ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

Help them understand your concerns about releasing GMOs into the environment

"A tiny accident, one gene leaking out, can have massive consequences" - Professor Steve Jones, a leading UK geneticist

“Even if one accepts the claims of the doom-mongers with a healthy degree of scepticism, there still must be risks. It must make sense to continue extensive research, but to confine it to the laboratoryand not allow the release of genetically modified material into the environment until we know a great deal more about the potential drawbacks." - Andrew Davis, a Regional Director of the Country Landowners Association (CLA)

Many people feel that the deliberate release of GMOs into the environment through field trials, given the potentially irreversible impact of genetic pollution, is at the least very premature. These concerns are accentuated because of the complete lack of rigour over the conduct of such trials from a biosafety point of view, as the geneticist Professor Steve Jones has commented (see BBC News report). Such trials are, in reality, both poorly regulated and badly 'policed'.

There are lots of ways of making clear opposition to GM trials.  In Norfolk protests have included the use of biohazard tape to demarcate release areas (eg at John Innes), a crop-squat  (eg at Crown Point Farms), the digging up or 'decontamination' of trial sites  (eg at Church Farm, Hadley), and ceremonies of symbolic opposition (eg non-GM seed planting at the Experimental Farm at East Winch). Other forms of protest that are under consideration include citizens inspections, in which groups of residents inspect a trial site to judge whether the trial is being conducted within the regulations - the evidence suggests that 1 in 5 are not!

Such protests have been conducted by autonomous groups of local residents - reports and information on such action is available from GEN (see also the Campaigns section of ngin's links page) - and nationally by genetiX snowball: a campaign of nonviolent civil responsibility which aims to build active resistance to the deliberate release of GMOs as unwanted, unnecessary, unsafe and irreversible, through the open and accountable removal of GM crops.

Win the argument: farmer CONTACT!

We can win the argument - even with the people hosting the trials! The climate of opinion and the information available is such that we can now make farmers aware of the utter irresponsibility of allowing GM field trials on their land - an irresponsibility which could not only threaten the environment but also the farmers' own interests.  We can make it clear that while the government seems willing to license almost any excess on the part of the biotech companies, the public are totally aware of the irrational basis on which this is being done and the potentially hazardous results.

Please write your own letter or, if short of time, please participate in the contact! campaign about this unwanted, unnecessary and hazardous trial by making use of the sample letter below. Consider sending a copy of your letter to others, such as your MP or the local press.  Ask your friends, colleagues, neighbours to sign or to send their own letters. Please help stop the crop!

To take part in the contact! campaign you need only:
1. select all the text between the lines of the sample letter below
2. copy and paste the text into a word-processor - change adress details if for Walnut Tree Farm and omit any points specific to sugar beet
3. remember to add the date under the address and your name(s) at the bottom.
4. 'personalise' the letter to your liking - the more personal, the better

Thank you for supporting the CONTACT! campaign

Contact details for farm-scale GM trials in Norfolk/Suffolk

2000 trials will be 10 hectares (25 acres) GM crop

Details as of 28th March 2000 

GM T25 Maize (a crop banned in Switzerland)
Winfarthing, grid reference TM 100 879 FARM: ES Coles, Park Farm, Winfarthing, Diss

Spring oilseed rape
Horningtoft, TF 932 243 FARM: Ivan Baxter, Church Farm, Horningtoft, Fakenham, Norfolk
(see also under sugar beet)

Sugar beet
East Bradenham, TF 946 087 FARM: RW Hill (Farms) Ltd, Manor Farm, East Bradenham, Norfolk, IP25 7QE  Tel: 01362 820239

Horningtoft, TF 932 238 FARM: Ivan Baxter, Church Farm, Horningtoft, Fakenham, Norfolk
(see also under spring oilseed rape)

Tittleshall, TF 896 208 FARM: Richard Thompson, High House Farm, Tittleshall, Norfolk

Burston, TM128 828 FARM:

Stow Bedon, TL 964 965 FARM: G Pilkington, Breckles Grange Farming Co, Breckles Grange, Thetford, Norfolk

West Raynham, TF 852239 FARM: Raynham Farm Co. Ltd, East Raynham Tel: 01328 863746
(Co. Chairman: The Marquess Townshend/Director: Frank Oldfield a member of the John Innes Centre's Governing Council and chair of the trustees of the John Innes Foundation)

Burnham Market, TF 837 404  FARM: JA Stilgoe, Crabbe Hall, Burnham Thorpe, Kings Lynn (land owned by Earl of Leicester)

Kersey, TL 986 424 [fodder beet] FARM:

Coney Weston, TL 964 785 [sugar beet] FARM: John Wallace, Hall Farm, The Street, Coney Weston, Bury St. Edmunds

Brockford Green, TM 125 650 - farmer has pulled out

Mr David Hill
Farm Manager
RW Hill Farms Ltd
Manor Farm
East Bradenham
IP25 7QE

Dear Mr Hill


I am concerned about the risks involved in GM crop trials and am writing to ask you to reconsider the involvement of your farm in the 10 ha GM beet trial at Eat Bradenham in Norfolk. I very much hope that you will carefully consider  the following points:

1. As you will be aware, there is considerable opposition to this trial. This  reflects the widespread public concern over GM trials and the inadequacy of their regulation and monitoring. This concern cannot be dismissed as just “hysterical” or “ill-informed.” Baroness Young of English Nature is on record as saying of the  trialling of GM crops in the UK, “It is not being properly regulated or monitored. There is a hole in the regulatory system.”

