1.Dutch GM potato field trial will open to public
2.GM potato courtcase and citizen inspection
NOTE: Looks like the opening to the public of this trial is a PR response to the situation exposed by ASEED in item 2, where there has been a shying away from open 'dialogue' and 'discussion' with citizens and NGOs with a critical attitude towards GMOs in favour of behind the scenes lobbying of politicians and policy makers to loosen up GM regulatory controls.
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1.Dutch GM potato field trial will open to public
Horticulture Week, 3 August 2012
Field trials by research body Wageningen UR featuring genetically modified potatoes will open to the public on 23 August.
The potatoes being trialled have been bred for resistance to late blight (Phytophthora infestans), using two approaches, which will be compared on the day.
The DuRPh (Sustainable Resistance to Phytophthora) programme, backed by the Dutch government, aims to incorporate resistance-conferring genes from wild potato populations into cultuvated varieties.
The BioImpuls programme, based at the Louis Bolk Institute, has a similar aim using conventional breeding within the organic sector.
2.GM potato courtcase and citizen inspection Biotech Valley Ghent
ASEED, 10 May 2012
The courtcase against 11 potato activists that participated in the 'potato swap action' of the FLM (Field Liberation Movement) started last Tuesday, May 8, at the court of Dendermonde (B). On May 9, the GM protest movement continued their actions with a citizens inspection of Biotech Valley in Zwijnaarde (Gent, B).
Support for “The Wetteren 11” is big. With banners and music instruments, about 100 supporters did a small action at the gates of the palace of Justice. Also, inside the courtroom many people were present. Security checks were increased. The 11 suspects are accused of law violations like vandalism, property distruction, criminal organisation, violance against police officers, as a result of a pacifist action of civil disobedience. Amongst the accused are 2 persons from the Netherlands.
The eleven are being prosecuted because they supposedly destroyed a field trial with genetically modified (GM) potatoes in Wetteren on May 29, 2011. They were part of a bigger of 400 protesters from various countries, that marched to a trial field of the Flemish Institute for Biotechonology (VIB) and the Ghent University. A number of them attempted to replace the GM potatoes with organic siblings, destroying about one third of the field, making it scientifically invalid. Not all accused ever set foot on the field, actually. Many activists and supporters think the prosecution of the FLM is overdone. Many speak of “the criminalisation of activism”.
One of the potato activists' lawyers, Mieke Van den Broeck, thinks that the court of Dendermonde will make a big effort to get these people convicted, even though they are not criminals: "The people standing for trial here are activists. Courts are not meant for political activists. The public prosecution will have to take out all they have to be able to win this case, but I guess that is exactly what they intend to do. There is a kind of aggressitivity even though the accused did the action with all the best intentions."
Public debate and support
The FLM repeats that actions of civil disobedience like the one in Wetteren are legitimite and are a benefit to a democratic society. The criminalisation of this public and announced potato swap is totally disproportional to possibly afflicted material damage (the researchers claim they did get enough data from the potato field to have a succesful trial). The action caused a true broadly shared sociatal debate that was non-existent before. The FLM received the Jaap Kruithof award for their contribution to renewing the thinking about the democratic society.
Supporters expressed their solidarity in various ways. Some from Belgium, France, Wales and The Netherlands reported themselves voluntarilly to the police, the so-called 'comparant volontaire' (a French GMO reapers tactic). Amongst these are university professors, organic farmers and 2 Members of the European Parliament Bart Staes and José Bové . Furthermore, a number of NGOs made a public statement of support .
Critical visit to Ghent Biotech Valley
The final hearing in the courtcase against the FLM-activists will take place on Janauary 15, 2013. In the meantime the movement continues its activities. Immediately after the hearing, on May 9, they organised a Citizens Inspection of GMO-land: Biotech Valley in Zwijnaarde (Ghent) was paid a visit and targeted with critical questions. Later that day a deabte about the (private) financing of public research was organised by JNM, the Youth Organisation for Nature and Environment.
Strolling through Biotech Valley the FLM inspected with about 100 participants a field trial with GM poplars of the VIB, Bayer's greenhouses, and the nature of the cooperation between VUB, Ghent University and BASF Plant Science.
The speeches of the various invited experts focused on the problematic aspects of the close relationship of the academic world with the biotech industry. Participants of the inspection, including a delegation of Greenpeace, carried banners with slogans such as "GMOs? No thanks" and "Save our science from corporate dependance". Questions to which the answers were sought covered topics like how Belgian tax money is spent in these public private partnerships, the content and backgrounds of the activities in Biotech Valley, and whose interests these actually serve.
VIB-WUR-BASF-Durph-potate farmer: the links
ASEED contributed to the action by explaning the typical problematic relations between the scientist, the farmer, and the university with a piece of street theater. The potatoes that were the target of the FLM swap action last year were developed by the Dutch agriculture university in Wageningen WUR withing the so-called Durph-project. Also WUR and the Dutch government are like the VIB using these GM potatoes to break public resistance against GM agriculture, trying to give it a friendly face. But they are still GM including corporately patented genes.
This year VIB is not doing a field trial with these potatoes, but WUR is in various locations in the Netherlands. Furthermore, the involved scientists continue to lobby politicians and policy makers to loosen up the regulatory control of these kinds of GM crops (in which only genes from other potatoes are inserted, not from other species).
Police were present in large numbers during the citizen inspection, to make sure the activsts would be able to pull a leg like they did last year, even though this was not even the intention. The protest was announced to be completely peaceful and non-confrontational.
From a document leaked to the FLM just before the action, the VIB strongly advised the companies in the Biotech Park to instruct their employees to avoid any contact with the inspectors, even stay away from the windows.
According to the field liberation movement this typically illustrates the ideas of the VIB regarding open 'dialogue' and 'discussion' with citizens and NGOs with a critical attitude towards GMOs.
It seems they are rather interested in fear-mongering amongst employers, while the visit was intended to generate dialogue. But the FLM is not surprised: “It is a symptom of how the Flemish biotech sector has been involved in the democratic debate about GMOs so far.”
Wanna find out more?
ASEED is preparing various information materials like DVDs and a Dossier field trials 2012. Keep an eye out for it on our website, SEEDmail newsletter or infostalls.
Blog publications of FLM activist:
Op Ontdekkingstocht naar de Wieg van de GGO-industrie (of de noodzaak voor de biotech burgerinspectie van 9 mei 2012)
Answers of the VIB to the activists' questions: http://www.vib.be/nl/nieuws/Pages/Antwoorden-op-vragen-over-gentse-groene-biotechcluster.aspx
Interview in Dutch with fired FLM spokesperson Barbara van Dyck: http://www.dewereldmorgen.be/artikels/2012/05/04/mogen-we-nog-actie-voeren-aardappelactivisten-wachten-strafzaak-af
Parallel with the Citizen Inspection a supportive open letter of several Belgian public figures was published in newspaper De Morgen, going into more topics than GMOs and food alone: