GE -genetiX snowball - Newsletter Issue 1- Feb 99
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GE -genetiX snowball - Newsletter Issue 1- Feb 99
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a campaign of nonviolent civil responsibility - Newsletter Issue 1- February
What is genetiX snowball?
GenetiX snowball is a campaign of nonviolent civil responsibility.† It
supports open and accountable nonviolent direct action to safely remove
genetically modified (GM) plants from release sites in Britain. The campaign
is calling for a five year moratorium on the deliberate release of GM plants
in Britain, except for government sponsored ecological health and safety
tests (in enclosed systems) and; the removal by government agencies, farmers
or the biotechnology companies of all GM plants already existing.† GenetiX
snowball is a member of the Genetic Engineering Alliance: 0171 837 0642 and
the Genetic Engineering Network: 0181 374 9516.
The government may have made reassuring noises during the current debacle
over genetically modified (GM) food, but nothing has changed it seems.† Even
prior to commercial planting of GM crops there have been substantial
releases to the environment.† Last year 377 acres of GM crops were planted,
with 93 acres of oil seed rape planted at Berkhamstead in Hertfordshire
alone. So the campaign continues.
Since the first genetiX snowball action on 4th July last year we've had over
fifteen hundred enquires, six hundred copies of the genetiX snowball
'Handbook for action' have been distributed, forty public meetings have been
held and over seventy people aged 17 to 79 have participated in genetiX
snowball actions. Our web site has had over 6,000 hits (see
http://www.gn.apc.org/pmhp/gs) and the 'Rolling the snowball ...' video has
been well received.
This year looks like being a critical year, so join us on† 17th April for
Silent Spring - an action to make our land, our food and our future free
from GM crops.† Contact us for details of your nearest snowball group , GM
trial site, training or advice. The prosecution of genetiX snowball by
Monsanto continues. Please come to the High Court in London on Monday April
19th* and support our call for a 'Fair hearing for snowball; Full trial for
genetics'. We'll be holding a Queue for Justice, outside the court at 9.30
a.m so come along even if only for ten minutes. Hope to see you there.
*Note: Court hearing dates may change with little notice, therefore it is
ESSENTIAL to confirm the date by phoning the information line from Wednesday
14th April. Tel: 0161 834 0295
Anyone for snowballs?
Anyone for snowball?
If you're wondering what the genetiX snowball Silent Spring action on 17th
April will be like then ask Becci Neal. Here's her account of a genetiX
snowball action in August last year to dispose of genetically modified sugar
beet at Sharpes International Seeds, Boothby Graffoe, Lincolnshire.
Everything happened very quickly - a couple of days after receiving a draft
of the genetiX snowball 'Handbook for Action' I had a call from genetiX
snowball about a genetics debate in Louth. I wanted to start a group in my
area, so it was good to meet like-minded people as well as those who we were
up against. The next day I was putting up posters advertising a meeting at a
local cafe for the snowball action, a week later. We had a really good
response from people who wanted to be involved directly, and by those who
wanted to offer support.
The day before the action we met at a community centre for some training. A
van load of people from Manchester came as well and we all got on almost
instantly. Role-plays helped to prepare for employees, the police and media
who had been notified of the action. This day was really valuable - it
brought the group closer together and got rid of any worries.
The following morning we met at the cafe and then drove to the site. When we
arrived, the media had already gathered; they conducted interviews and took
photos.† After about half an hour we walked up to the site. It was a
beautiful sky blue day with a strange atmosphere of adrenaline and calm.
We were blocked by the police at our first attempt to enter the site - some
were arrested for intent to cause criminal damage. The rest of us found
another way in, closely followed by the police. We were all warned after we
began to dig and were then arrested. I think the police were shocked at our
non-resistance, which definitely increased their respect for us. After being
booked in at Lincoln Police Station we were put into cells until we were
interviewed. I shared a cell with a close friend, which was a comfort. We
were in there for about four hours - it wasn't a bad experience. We had a
lot of laughs. I gave a 'no comment' interview and read out my personal
statement which I kept with me. We were all released with no conditions
other than to return to the station about a month later, but they ended up
sending us letters telling us not to return because everything had been
The support group were brilliant. We had chocolate and cards sent to our
cells, and they waited at the station for us all to be released.
