Calls for prosecution of secret GM farmer
Farmer's secret GM crop defies green rulebook
Calls for prosecution of agricultural 'saboteur'
The Observer, 25 January 2009
Environmentalists are calling for the prosecution of a farmer who claims to have sabotaged Wales's GM-free status by secretly planting and harvesting genetically modified varieties of maize and feeding them to local sheep and cattle.
In a political stunt that has infuriated the National Assembly for Wales, Jonathan Harrington, 53, an agronomist who advises farmers on how to grow crops, claims to have imported two varieties of GM maize from Spain, planted them on his land and given seeds away to two other farmers who also planted the banned crops. Wales has been GM-free since 2000 and markets its milk, meat and vegetables accordingly.
As the Welsh assembly considers its legal options, GM-free campaigners condemned Harrington as "grossly irresponsible". Plant scientist Brian John of GM Free Cymru said: "To plant it, then deliberately push it into the food chain is absolutely insane." Friends of the Earth Cymru said: "The concern is that it has entered the food chain without any control, traceability or labelling. Even if it is a small quantity, it means Wales is not GM-free any more."
An unrepentant Harrington said he had resorted to the secret planting after the Welsh assembly, which voted unanimously for GM-free status in 2000, refused to have any meaningful discussions over its policy. He said: "Out of frustration I went and bought some varieties of maize bred to be resistant to a pest called the European corn borer and which are grown widely in Spain, France, Germany and the Czech Republic."
The varieties he chose were on the EU common variety list, and as such it is legal to grow them anywhere in Europe.
The Welsh assembly admitted that despite its policy, which has otherwise been strictly adhered to throughout the principality, it has no actual legal power to ban GM crops in Wales.
However, anti-GM campaigners believe Harrington can be prosecuted for not complying with stringent regulations that require monitoring, labelling and traceability of GM crops.
Not only does he claim to have planted the maize at his farm at Tregoyd, near Hay-on-Wye; he claims two other farmers, whom he refuses to name, also planted the same maize.
"It was a poor summer, so they didn't do terribly well. But we did have enough for silage. So, it has been used in animal feed, for Welsh lamb and Welsh cattle," he admitted. "I've no qualms, no regrets at all. I am waiting for the backlash, and am very happy morally, ethically and legally, if need be, to defend my actions."
The assembly said in a statement: "The Welsh assembly government believes 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. We believe it has broad public support and reflects the Welsh assembly government's legal duty to act responsibly within the UK and EU legislation."
Brian John condemned Harrington's stunt as political sabotage. "If he has, as he claims, planted it and it has entered the food chain, and he has no monitoring in place, then clearly he's broken the regulations and he should be prosecuted, absolutely," he said. "We think this is grossly irresponsible. Wales's GM-free status is very important."