GENTECH archive 8.96-97


Gene-modified crop sabotaged in Ireland

NATURE, 9 October 1997 

Dublin. Ireland's first genetically modified crop has been
             sabotaged by a group of environmental activists styling
             themselves the Gaelic Earth Liberation Front. Police
             launched a criminal investigation into the destruction of a
             one-acre crop of genetically modified sugar beet, being
             grown under licence by US chemical company Monsanto
             on a state research farm in County Carlow, about 50 miles
             from Dublin. 

             The crop had been genetically modified to resist the
             company's herbicide Roundup, and a three-year trial had
             been approved by Ireland's Environmental Protection
             Agency, which insists there is no threat to the environment.
             But, despite the assurance, the project caused a storm of
             protest, with environmentalists staging demonstrations,
             mounting pickets and taking court action in an effort to
             stop it. 

             Six months ago, the Irish High Court finally gave
             Monsanto the go-ahead for the crop trials. But such was
             the level of protest that the company abandoned plans to
             conduct the trials at three separate Irish farms, using only
             the Carlow research farm. 

             In the attack, much of the almost mature beet was
             destroyed, and the rest dug up. The Gaelic Earth Liberation
             Front, a previously unknown group, said in a statement:
             "This was Ireland's first genetically engineered crop and we
             hope it will be the last." 

             Patricia McKenna, a Green Party member who represents
             Dublin in the European Parliament, praised those
             responsible, adding: "If Monsanto, which was carrying out
             the trials, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which
             licensed them, insist on playing games with the Irish
             environment, then fair play to those who challenge them
             through peaceful direct action." 

             Monsanto described her comment as "extraordinary, given
             that this was an illegal act". It said it was "shocked and
             dismayed at this act of wanton damage", and accused those
             responsible of having no interest in scientific research or the
             benefits it could bring. Monsanto intends to resume the
             trials as soon as possible. 

             A spokesman for Genetic Concern, an Irish
             environmentalist lobby which led the opposition, denied any
             involvement in the sabotage, or knowledge of the new
             group. But he added: "We're not surprised. There are a lot
             of people very annoyed the tests went ahead without
             adequate public debate." 

             Anthony Garvey