SnowBall archive



Press Release     21st February 1999

Genetic Engineering Network
Tel. 0181 374 9516


Genetic engineering will be put on trial in three different courtrooms over
coming months.  The trials all involve campaigners who are accused of causing
damage by pulling up genetically engineered ‘test’ crops.
In all three cases, defendants will be calling expert witnesses to show that
their actions were justified by the danger posed by the GE ‘test’ crops to
human health and the wider environment.  The cases also raise the wider issue
of whether non-violent direct action is justified in situations when
governments and/or businesses acts in ways which are harmful to humanity
the environment.
The three cases, however, will take place under different legal systems, and
will involve different legal and scientific issues:

Scottish case: PF v Kate Cochrane, Charles Cooper, Matthew Herbert & Stokely
Four people are charged under Scottish criminal law with "malicious mischief"
and "aggravated trespass", for pulling up oilseed rape at Cransley Farm, Liff,
on 8th August 1998.  There is a great deal of confusion as to whether the test
crop was in fact genetically engineered or whether the consent has been
breached, raising questions about the accuracy of the information obtained
beforehand from the Government.  The defendants will give personal statements,
saying that their actions cannot be described as “malicious mischief,”; their
intent was benevolent not malicious (i.e. to protect the environment and human
health).  Against the charge of aggravated trespass (which entails "intent to
disrupt a lawful activity"), one defendant will argue that her case was
justified in order to protect the lawful activities of others and will
the lawfulness of the site. 
The trial commences at Forfar Sheriff’s Court on 24th February 1999.

Devon case: R v Sheedy and Snook
Two people are charged under English criminal law with "conspiracy to commit
criminal damage", for pulling up GE herbicide-resistant maize at Hood Barton
Farm, near Totnes, Devon on 3rd August 1998.  The test crop at Hood Barton
had already been the subject of legal controversy, since it was being carried
out adjacent to an organic farm owned by Guy Watson.  Mr. Watson had taken
legal action to prevent his organic sweet-corn being damaged by the
adjacent GE
herbicide-resistant maize; contamination would have resulted in the loss of
organic status.  The court ruled that it had no power to stop the crop trial,
even though it was being conducted in breach of national seed list

A few days after the judgement, under the gaze of the site’s security guards,
several people, including many concerned locals, took part in an action to
up the GE crop.  Two people were arrested and charged, ten others were
later but will not learn if they are to be charged until after the trial of
first two arrestees is underway.
The action has had enormous support in the surrounding area with over three
hundred people turning up to earlier court appearances and over 3,000 people
signing a local petition in support of the action taken. Earlier in the year
600 local people had walked to the GE ‘test’ site to object to the then
upcoming planting. See the local group’s website:  for the full story.
The two defendants will argue that their action was justified to prevent
to Guy Watson's organic farm, to other crops in the vicinity (which could
become contaminated by cross-pollination or other means), to human health and
the wider environment.
The trial commences at Plymouth Crown Court on 29th March 1999.

genetiX snowball case: Monsanto plc v Tilly and others
Monsanto are pursuing a claim in civil law, for damages and injunctions
five women from the group "genetiX snowball", together with the group's press
officer.  The five women pulled up GE herbicide-resistant oilseed rape and
sugar beet at Model Farm, Watlington, Oxfordshire, on 4th July 1998.   In a
spirit of openness and accountability, they had previously informed farmers
owning genetic test crop sites in the area that they would be taking the
action.  The women were arrested but were never charged.  However, Monsanto
initiated a civil damages claim against them, and obtained an injunction
preventing them from causing further damage to Monsanto test-sites, or
encouraging others to do so.  In September 1998, Monsanto obtained a wider
injunction against not only the five women but also the genetiX snowball press
officer, and other unnamed "members" of genetiX snowball (despite the fact
genetiX snowball has no members!)
In December 1998 the defendants applied to "strike out" Monsanto's claim for
failing to proceed with the case.  Monsanto responded by applying for "summary
judgement", i.e. a ruling that the defendants have no defence, so judgement
be given against them immediately.  However, Monsanto have dropped the damages
claim and are now seeking only a permanent injunction (presumably their
hope is
to avoid a protracted trial).  If successful, Monsanto will also seek a court
order requiring genetiX snowball to hand over contact details of everyone who
has received the genetiX snowball "Handbook for Action", so that Monsanto can
serve injunctions on these people as well.  Against this it will be argued
the court cannot reasonably do this without considering the implications for
the people who would be injuncted.  The summary judgement hearing takes place
in the Royal Courts of Justice, London, on 19-20th April 1999.
If summary judgement is not granted, the case would then proceed to full trial
(probably in the summer).  The defendants will then call expert witnesses to
support their claims that Monsanto itself was acting unlawfully and had no
right to bring the case; moreover, their actions were justified by the threat
to health and the environment, which was inadequately protected by the
regulatory framework.

Press contacts:  
Scottish case - Fife Earth First! (tel. 01334 477411) or     
Stokely Webster (mobile 07775 905686) 
Devon case - Roger Geffen (tel. 0171 633 9509 or 0171 561 9146) 
 genetiX snowball - Andrew Wood (mobile 0973 953446, pager 07654 247502)

Legal Briefing: forthcoming court cases involving protests against genetic

This briefing describes three forthcoming trials of protesters accused of
destroying genetically modified crops being grown at test field sites.  The
cases relate to three separate actions in different parts of the country, and
involve distinct legal issues.  One is taking place under Scottish criminal
law, one under English criminal law and one under English civil law.

Scottish case: PF v Kate Cochrane, Charles Cooper, Matthew Herbert & Stokely
Webster (Case no: 98501173)
Date and place of court trial: Forfar Sheriff’s Court, starting 24th February
Defendants: Kate Cochrane, Charles Cooper, Matthew Herbert & Stokely Webster.
Charges: Malicious Mischief and Aggravated Trespass.  Damage caused was
originally estimated at £1m, but subsequently reduced to £1,575.  There is no
maximum sentence for Malicious Mischief.
Date and plane of incident: 8th August 1998 at Cransley Farm, Liff.
Crop involved: a test crop of oilseed rape. There has been subsequent
as to whether or not the test crops destroyed were in fact genetically
modified, due to the contradictory information that the protesters had
from the Biotechnology Unit of the Department for the Environment (DETR) and
the farm contractors. This raises questions about the adequacy of public
information about the whereabouts of GE crops.
The defendants will give personal statements explaining the motivation for
their actions.  They will argue that these were not “malicious” but
since their intentions were to protect the public and the environment from
that could have been caused by what they took to be a genetically modified
crop.  One defendant (Stokely Webster) will argue that if the crop had not
GE, she had nevertheless acted in the belief that it was, and that this belief
was based on inaccurate information obtained from the public register kept by
the Biotechnology Unit of the Department for the Environment, Transport and
Regions (DETR). She will also call scientific expert witnesses, to document
range of possible dangers associated with genetic modification in general, and
glufosinate-resistant oilseed rape containing the cauliflower mosaic virus in
particular.  She will also claim that her actions did not amount to
since direct action was necessary.  She will seek to call Professor Philip
James (head of the Rowett Institute which dismissed Arpad Pusztai following
controversial experiments on rats), to provide evidence in support of this
The case is also notable for being the first time that the charge of
“aggravated trespass” (the notorious anti-protest clause of the Criminal
Justice Act 1994) will have gone to trial in Scotland.  To secure a conviction
for this charge, the prosecution will need to demonstrate intention to disrupt
a lawful activity.  Against this, Stokely will argue that:
EITHER the crop was GE (despite official denials), in which case her actions
were justified in order to protect the lawful activities of other people (e.g.
to grow or to eat foodstuffs uncontaminated by GEO’s);
OR if the crop was not GE, then she was not disrupting a lawful activity,
the growing of a non-GEO crop on land which had been used as a GEO test site
the previous year is a breach of the regulations. 
Devon case: R v Sheedy and Snook (Case No. T980556)
Date and place of court trial: Plymouth Crown Court, starting 29th March 1999.
Defendants: Jacklyn Sheedy and Liz Snook.  10 other people were later arrested
in connection with the same incident and are still awaiting a decision as to
whether they too will be charged (they will learn this on 9th April, after the
start of the court trial).
Charge: Conspiracy to cause criminal damage worth £605,000; the charge
carries a
maximum sentence of 15 years in custody.
Date and place of incident: 3rd August 1998, at Hood Barton Farm, near Totnes,
Devon.  This test site had already been the subject of controversial judicial
review proceedings, which had sought to establish that the decision to
authorise the trial was unlawful since it had not taken account of the
of an organic farm owned by Guy Watson.  In July 1998, the Court of Appeal had
ruled that, although the crop trial breached seed listing regulations, the
court had no reason to order it to stop.
Crop involved: T-25, a variety of herbicide-resistant maize developed by
Sharpes. It is designed to be resistant to glufosinate ammonium herbicide, aka
Liberty or Basta and is produced by AgrEvo. T25 also uses the cauliflower
mosaic virus as a promotor. The trial was being run by NIAB.

