Protest threat to dig up Highland GM crop
Wednesday, 21st February 2001
CAMPAIGNERS fighting a genetically modified crop trial in the Highlands may take direct action to have the plants dug up and destroyed before they flower in a few weeks.
Protesters made their claim after a government advisory body was told this week of the health, economic and environmental fears of people living near the farm at Munlochy in the Black Isle where a 40-acre field has been planted with GM oilseed rape.
Protesters hoped the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, which advises the Government on biotechnology issues would recommend suspension of the trial. However they have been told that the commission will not report on their findings until after the crop flowers in mid to late April.
The situation has further angered local people who were outraged that the Scottish executive gave the go-ahead for the trial without prior consultation with the local authority or people living near the farm.
Dr Kenny Taylor, chairman of the Highlands and Islands GM Concern group, said: "We want to use legal and democratic means to see the removal of that crop and changes made in the process for future crops.
"There are very strong feelings in the Black Isle.
"People have been discussing the possibility of direct action because of their sheer frustration of being ignored by the process and the fact they feel threatened by this crop which has been shoved on us."
The GM issue will be discussed today at a seminar organised by Highland Council’s land and environment committee, which will be addressed by Dr Taylor and Dr Paul Rylott, of the seed company Aventis.
Dr Taylor said the future of GM crops will become a major issue in the run up to the general election: "We are having the right debate but at the wrong time, this should have been done two years ago, instead of that the clock is ticking on the crop to flower.
"The process is ridiculous, but while the timescale is completely out of joint with the crop in the Black Isle, the nonsense of what is happening here could do some good in the long term and point up what should be done in the future.
"The campaign group will be putting pressure on politicians on this in the run up to the election."
A sub-group of the 20-strong commission took evidence in the offices of Highland Council which led protests against GM trials in the area last year after the Munlochy experiment was approved.
The council tried unsuccessfully to secure an interdict at the Court of Session to prevent the crop trial from starting and wanted farmer Jamie Grant to apply for planning permission to allow the issue to be debated in public.
A public meeting, attended by 400 people, subsequently overwhelmingly rejected the trials going ahead.
David Green, council convener, told the commission the consultation was restricted to a narrow range of government agencies - such as the Food Standards Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage - and on a very limited basis. He said that the present system of approvals by-passes democracy and should be reviewed immediately. Nor is he convinced that adequate monitoring of environmental impacts exists.
Dr Michael Foxley, chairman of the council’s land and environment committee, said the authority wrote to the Scottish executive in September 1999 urging consultation before any GM trial was agreed for the Highlands. A letter from Susan Deacon, health minister, in December 1999 indicated that the process surrounding biotechnology would be transparent.
But the first the council knew of the Munlochy trial was a press statement in August last year, a few weeks before the GM oilseed rape was planted.
"The controversy over this would be unnecessary if the executive stuck to what they told us in 1999. Part of the considerable anger in the Highlands is due to the process not being allowed to take place," said Dr Foxley.
Jamie Grant declined to comment, but indicated that the European Union’s plant committee has concluded there was no evidence to indicate that the use of modified oilseed rape is likely to cause adverse effects to humans, animals or the environment.