2. English Nature has said that the current design, and scale, of the planned  field-scale trials for 1999 makes them scientifically invalid. Michael Meacher, the Environment Minister, does not appear to dispute this, and even AgrEvo has confirmed that English Nature are correct as regards the lack of scientific validity.

3.  The Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS), which farms 80,000 acres across  the UK, making it Britain's biggest farming organisation, and which had been expected to participate in two such field-scale trials, announced on 29th March 1999  that it  did not wish to take part in "flawed" trials.  It criticised the design of such  trials, arguing that they could give rise to the very concerns about environmental damage that they are designed to research.

4. Many scientists are also concerned. For example, one of the UK’s most eminent scientists and a leading geneticist, Professor Steve Jones, has recently said he does not think GM field trials are "really rigorous enough" in terms of safety. He points out,  "A tiny accident, one gene leaking out, can have massive consequences" and he says he is haunted by the prospect.

5.  Andrew Davis, a Regional Director of the Country Landowners Association has  commented on GM trials, “Even if one accepts the claims of the doom-mongers with  a healthy degree of scepticism, there still must be risks. It must make sense to continue extensive research, but to confine it to the laboratory and not allow the release of genetically modified material into the environment until we know a great deal more about the potential drawbacks."

6.  British Sugar has made explicit that it has no plans to refine GM sugar beet for the foreseeable future.  That means that the risks involved in field trials on GM beet, which are obviously increased in this case by scale, are being taken in relation to a commercially useless crop. This seems indefensible.

7. Concern about GM crops is also growing among professionals. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) - one of the largest professional bodies in the world, whose members are involved in the management of most of the land in the UK - has warned the Government that the impact of GM crops on land values may be similar to the effect of an outbreak of disease or contamination.

8.  A number of farmers and farming organisations have already turned their back on permitting GM crop trials this year. Notable in this category, in addition to CWS, is Crown Point Farms in Norfolk, which had previously had a heavy involvement in such trials. Their land agent gave “growing public disquiet” as a reason. The National Trust, which is one of the largest owners of agricultural land in the UK, with 240,000 hectares under its management, has banned the growing of GMOs by any of its 700 tenant farmers in England and Wales.

9. In a recent case before Plymouth Crown Court, no evidence was presented against two protesters who admitted destroying a trial of GM maize at Dartington in  Devon  because, the prosecution said, the case had been undermined by changing Government policy and the implied doubts about the safety of GM crops.

10. The response among retailers to growing consumer concerns also suggests that growing, or having grown, GM crops on the same unit as traditional crops may come to jeopardise contracts with retailers. Equally farmers growing traditional crops in the vicinity of GM crops on neighbouring farms may lose contracts because of the possibility of contamination through cross pollination which research shows, in the case of an oil seed rape trial, occurred over a distance of 2.5km.

Evidence is also growing of horizontal gene-transfer: the persistence in the soil of transgenes from GM crops for significant periods of time after the growing of GM crops. Such transgenes may be exchanged with other crop plants via soil micro-organisms. This phenomenon has recently been shown to occur during GM sugar beet trials.

As a result, association with GM trials clearly raises the prospect of the loss of crop contracts because of actual or potential genetic pollution (or consumer concern about such a danger), as well as of farmers suing their neighbours for loss of such contracts. A case is already passing through the German court system on this basis. It is not surprising, therefore, that a spokesman for the NFU in Scotland has commented that any farmer growing GMOs at the moment could be committing "commercial suicide."

11.  Monsanto, the company whose beet is being trialled at East Bradenham, has a very poor record in relation to respect for consumer, environmental, and farmer interests. That record together with their recent massive consolidation of ownership within the agricultural chain would appear to pose a real threat to the long-term interests of farmers.

In the light of the above, we do hope you will reconsider your involvement in this trial. After all, why should your farm run the considerable business and environmental risks involved, to say nothing of the public relations difficulties, for the sake of a trial that  lacks both scientific validity and commercial sense? What return to your farm makes it worth being party to what is in truth a charade?

If, on the other hand, the proprietors of RW Hill Farms Ltd were to follow the very commendable example of other farmers and farming organisations and withdraw from GM trials, this would be very widely welcomed.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely