agreed there was “an extraordinary campaign of vilification of this new technology which in many cases which is hard to justify”.
SCIMAC chairman Roger Turner said enough was being done to assuage public fears.
He said people attending local meetings were often reassured when independent scientists put forward the case for why the trials were going ahead.