The defendants will argue that they had a lawful excuse for their actions.
Criminal Damage Act states that lawful excuse may include actions taken to
prevent damage to one's own or another person's property rights or interests,
as long as the action taken was proportionate to the damage feared.

The defendants will argue that:
· they were acting out of concern for public health and the wider environment,
the public's right and ability to choose to eat non-GE food and the
implications for sustainable agriculture, particularly in the developing
· specifically, they feared that the test site may have led to
contamination of
other nearby crops (including the neighbouring organic crop),  causing them to
loose value;
· their action was justified by the inadequacies of the regulatory process,
specifically the fact that court action had failed to protect Guy Watson's
organic crop;
· the maize was about to pollinate,  hence the danger of contamination was
imminent, and the defendants believed with good reason that it could not be
prevented by other means.
Expert witnesses will be called to testify that:
· wind-borne pollen can travel considerably further than has been allowed
for in
the regulations governing crop trials;
· bees can also carry pollen, over even greater distances (there is a beehive
adjacent to the field); moreover, the bees' honey could itself become
contaminated and enter the food chain;
· other maize crops in the vicinity could become contaminated (by
cross-pollination or other means), which could devalue those crops if they
(or were perceived to be) a risk to human health;
· there are many diverse ways in which the introduction of GE crops (and this
crop in particular) could cause harm to human health, the environment and
biodiversity, and the stability of agriculture in developing countries;
· the regulatory framework governing this trial had not taken account of
many of
the potential risks (notably cross-pollination by bees and economic damage to
adjacent crops), and failed to comply with the precautionary principle in
accordance with European Union directives;
· the regulations had, in any case, been breached by the crop trial.

