A fifty year old organic farmer from the town of Instow in England was arrested on Sunday and charged with 'criminal destruction' for entering the Rothamsted Research facility and doing damage to experimental genetically-modified wheat crops being grown there.
Hector Christie, the man arrested, appears to have acted alone when he entered the site, cut the top of some wheat stalks, and spread traditional seeds among the rows.
Eleanor Baylis, of Take the Flour Back, a citizen's group that has vowed to stop -- or 'decontaminate' -- the experimental wheat fields at Rothamsted told the Guardian newspaper neither she nor her group had any information about the incident, but that she was "relieved if the quantity of GM pollen released from the trial has been reduced." And added: "It's urgent that we act before contamination occurs."
Since introduction of genetically-modified crops in Europe in the mid-nineties groups like Take the Flour Back have fought against attempts to plant test fields of such crops in Europe with wide variety tactics including: writing letters, holding protests, taking action at supermarkets, holding information events, and pulling up gmo crops when deemed necessary. Some gmo fields have been invaded by small groups of activists at night, while others have held large community events to publicly decontaminate the fields.
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Hector Christie, 50, from Tapeley Park Lodge, Instow, in north Devon, was bailed to appear before central magistrates court on 13 July after allegedly vandalising the trial and surrounding property at the government-funded crop institute, Rothamsted Research in Harpenden.
Christie, an old Etonian organic farmer who has campaigned against globalisation, is the son of Sir George Christie, head of the Glyndebourne opera family. When Sir George retired in 2001, he left the house and opera festival to Hector's brother.
Security guards at Rothamsted Research called police on Sunday morning when an alarm was tripped around private land where scientists are growing a GM strain of wheat that produces a natural aphid repellent found in peppermint and other plants.
Toby Bruce, the leader of the scientific team, said on Twitter that the intruder had broken into the site, spread wheat seed on some plots, and cut the tops off plants on another. While vandalism to property around the trial was significant, the crop damage was apparently minor and the experiment would continue, a spokesman said.
Earlier this month, Bruce and his colleagues at Rothamsted wrote to anti-GM campaigners and recorded a video in which they pleaded with protesters not to destroy the trials. A group called Take the flour back had publicised plans to uproot the wheat plants at a day of mass action on 27 May and encouraged others to take their own steps to halt the trial. The protesters had agreed to a public debate with the scientists but pulled out last week.
"This vandalism is consistent with the threats made by the protest group Take the flour back and despite our best efforts to engage with them over recent months we are disappointed by this course of action, attempting to destroy our scientific experiment through illegal activity," Rothamsted said in a statement.
Eleanor Baylis, of Take the flour back, said: "We have no information about this incident, but are relieved if the quantity of GM pollen released from the trial has been reduced." She added: "It's urgent that we act before contamination occurs."
The campaigners fear genes from GM wheat will escape into the wild and contaminate conventional wheat crops.
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The crop being trialled at Rothamsted contains genes synthesised in the laboratory. It will produce a pheromone called E-beta-farnesene that is normally emitted by aphids when they are threatened by something.
When aphids smell it, they fly away.
Anti-GM group Take the Flour Back has vowed to "decontaminate" the site unless the research is halted.
The event was trailed on Take the Flour Back's website as "a nice day out in the country, with picnics, music... and a decontamination".
There is no suggestion the man who has been charged is linked to Take the Flour Back.
Eleanor Baylis, from the anti-GM group, said in a statement: "We have no information about this incident, but are relieved if the quantity of GM pollen released from the trial has been reduced.
"The British people are clear that they're not swallowing this technology."
The protesters have previously declined an invitation from Rothamsted to meet scientists behind the project and, following a heated debate on the BBC's Newsnight programme, a planned day of action on 27 May will go ahead.
But a spokeswoman for Take the Flour Back told BBC News the group would be interested in engaging in a public debate with wide participation. She said the decision not to take part in the debate proposed by Rothamsted was due to the specific conditions of the event.
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