Published on Wednesday, September 6, 2000 in the Manchester Guardian (UK)
Greenpeace: Genetically-Modified Crops Worse Than Nuclear Waste
by Paul Kelso
Genetically modified crops pose a greater threat to the environment than nuclear waste or chemical pollution, the executive director of Greenpeace told a court yesterday.
Lord Melchett, head of Greenpeace UK, was speaking on the second day of a retrial at Norwich crown court in which he and 27 others are charged with causing criminal damage to a farm scale trial of genetically modified herbicide resistant forage maize.
Questioned by Owen Davies QC, defending, Lord Melchett said that he thought genetic modification represented the most serious threat to the environment.
"Because it is alive it's not like chemical pollution which you can clean up or even nuclear waste. It might take thousands of years, as in the case of Chernobyl, but it will eventually disappear. GM, if it gets into the environment in a way that causes a problem is probably impossible to stop or recall.
"The other element is that it is capable of going everywhere. Chernobyl was contained to a large area of Europe including Britain but it could not go all over the world. GM because it's alive can ... and could affect generations to come. You can't sweep it up, pull it in, it has not got strings attached."
All 28 defendants deny the charges, which arose from action at a field at Lyng, Norfolk, last July, claiming they acted to protect other crops from imminent contamination by GM pollen. At the original trial they were cleared of theft but the jury was unable to reach a verdict on the criminal damage charges.
Lord Melchett, 52, said the group had intended to uproot six acres of maize and return it to its owner AgrEvo (now Aventis) at its headquarters in Kings Lynn.
"I believe the crop when it flowered would release GM material widely into the environment around the field and further afield.
"When that was released it would cause damage to other agriculture, organic crops and honey, conventional crops, soil and wildlife. Once that GM material was released it was alive and it would remain alive and continue to spread and would be unstoppable."
Lord Melchett denied the attack on the field was a publicity stunt and said they had acted because the danger of contamination was imminent. He said he was horrified to learn that at the conclusion of the trial the GM maize had been ploughed back into the soil rather than removed.
"It never crossed my mind that in July 1999 they [AgrEvo] would simply spread the stuff and plough it in. I was horrified, it seems very irresponsible to me. It was obviously the cheapest method but the most dangerous I can imagine as a farmer."
William Brigham, the owner of the land on which the crops were being grown, had given an interview to Farmers Weekly in which he said the GM maize was about to flower releasing its pollen.
"We realised that if we were to protect the environment we would have to move in the next few days," said Lord Melchett.
The trial continues today.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000