genetiX snowball case: Monsanto plc v Tilly and others (Case No. 1998-M-No
Claimant: Monsanto
Defendants: Five women from the genetiX snowball campaign - Zoe Elford, Jo
Hamilton, Melanie Jarman, Rowan Tilly and Kathryn Tulip - together with the
group's press liaison, Andrew Wood.
History of the case: On 4th July 1998, the five women openly and accountably
uprooted GE oilseed rape plants from a Monsanto demonstration site at Model
farm, Watlington, Oxfordshire [1].  The women were arrested but later released
and no criminal charges have been brought.  However, Monsanto issued civil
proceedings against the women, claiming damages of £5,150 for the uprooted
crops, an unspecified amount of money for damage to the company's commercial
and business interests.  Within these proceedings Monsanto obtained an
injunction preventing the women from pulling up crops at other Monsanto sites
and from encouraging others to do the same [2].
In September 1998, Monsanto obtained a further broader injunction against the
five women and against press liaison Andrew Wood [3].  The injunction also
purported to be against any person who was a 'member' of genetiX snowball,
despite the fact that genetiX snowball is not a membership organisation.
In December 1998, the defendants issued an application to 'strike out'
Monsanto's claim for failure to prosecute in a timely manner.  Monsanto
responded with an application for summary judgement (see below) against the
defendants and have dropped their claim for money damages and will only seek a
permanent injunction against the six defendants [4]. 
Date and Place of Next Hearing: 19-20th April 1999 (to be confirmed) at the
Royal Courts of Justice, London.
At the summary judgement hearing Monsanto will argue that there is no defence
to their claim of trespass to goods and that therefore judgement can be given
against the defendants immediately, without the need for a full trial or the
appearance of expert witnesses.  The defendants will argue that they are
entitled to have their full defence heard, that their defence is valid and too
complex to be dealt with at a one and a half day hearing but rather needs a
hearing of four to five weeks and the attendance of scientific experts.
The defence argument is in three parts:-
· Monsanto must prove they are the owners of the uprooted plants and therefore
entitled to sue for trespass to goods;
· Monsanto's activities at the site and/or at other test sites were unlawful
and/or illegal and therefore they do not come to court  with 'clean hands' and
cannot make a claim against the defendants;
· The threat of the release of GE organisms was such that the uprooting of the
plants was necessary to protect third parties and their property and/or was in
the public interest.  The defendants will argue that the GE crops risked
to neighbouring farmer's crops by contamination through cross pollination and
horizontal gene transfer; risked injury to public health and damage to the
If Monsanto are successful in obtaining judgement, they will ask the judge to
make a permanent injunction order against the defendants in broadly similar
terms to the earlier temporary injunction and will also ask the judge to make
an order that the defendants provide a list of the names and addresses of any
person who has received a copy of the genetiX snowball 'Handbook for Action'
[5].  Monsanto intend to serve a copy of the injunction order on each person
who has received the handbook and thereby bind them to the terms of the
injunction order. 
[1] see press release 4th July 1998 'First arrests in Britain for pulling up
genetically engineered crops'
[2] see press release 28th July 1998 'Monsanto to silence genetic protesters
with unlimited damages claim'
[3] see press release 18th September 1998 'Monsanto gags genetiX campaigners?
[4] see press release 29th January 1999 'Monsanto brought to court by Genetic
[5] see press release 26th November 1998 'Parliamentary launch of genetics
action handbook'
Genetic Engineering Network
Tel. 0181 374 9516
Technical Briefing: forthcoming court cases involving protests against GE
1. How modified genes can spread
There are essentially two mechanisms by which modified genes can spread to
other organisms in the environment.  These are cross-pollination and
gene transfer.
Pollen can be carried by wind or by insects such as bees.  Wind-borne pollen
has been known to travel several miles.
Genetic traits from crops can also be incorporated into the DNA of bacteria,
e.g. in the soil.
· Cross-pollination could lead to genetic contamination of non-GE crops
nearby, including organic crops.
· Pollen from GE crops could pollinate wild (e.g. weedy) relatives of the
leading potentially to the creation of genetically modified weeds.  If these
weeds also incorporated other GE-properties (e.g. herbicide or insect
