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2-Plants: UK farmers and campaigners vow to destroy GE crops

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SOURCE: Western Morning News, UK
DATE:   June 9, 2003

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Determined farmers and campaigners have vowed to destroy any genetically
modified crops if they are grown in the South West.

As the region hosted the national debate on the introduction of GM plants
in the UK, an overwhelming majority of people attending the meeting
expressed their firm opposition to the technology.

Their views come amid claims that ministers have already made up their
mind on the matter - trying to push for an imminent commercialisation of
the controversial technology in Britain.

But this weekend, farmers, campaigners, councillors and consumers
travelled to Taunton's Holiday Inn to make their voices heard at what has
been the "best-attended" meeting since the Government launched the
nationwide consultation on GM seven days ago.

For the first time since the consultation kicked off in Birmingham last
Tuesday, organisers - the GM Debate Steering Board - had to set up an
extra meeting to accommodate the public.

"I've travelled from Cornwall to Taunton especially to attend this
meeting, which in all fairness was not too well advertised," said Helen
Richards, of Penwith Organic Gardeners and Growers.

"The publicity was absolutely appalling. There were only two A4 sheets on
the main and back doors which indicated there was a meeting. Nothing else
apart from that. People travelled miles to attend this meeting and it was
really difficult to find the venue."

Organic farmer Hector Christie, from Bideford in North Devon, also
travelled to Taunton.

He said: "I don't want to see any GM crops grown in the Westcountry. If
this happens me, other farmers, and campaigners will destroy the crops.
I'm here to collect signatures from people and to get their support for
such an extreme action.

"There are clear health and environmental risks from these superweeds and
we all have to take action before it's too late. It's vital we pull up
and destroy GM trial plots. United we will win, divided we will lose."

The workshop was the third of a series of six major regional conferences
which are part of the debate called "GM-Nation?"

More than 200 people had the chance to have their say and get first-hand
information about the technology.

Their views were recorded and will be brought to the attention of an
independent steering board set up to gauge the opinions of the British
public on the matter.

Keith Hatch, a regional member of Friends of the Earth, said: "I think
it's pretty obvious that hardly anyone wants GM crops. At the end of the
conference we were asked if we wanted to see GM plants grown in the UK.
Nobody put their hands up."

The conference is expected to be followed by a series of other debates
until the middle of July.

In addition there will be seven focus groups engaged in a programme of
in-depth discussions and deliberation.

After the results from all parts of the debate have been collated, the
independent GM Debate Steering Board will produce a high-profile national
report - due to go to the Government by the end of September.

The debate is running in parallel with two other interrelated strands -
an economic and a scientific review.

However, ever since the Government announced its intention to consult the
public on the commercialisation of GM plants in the UK, sceptics have
voiced their fears that the results of large farm-scale trials would not
be fed into the main debate. They said people would be denied access to
"vital information" about the health and environmental risks involved.

But Archie Montgomery, a farmer from Wincanton, Somerset, also attending
the meeting, said the British public should not have a "halcyon view of
farming" and dismiss a potentially beneficial technology.

"I pay nearly 1,000 per acre for spraying my potatoes. Why should I pay
all this money when I can grow GM and don't bother with pesticides
anymore?" he said. "These crops can perfectly co-exist with organic and
conventional ones."

But Robert Vint, Totnes-based spokesman for the UK wholefood trades,
argued the GM crops have already become resistant to chemicals.

"There is a variety of reasons why we should reject these plants.
Firstly, there isn't enough evidence to show they are safe to human
health. Claims that these crops would help feed the Third World are
absolutely fraudulent, because famine hasn't got anything to do with
growing GM plants, it's to do with the unfair distribution of food in the


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

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