Lottery funding for anti-GM activists
Activists plan to uproot experimental plants at Rothamsted agricultural research centre in Hertfordshire, where scientists are developing a strain of wheat modified to deter aphids, a common insect pest.
Protesters claim that the trial is unsafe and risks contaminating other fields, and pledged to lead activists to the site “where those who wish can participate in removing the GM crop”.
Their planned action – the biggest public protest against GM technology for a decade – has been condemned by scientists, farmers and MPs, who warned that such destruction would set back research into more effective farming methods.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has ordered an exclusion zone around the centre near Harpenden, and police have warned that anyone who enters will face arrest.
One protester has already been arrested — Hector Christie, a veteran campaigner and the eldest son of Sir George and Lady Christie, the owners of Glyndebourne. He is alleged to have broken into Rothamsted a week ago and lopped heads off GM wheat plants.
Today’s “day of action” was called by a new campaign group, Take the Flour Back. Now it can be disclosed that organisations backing the protest have been funded by money raised for good causes from sales of lottery tickets.
Among them is Organiclea, which promotes organic food production in east London. It has called on its supporters to participate today, stating: “We support this action because we believe that the trial is unsafe. It risks contaminating other crops, and the effects on human health and on insects vital to pollination have not been properly tested.
“We will take a 20-minute stroll on public footpaths to the trial site where those who wish to can participate in removing the GM crop.”
In 2009, Organiclea received £300,000 of National Lottery funding to develop a community-based organic market garden. The group also got £272,000 of lottery funding in 2008 to open a café and shop, and £10,000 last year to encourage healthy eating.
Marlene Barrett, of Organiclea, said: “There is no conflict between us taking part in direct-action protests and receiving lottery funding. As an organisation, we have a right to choose what stance we take. In fact, the potential for contamination from GM crops threatens the work we are funded to do.”
Organiclea is a member of the Community Food Growers’ Network (CFGN), which has promoted direct-action tactics among a new generation of anti-GM campaigners.
The idea of “decontaminating” fields – uprooting crops — emerged during meetings last year held by activists concerned about the GM wheat trial. Many were connected to CFGN, whose online manifesto says: “We call for an immediate end to the open-air trials of GM wheat at the Rothamsted research station.”
Another group that forms part of CFGN is the E2 Collective of organic food growers, which has had funding from Tower Hamlets council in east London.
The public face of Take the Flour Back last week was Jyoti Fernandes, who clashed with scientists on BBC2’s Newsnight.
She farms a smallholding in Dorset and helped organise an organic food week in the county funded by the National Lottery.
One of the most high-profile groups to oppose the wheat trials is the Real Bread Campaign (RBC), which was given £239,975 by the Big Lottery Fund in 2009 to pay for a full-time worker and to promote traditional bread. On its website, the RBC publicises the date of the Take the Flour Back event, and says “Together we can stop this trial.”
Yesterday, it distanced itself from plans to uproot crops. A spokesman said: “We object to the GM wheat trials and we have some common interests with Take the Flour Back. But we do not support any illegal action and we are not interested in supporting or taking part in decontamination.”
The Big Lottery Fund said lottery grants could not be used for political campaigns and that it checked the activities of recipients.
A petition opposing the destruction has attracted more than 5,000 signatures.
Lord Willis, the chairman of the Association of Medical Research Charities, said: “As we seek ways to feed a global population, surely seeking ways to improve our crops and their yield must be a central aim of plant scientists. Destroying scientific research is the 21st-century equivalent of burning witches.”
The research centre offered to hold a public debate with Take the Flour Back, but the protest group said the arrangement was not satisfactory.