Secret maize harvest starts GM row
In this article, Jonathon Harrington claims his growing poorly performing GMOs will help transform the Welsh Assembly's unanimous opposition into pressure for their early introduction "to overcome some of the problems faced by our agricultural industry." Derrr...
Secret maize harvest starts GM row
Western Mail, Jan 3 2009
A PLANT biologist claims to have defied the Assembly Government's declaration that Wales is a GM-free zone by secretly planting and harvesting genetically modified maize on his own land.
There were calls last night for Jonathon Harrington to face prosecution over his refusal to comply with regulations that oblige him to reveal where he obtained the GM seeds and who he passed the maize on to.
Mr Harrington, who claims to have grown the maize on his farm at Tregoyd near Hay-on-Wye, said: "I have been trying to influence the Assembly Government's policy on GM crops for many years.
"Having made little progress, I imported a small quantity of two varieties of forage maize with the MON 810 trait, which makes plants resistant to the European corn borer, a pest that is common in southern Europe.
"I decided to tell only a few trusted individuals, including a senior Assembly Government official and some eminent scientists so that the crops would not be attacked by anti-GM protest groups.
"The varieties I selected were both bred for conditions normally found in southern Europe, so they did not perform well in what was a dreadful summer.
“But I wanted to make the point that we should welcome GM crop technology and that Wales could not be described as a GM free zone.
"Far from shunning this technology, AMs should be pressing for it to be introduced as soon as possible in order to overcome some of the problems faced by our agricultural industry."
He added: “The daft thing is that Wales has an Assembly with a biotechnology department which would appear not to be functioning, one of the world's leading plant breeding stations at Aberystwyth and a chief scientist who supports GM crop technology while refusing to adopt GM crops."
Mr Harrington said he had used the harvested GM maize to make silage for cattle and sheep. Some of it had been given away.
Among Mr Harrington's academic sympathisers are Professor Denis Murphy, head of biotechnology at the University of Glamorgan, who said: "I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with these GM crops, and some Welsh farmers could benefit from growing them.
“I am currently working with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, and GM crops are seen as potentially making a contribution to food shortages in developing countries.”
But Gordon James, director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, said: “For good reason, the Assembly unanimously backed moves to oppose the introduction of GM crops into Wales.
“There is significant evidence that GM crops could pose health risks and contaminate organic crops grown nearby. The Welsh public do not want them.
“Anyone who fails to comply with environmental legislation should be prosecuted, and if this farmer has broken the law he should face the consequences.”
Professor John Beddington, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, recently told the Science Advisory Council: “GM has the capacity and potential to provide future solutions.
“I don't believe we can ignore it, but neither can we ignore that it has potential health dis-benefits and environmental dis-benefits.”
An Assembly Government spokeswoman said: “We believe that the introduction of GM crops could undermine some of our achievements and future ambitions for Welsh agriculture.
“We are committed to close monitoring and control of any proposals for GM crops in Wales.
“However, we cannot legally ban GM crops in Wales because we have to work within a European legal framework. Our policy is to take a precautionary and restrictive GM crop policy stance which is in line with our commitment to sustainable agriculture.
“Anyone growing a GM crop in Wales would need to comply with all relevant legislation. A grower would be required by law to retain documentation for a period of five years, would have to detail the operator providing the product and who the product was sold to.”
Under the regulations, the maximum offence for non-compliance is a GBP5,000 fine and/or three months imprisonment.