I don't think the weekend could have gone much better than it did. We got a
lot of publicity and several GM sugar beets - which were as large as
footballs, out of the ground. I still can't believe how thoughtful, calm and
focused everyone was. It was a completely different experience to any other
direct action campaigns I've been involved in.
Prior to the action at Boothby Graffoe, genetiX snowball entered into a
dialogue with Sharpe International Seeds, even disclosing the time of the
intended action - hence the awaiting police. Last year prior to the start of
the campaign, genetiX snowball wrote to all farmers hosting trial sites to
inform them of the campaign, reassure them and invite them to join. This
year, prior to Silent Spring genetiX snowball will once again write to all
farmers.† Unlike last year's letter which stated that actions would only
occur on the first and third weekends of the month, this years letter will
lift that restriction. GenetiX snowball actions can now happen at other
times, see the Handbook for further guidance.
Monsanto in Retreat !
Kathryn Tulip is one of five women who undertook the first snowball action
on the 4th July 1998 at a Monsanto trial site in Oxfordshire.† She is a
qualified solicitor and explains the legal consequences of the action and
the implications for other potential snowballers.
After our action we were arrested by the police but were released a few
hours later without criminal charge.† Monsanto chose instead to issue civil
court proceedings and ten days later we were served with temporary High
Court injunction orders.† These prevent us from uprooting, destroying or
otherwise damaging or interfering with crops at seventy Monsanto test field
sites around the country.† The injunctions also forbid us from conspiring
with or encouraging others to damage Monsanto crops.† Breach of the
injunction order carries a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment.† The
following day we received a further bundle of legal papers from Monsanto in
which they claimed not only a permanent injunction but also damages for the
destroyed crops (£5,150) and unspecified damages for unlawful interference
with Monsanto's business and commercial interests.
The use of lengthy civil court proceedings with injunctions and the threat
of huge claims for damages and costs is a technique which is being used
against those who speak out against the actions of government and
corporations.† The aim is to attempt to dispirit activists and to discourage
others from participating in protest.† These court proceedings have become
known as SLAPPs - Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.† Whilst
more common in North America they are increasingly being used in Britain,
for example against road protesters and in the McLibel case.† As our legal
case continues it is becoming clear that Monsanto's strategy is more
concerned with promoting fear, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of
potential snowballers than in recovering damages and legal costs.
Monsanto's actions against us are a classic SLAPP.
In September, just days before the GenetiX Harvest action, Monsanto obtained
a further temporary injunction against us and also against our media
liaison, Andrew Wood.† The terms of this second injunction are broader than
the first injunction and in addition to preventing us from uprooting crops
the injunction also prevents us from trespassing on Monsanto owned land and
from planting or inserting anything into the ground at the sites.
In addition to the six named individuals the injunction also applies to 'any
other person being a member of the unincorporated association known as
genetiX snowball'.† GenetiX snowball is not a membership organisation so it
is unclear who these 'members' might be, but it is likely that those who
have worked closely with us or who have received a training from us would be
considered by the court to be 'members' of genetiX snowball and therefore
subject to the terms of the injunction, even though they may never have seen
the injunction papers.† The named injunctees are also sued 'on behalf of
other members of genetiX snowball' which means that we could be found to be
in breach of the injunction if a group that we had supported or trained then
went on to do an action at a Monsanto site.† This is a very wide ranging
injunction and the High Court appears to have been only too ready to assist
Monsanto in their aim of stopping the genetiX snowball campaign.
In January, Monsanto's lawyers sent another bundle of papers; an application
for summary judgement. At the summary judgement hearing on 19th/20th April
Monsanto will ask the court to grant them a permanent injunction against us
but have dropped their claim for damages.† Monsanto claim their case is now
very simple and that we have no defence, so that a summary hearing of one
and half days without any expert witnesses attending the court is
appropriate.† If the judge agrees with Monsanto, then our arguments against
genetic engineering will not be heard in Court.† It appears that Monsanto
have dropped their damages claim in order to avoid the public relations
disaster of a full hearing.
At the summary judgment hearing, Monsanto will also ask the court to order
us to provide the names and addresses of everyone who has received a copy of
the genetiX snowball 'Handbook for Action'.† Monsanto's solicitors, propose
to send a copy of the injunction order to each handbook recipient to 'ensure
that any injunction granted comes to the attention of those persons who
might otherwise be encouraged to do an act prohibited by the injunction
granted'.† It appears that Monsanto now want the Court to broaden the scope
of the injunction so that everyone who has received a copy of the handbook
would be injuncted on the same terms as the six defendants.†
Whilst Monsanto appears to invite public debate about GM crops and food on
the one hand, on the other, it uses legal intimidation in an attempt to
silence people who are opposed to GM crops.† We refuse to be intimidated by
Monsanto, it is our right to speak out, it is our democratic right to veto
the introduction of GM crops and food.
Can democracy cope with biotechnology?
Developments in biotechnology are raising many concerns - ecological,
social, ethical - but what Alan Simpson MP sees as the most insidious result
of this biotech age is it's threat to democracy.
The threat biotechnology poses to democracy may not be immediately apparent.
Threats to democracy usually come in the form of out of favour dictators,
not the test-tube. But I will argue that the threat is real.† However, it
first needs to be seen in the wider context of an economic globilisation,
already heading towards collapse.
Fundamentally, the question is whether civic democracy is compatible with
global deregulation, and whether the World Trade Organisation's intellectual
property rights' for biotechnology discoveries will take us all into an era
of corporate feudalism. The world is being spun around by big corporations
who have an ability to produce more goods than the world can consume. And
so, they focus their efforts on consuming each other, along with any smaller
elements that get in the way.
They do this with the approval of government policy, and international
treaties, which are designed to create a world fit for the corporations to
dominate. This is an unsustainable state of affairs, and it takes on an even
more ominous dimension when you look at the world of biotechnology.
There are two separate aspects to consider: Firstly, The nature of
scientific change, and Secondly, the ownership of that change. Firstly,
there is no doubt that the rate of change is breathtaking. In itself, this
distorts our view about the nature of the world. We are in real danger of
believing industry claims about science as a world of magic cures; that,
somehow, modified genes will end all illness; or modified crops will grow in
any conditions, resistant to all blight. That is arrant nonsense. It is a
fundamental aspect of life on earth, that nature has never given us the gift
of infalability. Our ecosystem carries no guarantees of a world free from
droughts, floods or crop failures. And by and large, the world is kept in
balance by dint of this diversity. The strength of this diversity is that
not all varieties of a crop get destroyed, and not all of a population
succumbs to a particular illness. In general, nature also provides access to
cures for the ills that it throws up.
Biotechnology is in danger of simply destroying our ability to apply this
common sense to common science. And politicians are amongst the least able
to grasp this. We are either invited into a knee-jerk reaction 'agin' it, on
almost anti-science terms; or towards an uncritical 'yes', as part of the
thoroughly modern (and pliable) parliament that industry demands. In the
past we always used to be guided by the precautionary principle, that if we
were not clear about the consequences of a new drug or product, public
safety would over-ride commercial exploitation as the guiding principle. Now
we are being driven to accept change at a much faster rate. Not because it
is safer, but because some of the corporations who own patents stand to make
large sums of money if they can be in the arena before their competitors.
This takes me on to the second point.
My contention is that the rush into biotechnology, through patents, is, in
itself, anti-research, anti-science and anti-democratic. It breaks with the
traditions of research being done in pursuit of a cure, not a fortune; of
farmers saving seeds, propagating plants and sharing them as protection
against the larger, unpredictable forces of nature. These cures and the
seeds have always been part of the global commons. Patenting has distorted
our understanding of this. We are now invited to accept that unless patents
are obtained, all medical and agricultural research will cease. Biotech
companies have been pushing the notion of 'no patent - no cure'. Yet this is
an absolute myth. They claim they need patents to protect the massive
investment costs of research. Yet if you analyse the way they fund the
research, you find that most of the costs, either directly or ultimately,
are paid by you and I as taxpayers. It may cost billions of pounds to
undertake research. But government gives companies 100% write off against
tax for research costs; we give them 25% write off per year for ancillary
costs; we put huge amounts of direct public grant aid into research
institutes; we offer generous tax breaks over extended periods of time; and
then we guarantee monopoly profits as companies sell us back the products we
have subsidised all along the process. This is even before we put a cost to
the voluntary contributions which come from the public in the form of their
family history, medical records, blood and tissue samples, all given freely
as part of the research effort.
