Probe fails to back up claim that Harrington grew GM crop
Probe fails to back up claim that protester grew GM crop
Western Mail, October 2 2009
A COUNCIL investigation failed to find evidence that pro-GM food campaigner Jonathan Harrington defied the Assembly Government and grew genetically modified maize on his smallholding.
It has also emerged that Powys County Council spent £4,200 investigating the claim.
Earlier this year Mr Harrington, of Velindre, near Brecon, told the Western Mail he had imported the maize and grown it to protest at the Assembly Government’ s policy that Wales should be GM-free.
But an internal report produced by Powys County Council and now released under the Freedom of Information Act casts doubt on Mr Harrington’ s claim.
The report states: “(Mr Harrington) ”¦ claimed to have supplied the harvested crop to neighbouring farmers for use as animal feed and that seed from the crop had been harvested for use for further cultivation in 2009.
“As a result of these claims and numerous complaints to our service, an investigation was undertaken by Powys County Council Trading Standards Service, as the enforcement body for the various Regulations concerned in these matters. The investigation was launched in January 2009.
“The investigation included putting formal questions to Jonathan Harrington. In July 2009, after protracted attempts to get answers under caution from Harrington, we eventually received a response to our questions in which he admitted that growing GM maize on his premises was not part of his business or any activity connected to that business.
“These responses indicated he had received a quantity of 50 seeds of two varieties of GM maize which he had used to grow crops for his own interest as a biologist, and that the crops were destroyed following harvesting. It is impossible to prove or disprove these claims. Samples of seed supplied to the Trading Standards Service by Harrington were analysed by a Public Analyst and found not to be GM seed. The investigation was completed in late July 2009 after due consideration by our legal services and trading standards management team."
The council had offences with which Mr Harrington could have been charged if evidence had become available, including failing to register with the council as an animal feed producer, failing to maintain records, and putting prohibited products on the market.
The report concluded: "Based upon analysis of the legislation, Harrington's responses to formal questions, and examination of all of the evidence available on this matter it was evident to trading standards officers that Harrington had not committed any offences."
"Legal advice was taken from the Powys County Council legal service, who reviewed this case and their advice mirrored the trading standards service findings, that is there was no evidence to warrant any formal action based on the evidence available."
Mr Harrington was unavailable for comment yesterday, but earlier this year told us: "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.”
The maximum penalty for non-compliance is a GBP5,000 fine and/or three months' prison.