Cambridge GM protest threatened

21 February 2008

A tranquil field just outside of Cambridge is soon to be at the centre of an ethical controversy.

GM crops will be grown there within the next two months – despite the promise of direct action by environmental protestors.

Owned by German chemical company BASF, it is to be planted with potatoes genetically engineered to make them resistant to blight.

The field, situated north of Cambridge, was used for GM potato trials last year. But it came under attack from the Cambridge Action Network, which describes itself as “a local resistance to corporate capitalism, globalisation, the destruction of our environment”.

Last year, activists evaded security guards and scaled the security fence to get into the field, where they uprooted crops – defying a court injunction in the process. This time, similar security measures are planned and the local police have been alerted. But it seems unlikely this will prove much of a deterrent.

“Personally, I intend to pull up as many crops this year as I can,” said Martin Shaw, an environmentalist who was charged with criminal damage to the field’s fence last year, speaking to the Guardian.

In response to the threat of attacks, spokesman for BASF Chris Wilson told The Cambridge Student (TCS): “I don’t think we can assume the trial won’t be attacked again, but hopefully they will see sense and realise this is important scientific research.”

The companies currently investing in research into Genetic Modification of crops argue that doing so will boost food yields and alleviate famines and malnutrition in the third world.

Critics fear, however, that introducing foreign genes into organisms could have unforeseen adverse effects, and say that, in any case, the corporate model – which involves patenting any GM crops which are developed – is the wrong one to use.

While GM crops are widely grown in many countries, Britain and a number of other EU countries currently refuse to grow them commercially.

The field near Cambridge is one of just two in the UK that will be used for GM trials this year.

Owen Kennedy