resistance, see below), they could prove difficult or impossible to control.
· If modified genetic traits were incorporated by horizontal gene transfer to
soil bacteria and then ingested by animals (e.g. cattle) this could
lead to the creation of new diseases in animals, which might then spread to
human food chain.  If these bacteria also incorporated antibiotic resistance
properties (see "antibiotic resistance" below) these diseases could prove
difficult or impossible to control.
2. Herbicide and pesticide resistance
The uses (or proposed uses) of genetic engineering are many and diverse. 
However, to date, all the GE crops awaiting approval to be grown commercially
in the UK are engineered to be resistant to herbicides, such as glyphosate
(manufactured by Monsanto) or glufosinate (produced by AgrEvo).  These are
as "broad spectrum herbicides" (i.e. they destroy a wide range of weeds). 
Spraying such a herbicide would kill everything in a field other than the
herbicide-resistant crop, hence no further herbicide-spraying would be
Other applications (or proposed applications) of genetic technology include
creation of pest-resistant crops (e.g. crops engineered to secrete chemicals
which are toxic to pests), crops which ripen more quickly or rot more slowly,
or which have cosmetically altered for commercial advantage.
· The widespread use of herbicide or pest-resistant crops is likely to lead to
increased use of herbicides and pesticides.  Although agro-chemical companies
deny this, those same companies are increasing their production capacity for
the chemicals concerned and have applied to increase the level of residues
these chemicals which can be permitted in foods.  Hence increased herbicide or
pesticide residues may be introduced into food supplies directly, or may enter
the food chain by other means.
· Herbicide-resistant properties may spread to weeds (by cross-pollination or
through gene transfer via soil bacteria), or developed in response to more
intensive herbicide use; this could result in uncontrollable “superweeds”.
· Similarly, increased pesticide use (or constant exposure to pesticidal
chemicals secreted from crops) might well cause pests to develop pesticide
resistance more rapidly, to the point where they might become uncontrollable
3. Other uses of genetic technology
Food plants are being engineered to produce industrial chemicals, whilst
genetically engineered mites, mosquitoes, honey bees, cotton bollworms and
nematodes have been created in laboratories for various purposes.
· Genetic traits from plants engineered to produce chemicals may enter non-GEO
plants, hence the food chain could (directly or indirectly) become
by chemical-producing plants.
· Other laboratory-created GEO’s could escape into the environment, with
unpredictable consequences.
4. Some features of the genetic engineering process
The process of inserting a foreign gene into the cells of another organism is
very random.  When creating new GEO's, the many cells of the organism to be
modified are exposed to the foreign gene, but only a few cells are
modified.  To enable the modified cells to be identified, the foreign gene is
linked to a "marker gene", which is resistant to antibiotics.   Antibiotics
then be used to kill all the cells which have not taken up the new gene
(together with the "antibiotic resistant marker gene"); those cells that are
not killed are therefore known to have been successfully modified, and can
therefore be cultured as a new GEO.
In addition, many genetic modifications rely on a "promoter" gene, to ensure
that the desired genetic characteristic is "switched on" in the organism to
which it has been introduced.
· Antibiotic resistance may spread to bacteria, resulting in diseases which
could not be treated with antibiotics.
· The cauliflower mosaic virus promoter may not be stable; there is evidence
that genetically engineered characteristics which rely on the promoter to
"switch them on" may be "switched off" when the organism comes under attack by
viruses.  Properties such as herbicide or insect-resistance may therefore fail
in response to viral attacks.  There have already been an alarmingly large
number of GEO crop failures, resulting in large compensation payments to
farmers from agro-chemical companies.  See also further information on the
risks of crop failures under "biodiversity" below.
It is suspected that, rather than the presence of foreign genetic material, it
is the process of genetic engineering which caused the damage to the organs,
guts and immune systems of rats in Professor Pusztai's widely reported
experiment on genetically modified potatoes.  If confirmed, this could
implicate all GEO's currently on the market in Briatin, including GE soya,
maize and tomatoes (none of which has been tested for similar effects on the
immune system or internal organs.

 5. Unpredictable side effects
Once inserted into a gene sequence, a foreign gene for a particular
characteristic may act in conjunction with other genes to produce unforeseen
side effects - the interactions between genes are still very poorly
understood.  In one case, salmon which were "engineered" to increase their
tolerance of cold weather turned out also to have deformed gills, grew at
abnormal speed to six times their normal size and were green.  There are
numerous other examples of genetic engineering “going wrong”.
· Whilst these side-effects were immediately visible, other unforseen side
effects may not become detectable for several years - e.g. if GEO's start
producing toxic or allergenic substances.
6. Toxins and allergens
Genetic modification (whether deliberate as above, or resulting from
contamination) could affect the biochemical processes:
· GE crops could express substances which are toxic - either directly to
or elsewhere in the food chain.
In 1989, a genetically modified bacteria was introduced into the manufacturing
process of L-tryptophan, a common food supplement.  This led to an outbreak of
a new disease called Eosinophilia Myalgia Syndrome (EMS) in the USA, caused by
a toxin in the L-tryptophan.  This affected some 5000 people, of whom 37 were
killed and 1,500 left with permanent disabilities.  The manufacturers
the toxic L-tryptophan before tests could be carried out to determine the
cause.  They claim that the toxin resulted from corner-cutting in the
purification process and was unrelated to genetic engineering, but this does
not adequately explain why only the contaminant was only produced in
batches of
L-tryptophan which had been manufactured using GEO's.
· The introduction of foreign genes may lead to foods causing allergic
in some people.
The biotech company Pioneer Hi-Bred International inserted genetic material
from brazil nuts into soya beans, to increase their protein content.  However,
tests using blood of people allergic to brazil nuts showed that the modified
soya bean would also have caused allergic reactions of a severity that might
well have led to fatalities.
Whilst the brazil nut is a known allergen with known sufferers, other genetic
modifications involve introducing genes from species which are never normally
eaten by humans (e.g. petunias).  Hence it would be impossible to know which
might cause allergies, and who the sufferers might be (i.e. whose blood should
one test for possible adverse reactions).  Just because reactions to the
modified soya bean were identified, this provides no re-assurance that other
reactions would be detected.
7. Biodiversity
Clearly it is in the interests of the agro-chemical multinationals maximise
market share of just a few products, which would reduce the genetic diversity
of crops being grown.
· A reduction in biodiversity would increase the risk that a single viral,
bacterial or pestilential outbreak could cause widespread damage and hence
increased food insecurity.  One of the causes of the Irish potato famine
was the
dependence on a single variety which was affected by blight.
8. Agriculture in the developing world
The agro-chemical companies argue that GE crops would help to "feed the
world".  Whilst this might be theoretically be possible if the technology was
to be made freely available, the fact that it is being developed by large
profit-maximising corporations makes this scenario almost unimaginable.  On
contrary, the companies involved are applying for patents for their technology
(one company applied for the patent rights to turmeric!) such that supplies
only be purchased from the corporations themselves.  According to the World
Health Organisation, we already produce 1½ times the amount of food needed to
feed the world.  Moreover, the biotech companies are developing "terminator
genes", to ensure that seeds produced by the crops would be infertile.
· If terminator genes became widespread, farmers would no longer be able to
retain seed for planting the following year, a practise on which most third
world farmers depend for their survival.
· Multinational agro-chemical firms are likely to seek to use their patent
rights to achieve maximum control over the price and availability of crops in
both the developed and developing worlds.  Starvation in the third world
presently occurs not because of insufficient food (there are plenty of food
mountains in the developed world) but because of inequitable distribution of
food.  The control of agriculture by large western corporations would
worsen the
problem, not solve it.
9. Inadequate regulatory regime
Pharmaceuticals are tested for 8 to 15 years before being sold commercially -
and even then, 3% of all products have to be recalled due to adverse effects
discovered later.  Scientific experts believe that, given the range of
dangers associated with genetic modification, GE foods should be considered
more as pharmaceuticals than foods from the point of view of safety testing,
yet GE foodstuffs can be cleared safe for human consumption after only a few
days of feeding trials. The UK recently approved Riboflavin which had produced
using a genetically modified bacteria, on the basis of safety data which
excluded toxins at levels of less than 0.1%.  Yet toxin content of the
L-tryptophan which killed 37 people (see "toxins" above) was considerably
than 0.1%.
Many issues are not considered in licensing crops for trial, including the
economic impacts of cross-contamination on neighbouring farmers (especially
organic farmers), hence there is no requirement to notify these farmers of
proposals to release GE crops in their neighbourhood
· Testing procedures involve no trials of long-term impacts on health and the
· The regulatory regime governing GEO's is inadequate to cover the full
range of
possible harm that could be caused.