NOTE: See also: Scientists warn of GM wheat threat
GM wheat health dangers
Activists get suspended sentences for wrecking crop
Will Ockenden and Elizabeth Byrne
ABC, November 19 2012
Two Greenpeace activists have received nine-month suspended sentences for destroying a genetically modified wheat crop with whipper snippers at the CSIRO in Canberra.
Jessa Latona, 36, and Heather McCabe, 49, destroyed the crop in July last year.
Greenpeace then sought publicity for their actions by contacting the ABC and releasing vision of the protest.
The CSIRO had permission to conduct the GM wheat trials. The genes in the wheat had been changed to lower the grain's glycemic index, and also to increase fibre in the hope it could increase nutritional value and improve bowel health.
Greenpeace has since paid more than $280,000 in compensation to the CSIRO.
Justice Hillary Penfold told the ACT Supreme Court this morning that she appreciated the actions were motivated by deeply held beliefs and altruistic intentions, but the law had been deliberately broken.
She also took aim at Greenpeace for allowing two junior staff members to be exposed to the consequences of breaking the law.
But Ben Pearson from Greenpeace says the two activists knew what they were getting themselves into.
"The crop that we targeted was one that we had cause to believe would be used in trials, including human trials. We were very concerned about the lack of transparency around that trial," he said.
"As the judge noted, we have made a number of Freedom of Information requests in the month leading up to our action, seeking further details about the trials and the CSIRO refused to provide that information to us."
Mr Pearson says despite the charges and fine, the conservation group would not rule out undertaking similar acts in the future.
"Look Greenpeace will never resile from undertaking acts of civil disobedience, we simply will not do that. We won't walk away from that now or in the future," he said.
"It's not a matter of saying would we do that particular action again, it's a matter of whether we would engage in civil disobedience again and we certainly will if we believe it's necessary."
Ben Pearson says while it is a large amount, Greenpeace members will continue to support the organisation.
"Well Greenpeace paid it on behalf of the activists in recognition of the fact that they had, while undertaken the activity in their own personal capacity," he said.
"Greenpeace supporters give us money exactly because we undertake these kind of activities, because we actually physically stand up to environmental harm and those causing it.
"I think Greenpeace supporters possibly will be disappointed that it was such a large amount but I think they'll remain fully supportive of Greenpeace's use of civil disobedience."
There are currently eight GM wheat trials in Australia. Six are being run by the CSRIO, and two are being run by the University of Adelaide.
Mark Tester is from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics at the University of Adelaide.
Professor Tester says the attacks put research back by up to a year.
"We did lose some plants, although what we suffered was much less than CSIRO researchers," he said.
"They've certainly made things a lot harder for us, directly destroying field trial sites isn't really the way to undertake a grown up debate and it does set back work where we're trying to get results to help address the questions Greenpeace are raising."
He says environmental activists should limit themselves to protesting through legal means.
"Well of course they should raise concerns in our democracy and they should do that through legal means and do that through informed debate in the media and in our public forums," he said.
The CSIRO says it welcomes that those responsible for damaging the trial have been dealt with by the criminal justice system.
Both women have also been placed on 12-month good behaviour bonds.
The sentencing was delayed last month so Latona could give birth to her first child.