It is a myth that the industry carries all the cost and all the risk, and
therefore needs to be protected. But despite my antipathy towards patents, I
am actually in favour of an experiment; one in which patents are allowed,
but only on cures and treatments derived without any public contributions at
all, and financed entirely by the company that wants the patent. I doubt
there would be much of a queue.
The chase after patents is also damaging research. Collaboration between
scientists is being reduced as they become fearful of sharing ideas. There
is a new fear about someone getting there first. (S)he who holds the patent
controls the routes of future research. Royalties and license fees will
determine who can play the game. This is anti-democratic in the most
profound terms. It destroys the basis of a democratic research community
which shares ideas and can act in partnership with the public, not live
parasitically off it.
It is also anti-democratic in prompting scientists to view the building
blocks of life as things to be patented. This is at its most grotesque in
the bio-piracy currently taking place in less developed countries.
Traditional medicinal plants, and the recipes of cures have been bought for
as little as $5 in southern India. Blood samples have been taken from
isolated populations and patents taken out on their cell-lines, in the
belief they may hold clues to future medical breakthroughs. None of these
are taken altruistically. They are taken because biotech companies see this
as the short-cut to massive profits. How can they presume the right to
patent someone else's cell-line, their herbs, roots or traditional medicine?
We are seeing a new era of colonialism; presuming a right to take ownership
of people's very existence. This is the colonisation of the soul. When we
did this in previous centuries, it was called slavery. Then we landed on new
shores, and declared 'terra nullius', empty lands, allowing conquerors and
prospectors to set up shop wherever they wished, ignoring indigenous
people's most basic human rights. Today's† research companies presume the
right to take patents out on fundamental aspects of nature, and ought to be
asked how different they are from conquering armies who believed they could
colonise land and own people. The patent is mightier than the sword in
today's era of biopiracy. I see no reason why we couldn't have a different
approach to this, picking up on a phrase that Tony Blair was once so keen to
use, the idea of 'stakeholders'. I am a strong believer in stakeholding. We
all have a stake in research funded from the public purse. So why don't we
have a new concept of 'public patents' - goods permanently held in public
ownership with guaranteed common access rights, and which treat the
products, whether crops or cures, quite differently from the process of
inventing machines. It would simply define research into our common heritage
as part of the global commons.
We ought to learn to value the holding of these public patents as a
cornerstone of democracy itself. Once you slip patents into the domain of
private ownership, you create fiefdoms whose principal interests are to
destroy any notion of democratic rights and common ownership. The global
companies who fiercely defend the rights of private ownership of our
biodiversity, do so in order to expropriate private profit, to undermine
democracy and to enslave people.
This, I think, is the real challenge of the next century. If we do not
address it, I am not sure that today's economic or political systems will
themselves survive. If this is so, then the biggest crime of our time is
toremain silent and inactive.
Alan Simpson MP is the Labour member for Nottingham South. This article is
reprinted from Splice, the magazine of the Genetics Forum. For more
information tel: 0181 837 9229.
Anyone for shopping?
Finding it difficult to find a local trial site for genetically modified
crops? Rowan Tilly of genetiX snowball suggests an alternative...
Five years ago I joined in with some good citizens to recover products like
toilet seats and tables from Department and DIY stores which were made from
timber which had been stolen from native people's forest land.
Slipping my stolen mahogany coat hanger under my jacket I slipped undetected
past the security guards and out of Harrod's main entrance.† They had, of
course, been informed in advance that we were coming to recover their stolen
property but had neglected to do anything about it.† Along with thirty or so
other 'shoppers'we set off to the local police station to report the crime.
'Whose crime?† Who's nicked all this stuff?'said the desk sergeant, looking
somewhat bemused at the display of mahogany furniture on the desk before
him.† 'Their crime'we replied, 'They nicked it - we recovered it.† We want
to report it as stolen goods and we want you to investigate their crime.
