"Campaigners declare victory as government
set to back out of genetics trial"
Several hundred people are expected outside Plymouth Crown Court at 9.30am
on Monday 29 March where two women who admitted uprooting genetically
modified (GM) crops will hear - due to a high-level political U-turn - that
all charges against them have been dropped.
Jacklyn Sheedy and Liz Snook faced up to ten years in prison for
'conspiracy to commit criminal damage' worth £605,000 after removing GM
maize on 3 August 1998 from a test site near Totnes, Devon, which
threatened to contaminate sweetcorn on a neighbouring organic farm.
After seven months of severe bail conditions, which included a 10pm - 6am
curfew for the defendants, their lawyers received a highly unusual one-line
letter saying that "for complex reasons the Crown intend to offer no
evidence in the above case."
The women's defence solicitor, Mike Schwartz, said of the decision: "We
served the prosecution by midday last Monday with ten expert reports
detailing the risks posed by genetic engineering and the failures of the
regulatory system. Within 24 hours I was told that the prosecution were
going to drop all charges. It was made clear to me in a telephone call
from the Crown Prosecution Service that this was a decision made at the
highest level: by the Director of Public Prosecutions, David Calvert-Smith
Mr. Schwartz continued: "This was a political, and in my experience,
unprecedented decision. By withdrawing the case from the jury the Crown
have accepted that there was compelling evidence that the defendants had a
lawful excuse to remove the GM maize. The last thing the Crown wanted was
to see a jury - a microcosm of society - acquit people who admitted taking
direct action against GM crops."
Jacklyn Sheedy, from the Genetic Engineering Network, said that the
decision vindicated their action: "We have always admitted damaging the
genetically engineered maize, and this decision shows that we were right
to stand up to the bullying of the biotech companies I hope this encourages
other communities to take action to protect our environment."
Liz Snook added, "The government knows that ordinary people faced with the
truth about genetic engineering would acquit us - and they just can't
handle that kind of publicity. Questioning this technology really does make
a dfference. The Totnes Community have fought hard against the GM invasion
- this week NIAB announced that they will not be going ahead with planting
GM crops at Hood Barton Farm, as had been planned. However, there are still
hundreds of these test sites around the country. Even now irrevocable
damage may have been done to the ecosystems on which we all ultimately
depend. Everyone has the right to a GM-free environment."
Photo and interview opportunities:
The two defendants, their solicitor Mike Schwartz and local campaigners
will be available for interview outside Plymouth Crown Court on Monday 29
March together with expert witnesses due to be fielded by the defence. A
major demonstration of support is also expected, which will include a
'field of maize', musicians, banners and performers adding a party
atmosphere. For interviews, the legal briefing for the submitted defence or
further information contact Totnes Genetics Group on 011-44-1803-867951 or
NOTES FOR EDITORS:
1. The controversial test site of genetically engineered maize at Hood
Barton Farm, Totnes, Devon was 275 metres from Riverford Farm, the largest
organic vegetable producer in the the UK, run by Guy Watson. Mr Watson,
supported by the Soil Association, Friends of the Earth and members of the
local community, took the government to court last July after he found out
that the organic status of his sweetcorn (valued at £20,000) was threatened
by cross-pollination from the GE maize. The Court of Appeal ruled that the
government had indeed broken seed regulations but the judge found that he
had no power to order the destruction of the GM maize.
2. The government's advisory committee (ACRE) stated that at a 200 metre
separation distance the likelihood of cross-pollination was 1 in 40,000.
Confidence in the impartial nature of this advice was undermined last month
by an independent report by the National Pollen Research Unit which found
that it was more in the order of 1 in 93. A conservative estimate of the
amount of pollen produced by each plant is 25 million grains.
3. The monks at Buckfast Abbey own twenty beehives which are immediately
adjacent to the test site. ACRE failed to consider both the likelihood
that honey produced by these bees would be contaminated by pollen from the
GM crop, and also the fact that bees could carry the GM pollen for several
miles to neighbouring crops.
4. Six hundred local people marched to the test site in protest before the
crop was planted. After the government's failure to halt the trial
approximately 20 people entered the field on 3 August 1998 to pull up the
crop, thereby protecting the organic farm from GM contamination. Jacklyn
Sheedy and Liz Snooks were arrested on the site and charged, ten others
were arrested later and are still on bail. It now looks highly unlikely
they will ever be charged. In the weeks after the arrests, 3000 local
people signed a statement saying that they felt the action taken to remove
the GM maize was in the public interest.
5. The genetically engineered maize was developed by Sharpes Seeds for
resistance to glufosinate ammonium herbicide (brand name 'Liberty' or
'Basta') which is produced by AgrEvo corporation. Sharpes is a subsidiary
of Advanta Holdings, itself half-owned by Zeneca, producers of the GM
tomato paste sold in Safeways and Sainsbury's. The trial was being run by
the National Institute for Agricultural Botany.
6. The two women were charged with 'conspiracy to cause' £605,000 worth of
criminal damage - this being the total research and development cost for
that entire variety of GM maize.
7. In Ireland seven people are facing similary charges for removing
Monsanto's GM sugar beet. Their trial is due to begin on 31 March.
Contact Davie Phillips: 011-353-1661-8123.
8. There is a 'Stop the Crop' protest action taking place in Scotland today
in support of the Devon court case. For more information call
9. For an arial photograph of the destroyed test site or a list of all
known GM crop trials currently under way in the UK call 011-44-181-374-9516
FOR PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE LOCAL CAMPAIGN CONTACT
DAVE MCHUGH ON 011-44-468-721637 OR NICK COBBING ON 011-44-973 642103
email contact for more information: email@example.com
LEGAL BRIEFING Devon case: R v Sheedy and Snook (Case No. T980556)
Date and place of court appearance: Plymouth Crown Court, starting 29th
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 though it now looks highly unlikely that they will be.
Charge: Conspiracy to cause criminal damage worth £605,000; the charge
carries a maximum sentence of 10 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 presence 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
Crop involved: T-25, a variety of herbicide-resistant maize developed by
Sharpes. Sharpes International Seeds is a subsidiary of Advanta Holdings
and they are the product of a joint venture by Zeneca (formerly ICI) and
Dutch company Vander Have. The maize 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 were set to prove that they had a lawful excuse for their
actions. The 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
The defendants would have argued 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
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;
they also feared that bees belonging to Buckfast Abbey would gather the GE
pollen from the maize. There was a very real danger that their honey could
have been contaminated in this, causing the honey to lose it's value.
their action was justified by the inadequacies of the regulatory process,
and 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 are 20
beehives immediately 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
were (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.
Campaign for Food Safety
860 Hwy 61
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Affiliated wirth the Organic Consumers Association <www.organicconsumers.org>
Affiliated with the Center for Food Safety (Washington, D.C.) <www.icta.org>
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