Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006

GM: Surge In Public Interest

New legal challenge could force public consultation on gm crops

5th August 2000 / Squall Download 6, Sept-Oct 2000, pg. 4.

Anti-GM campaigners in the South West have discovered a breach in planning law that could have devastating consequences for the Government's farm-scale GM tests.

Dorset's Natural Law Party has launched a legal challenge to the maize trial at Toll House Dairy, Over Compton, in West Dorset, scene of a recent anti-GM direct action. "This crop is being grown for experimental purposes and not agriculture. Under planning law this constitutes a change of use and therefore requires planning permission," explained their environmental spokesman, Mark Griffiths. A legal precedent was set in 1965 by Dow chemicals, who evicted a tenant farmer from land in Norfolk on the grounds that he was using it for agriculture, when it was licensed for research.

The 16 acre test crop of fodder maize is being grown by former Dorset National Farmers' Union chairman Brian Lock for agrochemical company Aventis, to assess the affect of its herbicides on biodiversity. It was partially 'decontaminated' on July 16, by local residents who have formed the Southern Union Resistance to Genetic Engineering (SURGE). According to the Pesticides Directorate, Aventis have applied to feed the GM maize to cattle to see how weight gain will be affected. The Natural Law Party has demanded that the crop is "immediately destroyed" because of the risk of cross-pollination with a commercial maize crop only 50 meters from the trial.

The case has been brought before West Dorset District Council's northern area planning committee, which is awaiting legal advice before proceeding. "If our barristers conclude there has been a change of use, the test site will be subject to planning control," said Dr David Evans, WDDC Director of Planning and Environment. "A lot of people are waiting for the outcome of this one."

Normal planning procedures include a period of public consultation, so if the challenge is successful, the Government could be forced to consult locals on all new trials. Currently there is no system of consultation, which has angered many anti-GM campaigners and people living near test sites. "This could set a precedent for the whole country," said Luke Anderson of the Totnes Organic Group. "It would mean communities could affect trials like this, and that could be a problem for the Government." "The community should have a say in trials," said WDD Councillor Stephen Fryer, who brought a motion to the full Council last week demanding that all trials be put before local planning authorities for approval. The motion will go before the Environment Committee on August 1.

If a breach of planning law is discovered at Over Compton, the farmer can appeal to the Department of the Environment. "The Government could reverse any decision on appeal, or pass new legislation allowing it to site trials where it pleases," said Griffiths. "But it may not want to stir up such a political hornet's nest so close to the general election." The government have already altered their criteria for numbers of sites needed to make the tests viable, and have obsessively pursued the biotech companies' GM programme despite massive public opposition.

"We are very angry at the way this bogus scientific exercise has been forced upon us," said Yeovil-based organic farmer, Simon Fairlie, a member of SURGE. Retrospective planning applications can be demanded though in Lincolnshire, West Lindsey District Council's planning committee will decide next week whether to GM testing constitutes a breach in planning law. They face the opportunity of testing the process over a GM winter oil seed rape crop due to be planted in August.

Like the Over Compton maize, the rape crop is being planted by Aventis to test resistance to gluphosinate, a pesticide banned from use in the UK between September and March because of its tendency to leech into the water table. The ban has been lifted for the trial.

"Gluphosinate is very toxic to all water life, but there are no proposals to monitor the water environment. This could be a big problem as here in Lincolnshire we're all dikes," said Kate O'Connell of the Gaia Trust. O'Connell is confident that as long as the planning committee agrees, the vast majority of West Lindsey councillors will back the demand for planning approval.

"Local authorities are keen to pursue this as they feel increasingly powerless," said Jean Saunders of Friends of the Earth. "But it's going to take a fairly brave council to take it to a higher level, as court costs are not cheap."

* Seven members of SURGE were arrested at the Over Compton 'decontamination'. One woman who gave her name as 'For the Future' was charged with criminal damage but was able to submit a personal statement and 27 scientific papers as 'evidence at the scene'. Police eventually identified her through fingerprints as Rowan Tilly - her statement is available from The other six have been bailed pending further enquiries.

* The maize crop at Over Compton has been declared as still viable.

* Nine farm scale GM trials have been destroyed or decontaminated since the start of June. Chris Pollock, head of he UK Scientific Steering Committee on Farm Scale Evaluations said he is concerned that the number of trials is running low and that 60-75 sites over a three year period were needed to ascertain if GM has any environmental fallout. (only 39 sites remain undamaged at present). As well as Over Compton the other damaged sites are in Daviot, Scotland; Hutton Magna, Yorkshire; Chipping Campden and Kempley, Gloucestershire; Hemel Hempstead, Herts; Wivenhoe, Essex; Headley Hall, Yorkshire and IARC Rothamstead, Herts. Eleven people were charged with criminal damage for the Wivenhoe action.

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