....”.† The sergeant scratched his head looking even more baffled, 'You want
me to investigate Harrods ?!' 'Yes, we've got loads of evidence on the
criminals and Harrods are aiding and abetting.† Can we have a crime
reference number please?'
The shopping expeditions were part of a campaign called CRISP - Citizen's
Recovery of Indigenous people's Stolen Property.† They were widely reported
in the media and in spite of all the evidence provided on the thieves and
their side-kicks, the police said they did not have enough evidence to
pursue the matter.† Some even suggested that it was a crime to remove the
stolen goods from the shops, but they seemed unwilling to arrest anyone for
the alleged crime.† Out of more than 100 recoveries, only two charges of
theft were made, alas, not against the real criminals but against two CRISP
Officers.† The charges were later dropped, presumably through lack of
So far, genetiX snowball has focused on the production end of GM food - the
GM crops in our fields.† But is it really enough to keep the genetic peril
from our own fields whilst it is being imported from fields in other
countries?† We also need to pay attention to the consumer end of things -
the GM products in our supermarkets.
The principles for supermarket decontamination are almost the same as for
trial sites (see Handbook) with a few exceptions. Bag up no more than 100 GM
food products, instead of plants. The bagged up products can be taken to the
local Environmental Agency for disposal instead of asking for them to be
collected.† The supermarket Manager will† need to be contacted in advance,
instead of the farmer.† As with the CRISP actions, it will be important to
give assurances in our statements that we have no intention of taking these
products for our personal gain, otherwise they might confuse us with 'common
criminals'.† We are simply providing a useful biohazard disposal service.†
Contact Rowan (see under local groups for contact details) for more
information, especially about possible consequences.
M.A.G.E goes 'shopping'
On Thursday 11th February, Manchester Against Genetic Engineering went
shopping at Manchester's Marks and Spencer. Jo Hamilton from genetiX
snowball took part and reports on their experience.
Three weeks prior to our action we wrote to Marks and Spencer's head office
stating our intention including the date of the action. We received a
standard letter for inquiries over genetically modified foods, but after a
telephone call they understood that we were going to remove Genetically
Modified (GM) foods and take them to the Environmental Health department, as
we believed they posed an unacceptable health hazard.
We had two people actually removing the goods, the 'decontaminators',
supported by six people leafleting inside and outside the store. They also
liaised with the store staff and explained the issues to the customers.
As the decontaminators we were trailed through the shop, fairly low-key at
first, then more obviously as we attached biohazard symbols to our shopping
baskets. Whilst one person had most of the attention, the other was going
round the store taking products off the shelves, and replacing them with
alternative organic and GM-free products. Just as fast, the security guards
were doing the reverse.
As we tried to get out the door, there were scuffles with security guards.
This could have been avoided if we simply handed back the goods and we could
have hidden a small number of goods under our clothes. But on balance I'm
glad we acted totally openly which I'm sure is more honest and less
stressful. Eventually, a packet of GM cheese was taken outside the store,
where an impromptu press conference was given.
We gave our statements explaining our actions to the manager and the police
were called, but it seemed the policy was to not involved them. To ensure
that Manchester's Environmental Health were involved, we took some GM
products to them just before going to Marks and Spencer. They took the issue
seriously, and agreed to investigate the matter. We await their findings.
Starting a local genetiX snowball group
The first thing you'll need to do is read through the handbook, just to see
what you'll need to do. Set a date for† a planning meeting. GenetiX snowball
could also inform people who've expressed an interest in snowball and live
in your local area. You may want to call us for a speaker, buy a video to
show, get some more information and find out where the nearest trial sites
are so you can begin work straight away. Make a rough timeline of your
tasks, and have a think about where you will want a hand - for example group
facilitation, planning a public meeting, nonviolence training, more
information about genetic engineering etc. Remember - you're not doing this
alone and people will help you, so give the genetiX snowball office a call,
and we can arrange to visit. Good luck and please keep in touch! If you
would like to be a local contact, please call the office and tell us, so
that we can give your number to other people.
