From the national public debate meeting in Taunton:

"At the end of the conference we were asked if we wanted to see GM plants grown in the UK. Nobody put their hands up."

With every sector of the public polled, including the farming community, against GM crops...
Campaigners vow to destroy all GM crops
Western Morning News, 9 June 2003

Determined farmers and campaigners have vowed to destroy any genetically modified crops if they are grown in the South West.  As the region hosted the national debate on the introduction of GM plants in the UK, an overwhelming majority of people attending the meeting expressed their firm opposition to the technology.

Their views come amid claims that ministers have already made up their mind on the matter - trying to push for an imminent commercialisation of the controversial technology in Britain.

But this weekend, farmers, campaigners, councillors and consumers travelled to Taunton's Holiday Inn to make their voices heard at what has been the "best-attended" meeting since the Government launched the nationwide consultation on GM seven days ago.

For the first time since the consultation kicked off in Birmingham last Tuesday, organisers - the GM Debate Steering Board - had to set up an extra meeting to accommodate the public.

"I've travelled from Cornwall to Taunton especially to attend this meeting, which in all fairness was not too well advertised," said Helen Richards, of Penwith Organic Gardeners and Growers.

"The publicity was absolutely appalling. There were only two A4 sheets on the main and back doors which indicated there was a meeting. Nothing else apart from that. People travelled miles to attend this meeting and it was really difficult to find the venue."

Organic farmer Hector Christie, from Bideford in North Devon, also travelled to Taunton.  He said: "I don't want to see any GM crops grown in the Westcountry. If this happens me, other farmers, and campaigners will destroy the crops. I'm here to collect signatures from people and to get their support for such an extreme action.

"There are clear health and environmental risks from these superweeds and we all have to take action before it's too late. It's vital we pull up and destroy GM trial plots. United we will win, divided we will lose."

The workshop was the third of a series of six major regional conferences which are part of the debate called "GM-Nation?"  More than 200 people had the chance to have their say and get first-hand information about the technology.  Their views were recorded and will be brought to the attention of an independent steering board set up to gauge the opinions of the British public on the matter.

Keith Hatch, a regional member of Friends of the Earth, said: "I think it's pretty obvious that hardly anyone wants GM crops. At the end of the conference we were asked if we wanted to see GM plants grown in the UK. Nobody put their hands up."

The conference is expected to be followed by a series of other debates until the middle of July.  In addition there will be seven focus groups engaged in a programme of in-depth discussions and deliberation.  After the results from all parts of the debate have been collated, the independent GM Debate Steering Board will produce a high-profile national report - due to go to the Government by the end of September.

The debate is running in parallel with two other interrelated strands - an economic and a scientific review.

However, ever since the Government announced its intention to consult the public on the commercialisation of GM plants in the UK, sceptics have voiced their fears that the results of large farm-scale trials would not be fed into the main debate. They said people would be denied access to "vital information" about the health and environmental risks involved.

But Archie Montgomery, a farmer from Wincanton, Somerset, also attending the meeting, said the British public should not have a "halcyon view of farming" and dismiss a potentially beneficial technology.  "I pay nearly £1,000 per acre for spraying my potatoes. Why should I pay all this money when I can grow GM and don't bother with pesticides anymore?" he said. "These crops can perfectly co-exist with organic and conventional ones."

But Robert Vint, Totnes-based spokesman for the UK wholefood trades, argued the GM crops have already become resistant to chemicals.  "There is a variety of reasons why we should reject these plants. Firstly, there isn't enough evidence to show they are safe to human health. Claims that these crops would help feed the Third World are absolutely fraudulent, because famine hasn't got anything to do with growing GM plants, it's to do with the unfair distribution of food in the world."
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