Press Release -- 26th January 2009
A farmer and agricultural consultant living within the Brecon Beacons National Park is facing possible prosecution following the secret planting of GM maize by himself and two friends during the 2008 season. Environmentalists and consumer groups have asked for the full weight of the law to be used against him, which could lead to a £5,000 fine or even a term of imprisonment.
Mr Jonathon Harrington of Pen-y-Lan Farm, Tregoyd, near Brecon has announced that he planted the GM maize varieties MON810 x DKC4442YG and MON810 x Novelis last spring, following importation of the seed from France. He shared the seed with two friends, and he claims that all three of them planted and harvested the fodder maize last year before turning it into silage and feeding it to farm animals (1). Those actions in themselves are not illegal, since the named GM maize varieties are on the European "Common Seed Catalogue". However, since the harvest has been marketed and has entered the food chain, there are regulatory requirements that all those responsible for GM "releases" into the environment and the food chain must have in place measures to ensure traceability, labelling and monitoring for undesirable effects. It appears that Mr Harrington and his neighbours have no such measures in place -- and that constitutes a serious breach of EU and British law. The Welsh Assembly had no details whatsoever about the plantings until Mr Harrington spoke this month to a Welsh journalist.
Mr Harrington has gone on the record as claiming that his real reason for importing, planting, growing and harvesting the GM crops has nothing to do with farming but everything to do with politics. He simply wanted to demonstrate, he says, that the idea of a GM Free Wales bears no relation with the real world in which certain GM crops are registered for use throughout the countries of the EU.
Speaking for GM Free Cymru, Dr Brian John said: "This grubby little stunt shows just how dangerous people like Mr Harrington can be. He is clearly entirely out of tune with anti-GM sentiments and policies in Wales, and is prepared to put his own personal zeal for GM crops above the democratic wishes of the people or above the cross-party support for GM-free policies within the Welsh Assembly. Does this man not realize that the strong anti-GM position in Wales is underpinned by science and is seen as a key component in the country's "clean, green and wholesome" marketing strategy for farm produce? He has planted a GM crop which was bound to fail; as an agronomist he must have known that the two MON810 hybrids used were intended for those parts of Europe that have much drier and warmer summers. But he must also have known of the unique dangers associated with these crops. They are BT varieties with their own built-in insecticides which are known to poison "non-target" insects and to have a damaging effect upon soil micro-organisms and water supply. To have planted these within the Brecon Beacons National Park -- with its sensitive and legally protected environment -- is utterly irresponsible and selfish. He MUST be prosecuted on this score alone.
"But things get even worse when we look at the possible health and safety aspects of this case. MON810 maize is banned in France, Greece, Hungary and Austria, with good reason -- studies have shown that it causes damage to the internal organs of animals consuming it in feeding trials, and a landmark recent study has also shown that it negatively affects reproduction. Other BT crops have caused thousands of animal deaths in India. BT maize is a prolific producer of pollen, meaning that cross-pollination with other maize crops is inevitable. Honey will also be contaminated. And yet Mr Harrington and his friends have fed this GM silage to their own (and maybe other farmers') animals, apparently in a state of denial about the dangers involved."
GM Free Cymru members are also furious that Mr Harrington's GM crop planting is both opportunistic and cynical. They claim that the planting must have been carefully planned in conditions of great secrecy, with both Monsanto and CropGen (for whom Mr Harrington works as an advisor and consultant) involved in the provision of seeds and legal advice. The perpetrators knew that in 2008 there was a "window of opportunity" prior to the formal adoption in Wales of the Environmental Liability Regulations, which will make GM crop farmers strictly liable for any damage suffered by other farmers, beekeepers, local people and the environment.
"All in all," concluded Dr John, "this has to be the single most irresponsible and insensitive action we have ever seen in our years of monitoring GM developments in the UK. We have therefore asked all those bodies involved with the enforcement of GM regulations in Wales to deal with this matter expeditiously and forcefully. If they do not, Mr Harrington (or somebody else) will do this again. Wales's GM Free aspirations will be worthless, and we will be into a phase of GM contamination by stealth. That, of course, is exactly what the GM industry wants."
Dr Brian John GM Free Cymru Tel: 01239-820470
(1) Mr Harrington has still not provided certificated test results from a GM test laboratory to prove that the MON810 varieties were planted as claimed. Neither has he given any details of the acreage planted, or the planting locations. Neither has he indicated the route followed by the GM maize silage into the food chain, or what labelling might have been used to ensure that all consumers were made aware of the fact that they were involved in a GM marketing episode. When asked, Welsh Assembly civil servants said that they knew nothing of any monitoring plan or system for informing beekeepers and farming neighbours about GM crops in their vicinity.