genetiX snowball Brighton: Meets twice a month, newcomers welcome every 4th
Thursday, 7.30 p.m. (arrive within 10 mins or phone 0780 105 5657 if late,
to get in) at Community Base, 113 Queens Road, central Brighton. Contact:
Rowan on Tel/fax: 01273 625173. Write to: genetiX snowball Brighton, Box 13,
43 Gardner Street, Brighton, BN1 1UN. E-mail: email@example.com.
genetiX snowball London: Meets every 1st and 3rd Wednesday, 7.30 pm at the
Bonnington Cafe, Bonnington Square, Vauxhall (nr. Vauxhall tube, take exit 1
out of the station.) Contact: Rowan 01273 625173, Tim 0956 358 177, Jess
0181 518 7662
South East contact: Rowan Tilly 01273 625173
'Rolling the snowball video'† £3.50
Corner House publication 'Food?, Health?, Hope? Genetic Engineering and
World Hunger £1
The Ecologist edition on Monsanto £3.50
genetiX snowball Handbook for Action £3.50
All include post and packaging. Cheques and Postal Orders payable to genetiX
snowball from genetiX snowball, One World Centre, 6 Mount Street,
Manchester. M2 5NS.
GenetiX Harvest planted the seeds of a new group
Nick Charrett took part in genetiX harvest: a weekend of training and action
on September 19/20th . Here's his experience
Unbelievable, there was actually someone in the market square to show us the
way to the venue when we arrived in Cambridge. Was this the level of
organisation that we were going to be accustomed to over the weekend or was
it just a pleasant fluke? Well as we were soon to find out everything seemed
to run like clockwork over the two days which meant we could cover a lot of
ground both verbally and physically. So hats off to those that toiled behind
As Londoners coming out of the massive urban sprawl it was good to see
people from all round the country turning out, not only did it make you
think that you're not the only people fighting the genetiX monster but you
could enjoy the feeling of solidarity that helps give you power to go back
to your patch and carry on.
The training day involved much group work which I thought was quite a good
way to help break the ice and prepare for the action the following day.
Preparation included role playing, which I found quite challenging, and it
made me think about how I react in confrontational situations and how it
differs from how I'd like to react!
On the day of the action it reminded me a little of hunt sabbing; bundled in
vans sneaking around the countryside watching out for police with that
pre-action buzz. When we arrived at our friendly GM farm (at ArgEvo, East
Wynch Farm, Kings Lynn) we discovered to our pleasure that there wasn't many
police. Some of our infinity group discussed our intentions with them while
other groups climbed over the fence to the trial sites.
Eventually we left for the fields as more police arrived. Whilst there were
no crops above ground it was good to be there at the source of this madness
and I was surprised at the anger I felt. Our infinity group then carried out
our planned ritual and planted flower seeds all round the plot and
eventually we left. At the end of the day it was a little disappointing that
there were no plants above ground but it was a positive action and it proved
effective in media terms including coverage in a news feature on Channel Four.
Feeling enthused after the weekend a few of us helped by the guiding hands
of Rowan from the core group arranged a meeting at Kings Cross. London
genetiX snowball was born. Our first action on October 31st - Halloween was
outside of the head offices of food giant Unilever in Blackfriars. We
symbolically returned sacks of GM soya beans and a massive packet of their
Beanfeast product suitably labelled 'Beanfester'. We're now taking our
actions to the supermarket and in December toured seven Sainsbury's stores
leafleting shoppers. The snowball keeps rolling!
London genetiX snowball meets twice a month (see local group contacts)
Editors Note: Nick's use of 'infinity group' rather than 'affinity group'
has been retained.
One world Centre
6 Mount Street,
Tel: 0161 834 0295† Fax: 0161 834 8187
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org††† Web: http://www.gn.apc.org/pmhp/gs
'precisely because I do not have the beautiful
words I need, I call upon my acts to speak to you'
†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Daisy Zamora
>† Kathryn Tulip email@example.com
>† genetiX snowball
†† A Campaign of Nonviolent Civil Responsibility
†† One World Centre
†† 6 Mount Street
†† Manchester M2 5NS
†† Tel:0161 834 0295 Fax: 0161 834 8187
†† e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org