Public opinion stopped GM, says campaigner

Global resistance has halted the biotech giants, reports Environment Editor Michael McCarthy from the IoS co-sponsored Sustainable Planet Forum

Sunday, 26 September 2010

The tide has turned globally against the introduction of genetically modified crops, Lord Melchett, the former director of Greenpeace and campaigner for organic farming and food, said yesterday.

Fifteen years ago, many governments thought GM crops and food would become the norm, but it has not happened because of rising public resistance around the world, and it will not happen, he said.

“This is a redundant technology and many people in Europe may be unaware of the extent of the resistance to GM in places like India and China, because they swallow the GM industry line that it is supported all across the world,” he said. “I have to say that where we are now with GM leaves me feeling very optimistic.”
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Speaking at the Sustainable Planet forum in Lyon, France, he said GM technology, put forward by firms such as Monsanto, the US agribusiness giant and pesticide manufacturer, had achieved its initial success only “through secrecy”, he said. Many aspects of it had been kept a secret from farmers and consumers, but once labelling of GM products began, public support collapsed. He cited the case of Monsanto’s GM bovine growth hormone milk.

“America is where we’re told GM is a huge success, and where everyone from farmers to consumers loves GM, but it’s simply not true,” he said. “If anybody tells you this, ask them, where is GM wheat? Monsanto had it ready to go but it was stopped by American farmers. Ask them, where is the GM version of alfalfa, the fourth most commonly grown crop in the world? American farmers went to court to stop it being commercialised,” he told the conference, which is being co-sponsored by the French newspaper Libération, The Independent and La Repubblica from Italy.

Lord Melchett is now the policy director of the Soil Association, the organic farming and food campaigning body. An organic farmer himself, he has been one of Britain’s most prominent anti-GM activists and in 1999, when head of Greenpeace, led a raid to trash a field of trial GM crops in Norfolk.

He and 27 other Greenpeace volunteers were arrested and charged with criminal damage, but acquitted by a jury after claiming that the damage they had prevented – potential contamination of non-GM crops by pollen from the GM trial – was greater than the damage they had caused.

In the Lyon forum yesterday, attended by thousands of people, Lord Melchett joined with a French anti-GM campaigner, Philippe Martin, to examine the question (perhaps reflecting French preoccupations) of whether it is possible now to have a menu with no GM items on it.

Mr Martin, a socialist MP and council leader from Le Gers, the south-western France department with the highest percentage of farmers in the country, began by saying there were four great existential questions: Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? What’s for dinner

He said that, personally, he would not like a menu without confit de canard on it (his local regional speciality of preserved duck), but that was a matter of choice. He was concerned about cases where consumers might have no choice at all.

He hit out at the decision by the European Commission last July to authorise the import of six more GM strains of maize to be used for animal feed. Lord Melchett agreed, saying it was vital to label clearly milk and meat that came from animals fed on GM products. “There is a huge amount of GM soya fed to chickens, pigs and dairy cows, and you will eat it whether you want to or not,” he said. “Simply to get these products labelled is a crucial battle.”

Anti-GM demonstrators briefly disrupted a debate between two senior French politicians at yesterday’s conference. They carried banners on to the stage at the Lyon opera house to protest against what they called the French government’s “hypocritical” approach to genetically modified foods.

Their target was the senior French environment minister, Jean-Louis Borloo, who was debating with François Hollande, the former Socialist party leader, on whether green issues and mainstream politics were compatible. France has taken a restrictive attitude to GM foods in public, the demonstrators said, but quietly approved the planting of a score of GM plant varieties earlier this year.

Mr Borloo replied that France had done more than any other EU nation to slow the advance of GM and make certain that Brussels undertook scientific studies
before giving approval for new products.



Tuesday, July 27, 1999 Published at 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK
Greenpeace filmed the action

The executive director of Greenpeace, Lord Melchett, is the only one of 28 protesters to have been remanded in custody after being charged over damage to genetically-modified crops.

The peer was due to fly to Tanzania for a two-and-a-half week family holiday on Wednesday, but will now spend the next week at least behind bars.

The group were charged after an alleged attack on a GM trial farm at Lyng in Norfolk on Monday morning. All the 27 others were released on bail on Tuesday.

Mike Schwartz: Lord Melchett “convinced of immediate and major threat”
All those charged are accused of criminal damage to a crop of maize, and of trying to remove some of the crops.

Thirty people were arrested on Monday but two people, both women, were released without charge.

Lord Melchett, 51, of Ringstead, Hunstanton, Norfolk, was the first to appear at Norwich Magistrates Court where he was addressed throughout the 20-minute hearing as Mr Melchett.

He entered no plea against charges of theft and criminal damage.

Stipendiary magistrate Frazer Morrison adjourned all of the cases until 5 August.

Greenpeace admits action

The protesters, who range in age from 21 to 57 and come from all over the UK, spent the night in custody at Norfolk police stations.

The cost of the damage done to the crops has been estimated at £750.

Greenpeace has admitted organising the action, which it filmed and which was witnessed by several journalists.

“Greenpeace’s view is that something needs to be done about the threat of GM crops and the authorities are not and cannot take the correct action, so someone has to do it and unfortunately it has fallen to Greenpeace to protect everyone’s interests,” Lord Melchett’s lawyer Mike Schwartz told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

List of accused

The other 27 charged are:

* Rachael Murray, 26, from Highbury, London; Lisa Wetherly, 30, from Chessington, Surrey; Margaret Weaver, 43, from Sandhurst, Berks; Malcolm Carroll, 43, from Strafford, Staffs;

* Iain McSeveny, 36, from Gillespie Road, London; Emma Hargreaves, 28, from Tooting, London; Christopher Holding, 21, from Cardiff; Stokely Webster, 28, from Malpas Road, London;

* Timothy Copley, 41, from Harpenden, Herts; Spencer Cooke, 31, from Derby; Michael Uwins, 53, from Wymondham, Norfolk; Emma Protz, 27, from Seymour Avenue, London;

* Andrew Tait, 28, from Arsenal, London; Andrew McParland, 32, from Epsom, Surrey; Joanne Melzack, 51, from Manchester; Alaistair Beveridge, 30, from Aberdeen;

* Nichola Cook, 31, from Diss, Norfolk; Simon Hackin, 33, from Edinburgh; Simon Bowens, 32, from Leeds; Adrian O’Neil, 25, from Beverley, Yorks; Keith Dawson, 26, from Stamford, Lincs;

* Paul Bellotti, 57, from Devonshire Gardens, London; Michael Waldram, 38, from Ravenstone, Leics; Jacqueline Westwood, 41, from Mexborough, Yorks;

* Timothy Hewke, 39, from Highbury, London; Martin Porter, 29, from Harrogate, N Yorks; Brenda Ramsey, 33, from Wanstead, London.

BBC News | UK | Lord Melchett refused bail.