DAILY MAIL (London)
September 21, 2000
THE future of genetically-modified farming in Britain was thrown into
chaos last night by a jury's decision to clear Greenpeace protesters of
destroying a crop trial.
The landmark verdict, effectively giving the green light to
environmentalists to target other GM experiments, stunned Ministers and
angered the 'Frankenstein Food' industry and farmers.
Greenpeace chief, Lord Melchett, one of 28 defendants who successfully
argued they acted in the public interest, hailed it as a victory for the
consumer and demanded an end to GM trials.
But the Government made clear it would press on with the several hundred
experiments planned for the next two years.
Farmers last night demanded Home Secretary Jack Straw guarantee them
police protection. NFU president Ben Gill said: 'We find it extraordinary
that, even with such clear evidence, a not guilty verdict was reached.
This gives the green light to wanton vandalism and trespass.'
The defendants, charged with criminal damage after destroying the
six-and-a-half acre Norfolk field 13 months ago, insisted they acted to
stop genetically-modified maize pollen from polluting the countryside,
risking nearby organic crops, farms and gardens.
They used the prosecution to put Government safety promises, the industry
and the experiments on trial.
The jury cleared them after a warning from the judge at Norwich Crown
Court they should not come to their decision based on whether they
believed GM crops were good or bad.
The prosecution not only lost the argument. It was also ordered to pay
Greenpeace's GBP 250,000 costs.
Last night Ministers insisted that despite the heightened risk of direct
action, they intend to press ahead with the trials.
'If we halted our strictly controlled research then there would be
widespread GM crop planting, without us getting the real scientific
evidence we need,' said an Environment Department spokesman.
'Our top priority is to protect the environment and human health. These
farm scale evaluations are vital for us to assess whether there are
unacceptable effects of growing and managing GM crops.'
The Greenpeace members admitted destroying the field of GM maize at Walnut
Tree Farm, Lyng, near Dereham, in July 1999. It was being grown as part of
an experiment by multinational agrochemical company AgrEvo, now called
Lord Melchett, 52, who farms near Hunstanton, Norfolk, and his
co-defendants planned to take the maize to the company's headquarters in
King's Lynn but they were arrested as they carried out the dawn raid after
farmer William Brigham called police.
They were cleared of stealing the GM maize at an earlier trial. Yesterday
they were found not guilty of criminal damage after a retrial.
With two separate juries accepting that Greenpeace was acting on behalf of
the majority of the public, Lord Melchett, a former Labour Cabinet
Minister, was jubilant.
'Now it is time for Mr Blair and the chemical companies to stop growing GM
crops,' he said.
The industry body SCIMAC, which has been running the trials, claimed the
verdict put farmers at risk and had damaging implications for UK jobs,
investment, British agriculture and the nation's science base.
LORD MELCHETT'S VICTORY WILL PROVE TO BE A DEFEAT FOR SCIENTIFIC TRUTH
The Independent (London)
September 21, 2000, Thursday
YESTERDAY'S STUNNING acquittal of Lord Melchett and the Greenpeace
protesters who sought to disrupt the genetically modified crop trials in
Norfolk is a disaster for the Government - and a disaster for the
scientists who wanted to find the truth. It now seems unlikely that any
further trials will be able to go ahead. It would be natural if farmers
were so frightened by the prospect of being targeted that they refused to
host the GM trials.
The whole point of the trials was to find out what effect the GM crop
trials would have on the environment, including the effect on insect life
and on other animals. The trials took place with an open mind; the
protesters have shown no such openness. If the trials cannot go ahead
because of the threat or fear of sabotage, scientists will be unable to
establish whether or not there is a genuine threat. We are, in short, left
in complete ignorance.
The issue of the crop trials must be seen quite separately from questions
about health concerns in connection with genetically modified foods. GM
food has undergone extraordinarily elaborate testing procedures - much
more elaborate than many other types of food, including the endlessly
praised organic food. By all scientific markers, GM foods are as safe as
can be. They can be placed on shelves for consumers to decide whether they
The issue of potential damage to the environment is, however, a different
issue. The more efficient we are at producing crops which only humans can
eat, the more certain it becomes that other animals living in the
countryside will suffer. An insect that is a pest for farmers is essential
food for a skylark.
Thousands of acres of GM crops are grown in the US, and this is often used
as an argument to show that GM crops do not damage the environment.
However, in America the wilderness areas are divorced from the farmland
areas. In this country, by contrast, wildlife and farmland mingle on an
The potential threat must therefore be recognised as much more serious in
Britain than it is in America. That is not an argument for not carrying
out the trials. On the contrary, it makes it all the more imperative that
we understand the rational and scientific arguments connected with GM
The farm-scale crop trials that the Government introduced were due to
expand enormously over the next three years. Already, trials of winter
oilseed rape are now taking place on 25 sites. GM crops are planted in one
part of the site, while the rest of the site is planted with equivalent
trials of non-GM crops.
Even before yesterday's decision, some farms which had signed up for these
trials pulled out because of fear of direct action. Yesterday's verdict
seems certain to accelerate that process. It is not a question of whether
the farmers themselves believe that there is a problem with the crops. The
threat of Greenpeace protesters would be enough to frighten them off.
If juries refuse to convict people who deliberately sabotage GM crops,
then farmers would hardly welcome the invitation to be involved in such
trials. Greenpeace has been expert at getting publicity for its cause.
Now, it seems, Greenpeace and its lawyers are also expert at persuading a
jury of the rightness of their cause. But knowledge is the loser;
Greenpeace has bolstered the prejudices of those who do not wish to know
the truth. It has done no service to our need for knowledge.
FARMERS A-MAIZED AS MELCHETT WALKS FREE
Belfast News Letter
September 21, 2000, Thursday
THE Government said last night that it would continue with trials of
genetically-modified crops after 28 environmental activists were found not
guilty of causing criminal damage to an experimental maize field.
The jury at Norwich Crown Court returned not guilty verdicts at the end of
a two- week retrial in which the defendants - including Greenpeace
executive director Lord Melchett - admitted trashing the crop as part of a
protest at Lyng, Norfolk in August last year.
The National Farmers' Union described the verdicts as "perverse" and as
declaring "open season" on farmland.
NFU president Ben Gill said he would be writing to Home Secretary Jack
Straw ahead of a planned meeting to discuss the issues raised by the case.
"We find it extraordinary that, even with such clear evidence, a not
guilty verdict was reached. This gives the green light to wanton vandalism
Lord Melchett said: "GM material is still being used to feed farm animals
in Europe although a growing number of retailers - such as Iceland in the
UK - are already committed to selling animal products from animals not fed
on GM crops. We expect other European retailers to follow suit."
A jubilant Lord Melchett called on the Government to cancel GM farm trials
after the landmark case "before any further genetic pollution of the
He said: "Obviously, we are all delighted but it is not about us. We acted
to protect the environment, the countryside and British farming from GM
contamination and we were right to do that.
"Now, it is time for Mr Blair and the chemical companies to stop growing
But a spokesman for the Department of the Environment said the tests would
"If we halt our strictly controlled research there would be widespread GM
crop planting without us getting the real scientific evidence we need," he
"These farm-scale eval- uations are vital for us to assess whether there
are any unacceptable effects on the environment and human health by
growing and managing GM crops."
The prosecution was ordered to pay costs in excess of pounds 250,000 by
Judge David Mellor to cover both trials in which the defendants were
accused of causing less than pounds 2,000 of damage to a 6.5 acre field.
The defendants were cleared of theft at the first trial in April but the
jury failed to reach a verdict on the criminal damage charge.
Yesterday, there were cheers and applause as the verdicts were read out at
the end of the trial which brought together one of the largest groups of
defendants to be tried in the same court in British legal history.
The 28 defendants said they acted to prevent pollen from the GM maize
being grown by biochemical company AgrEvo, now called Aventis, from
polluting nearby organic crops and gardens.
The maize had been due to be destroyed a few weeks after the attack.
Peter Tidey, chief Crown prosecutor for Norfolk, said: "Criminal damage is
a serious offence and allegations that an offence was pre- meditated and
carried out by a group of people are taken into consideration when
deciding whether to prosecute."
Det Sgt Tom Neill, who led the investigation, said: "We accept today's
verdict but believe the prosecution was fairly brought."
GM battle fears as Melchett is cleared
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH(LONDON)
September 21, 2000, Thursday
By David Brown and David Sapsted
FARMERS were braced last night for more attacks on genetically modified
crops after 28 Greenpeace campaigners were cleared of criminal damage
despite admitting destroying six acres of GM maize.
There were cheers from supporters in the public gallery at Norfolk Crown
Court as the unanimous verdicts were returned. Some defendants wept.
Victory for the protesters, who included Lord Melchett, a former Labour
minister, cast doubt on Government plans to expand farm-scale trials of GM
crops over the next three years.
The Department of the Environment insisted that GM trials would go ahead.
But farmers feared that the verdicts would be a licence for protesters to
declare "open season" on GM farms.
The National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners Association said
they would be seeking urgent talks with the Government to determine how
farmers could be protected when they conducted lawful GM trials.
Leaders of the biotechnology industry said the verdicts could have
"extremely damaging effects on jobs and investment, agriculture and our
science base as a whole".
Lord Melchett, 52, hailed the verdicts as a triumph for those who wished
"to defend the British countryside and farming from GM contamination".
He refused to rule out further attacks and called on the Government to
cancel GM farm trials "before any further genetic pollution of the
environment occurs". Lord Melchett, who is the executive director of
Greenpeace, added: "We took this action because we honestly believed we
were protecting the environment. Clearly the jury agreed with that.
"We have known for a long time that people do not want any GM foods and
supermarkets will not sell them. Now the time has come for people to stop
planting GM crops."
At an earlier trial in Norwich, all 28 defendants were acquitted of
stealing the crops from Walnut Tree Farm, owned by William Brigham, at
Lyng, near Dereham, last year. But the jury was unable to reach a verdict
on the criminal damage charge and this led to a retrial.
The cost of the trials is estimated at pounds 250,000. After yesterday's
acquittals, Judge David Mellor awarded Greenpeace its defence costs,
believed to be about pounds 100,000.
The accused - 18 men and 10 women - had travelled from all over the
country to protest in Norfolk. They claimed that their actions were
justified by the "lawful excuse" that they were trying to protect property
at immediate risk. This is normally a defence for, say, smashing down a
person's door during a fire.
Ben Gill, the NFU president, said: "This case was about criminal damage to
a farmers' crops. It raises fundamental issues about the right of farmers
to go about their lawful business.
"We find it extraordinary that even with such clear evidence, a not guilty
verdict was reached. This gives the green light to wanton vandalism and
The Crown Prosecution Service tried to allay farmers' fears by saying that
the verdicts would not rule out future prosecutions if there were "a
realistic prospect of conviction and if it is in the public interest for a
case to go to court".
However, such prosecutions seem unlikely in view of Greenpeace's argument
that it had lawful excuse to destroy the crops because pollen was posing
an environmental threat to neighbouring fields.
They cited the Criminal Damage Act, 1971, which states that, in certain
circumstances, a person may damage another's property property in order to
protect life or neighbouring property.
Owen Davies, QC, defending, told the court the 28 defendants were not
common criminals but "nice people, the sort of people you may expect to
find sitting on a jury".
John Farmer, prosecuting, maintained in his closing speech that the
defendants' actions were unreasonable. "What the farmer was doing was
perfectly legal and well within the law."
The Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops, which
organised the farm-scale trials, said the verdicts raised fundamental
questions about the ability of the legal system to cope with "the gradual
erosion of respect for public order and authority".
The Department of the Environment said: "If we halt our strictly
controlled research there would be widespread GM crop planting without us
getting the real scientific evidence we need.
"The top priority is to protect the environment and human health. These
farm-scale evaluations are vital for us to assess, by growing and managing
GM crops, whether there are any unacceptable effects on either." Tony
Juniper, of Friends of the Earth, said: "Any further GM testing must be
Farm trials in jeopardy after verdict
The Guardian (London)
September 21, 2000
Yesterday's verdict acquitting 28 Greenpeace protesters of criminal damage
to a field of GM crops is likely to have ramifications far beyond the
confines of Norwich crown court.
According to Charles Secret, director of Friends of the Earth, the jury's
decision could spell disaster for the government's plans to increase the
number of genetically modified farm scale crop trials. As far as I can see
this throws the door open for people to legitimately destroy GM crops that
are about to go to pollen.
Under government plans, trials in 25 fields for maize and oilseed rape and
30 more for either sugar or fodder beet are due to get under way by the
end of this year, with more farm-scale trials planned for next year and in
2002 before the results are fully evaluated in 2003.
A total of 75 participating farms are needed over the next three years for
a viable study, but even before yesterday's verdict, doubt had been cast
on the government's ability to recruit enough farms, a fact confirmed by
the National Farmers Union yesterday.
It is vital that any farmers involved in future trials are better
protected or of course they are not going to want to take part,' a
spokesman said. We are extremely shocked and angered by the verdict. This
is about criminal damage to farmers' crops and has distressing
implications for all farmers.'
In March, two weeks after the government announced the location of 31
farms in England and Scotland that had signed up for the trials, two of
the farms pulled out under pressure from local people. Greenpeace has also
issued a hit list of 26 farms it says are taking part in the trials.
The government had issued only a six-figure grid reference to identify the
fields where the trials are due to take place, but anti-GM campaigners
will be hoping that the jury's decision in the Greenpeace case will
trigger a domino effect, with more farmers deciding to boycott the trials.
Although the jury's verdict does not set a precedent for future cases,
legal experts said yesterday that a number of similar verdicts would
probably see the crown prosecution service re-evaluating whether to bring
similar cases to trial.
Yesterday the Department of Environment Transport and the Regions was
adamant the trials would continue. If we halted our strictly controlled
research then there would be widespread GM crop planting, without us
getting the real scientific evidence we need,' the department said in a
statement. Our priority is to protect the environment and human health.
These farm scale evaluations are vital for us to assess whether there are
any unacceptable effects.'