Heroic Farmer Defies Anti-Biotech Crop Ban in Wales

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The Guardian is reporting that Welsh farmer and agronomist Jonathan Harrington secretly imported and planted genetically enhanced varieties of corn (maize) at his farm in Wales. He also fed the silage made from the corn to cattle and sheep which he then sold. Why did he do it?

An unrepentant Harrington said he had resorted to the secret planting after the Welsh assembly, which voted unanimously for GM-free status in 2000, refused to have any meaningful discussions over its policy. He said: "Out of frustration I went and bought some varieties of maize bred to be resistant to a pest called the European corn borer and which are grown widely in Spain, France, Germany and the Czech Republic."

The varieties he chose were on the EU common variety list, and as such it is legal to grow them anywhere in Europe.

The Welsh assembly admitted that despite its policy, which has otherwise been strictly adhered to throughout the principality, it has no actual legal power to ban GM crops in Wales.

Naturally, anti-biotech activists are livid. Brian John, an activist from GM Free Cymru told the Guardian:

"To plant it, then deliberately push it into the food chain is absolutely insane."

Actually, what's "absolutely insane" is unscientific opposition to biotech crops. 

If anti-biotech activists can claim that invading farms to tear up biotech crops are acts of civil disobedience, then surely farmers like Harrington can justify planting biotech crops as acts of civil disobedience. The difference is that Harrington has science on his side. 

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  1. I’m sorry, but it’s time that Wales was allowed to reclaim its birthright of impossibly long place names and severe malnutrition verging on starvation without interference from people like Ronald Bailey.

  2. I’m surprised this story didn’t involve genetically modified leeks. This being Wales and all.

  3. While I agree that GM opponents are raving lunatics, Harrington committed fraud if he withheld the status of the cattle and sheep that were fed GM crops.

  4. I hope Harrington used this line at the assembly: “I don’t want to talk to you no more, you empty headed animal food trough wipers. I fart in your general direction. Your mothers were hamsters and your fathers smelt of elderberries.”

  5. To be a little of a devil’s advocate, there’s a bit of fair-weather federalism here (or at least the UK/EU version thereof). It’s kinda like those that are against California setting it’s own emission standards. There is a private property/individual liberty dimension to Mr Harrington’s actions which probably should be the overiding controlling factor, but, that said, if you’re a fan of more localism in governance, there’s going to be some stuff you don’t like.

  6. Considering that humans have modified domestic plants and animals for centuries, every Welsh farmer is feeding GM crops to their livestock.

  7. Civil disobedience? Hmph. Everyone knows that’s a one-way street.

  8. This is ridiculous. There is all kinds of scientific evidence that GM crops are bad for you.

  9. fake joe,

    Comedy gold! LOL!

  10. The Welsh assembly admitted that despite its policy, which has otherwise been strictly adhered to throughout the principality, it has no actual legal power to ban GM crops in Wales
    _____________________________________________
    HMMM, a rule, that is unenforceable, ceases to be a rule. The council should be thrown out for wasting time making such rules

  11. Joe

    Huh? What ‘evidence’?

    We’ve all (even you, unless you’ve never eaten corn) been eating “GM” crops since the day we were born. It’s just that the techniques are a wee bit more sophisticated today compared to the forced chemical mutations or selective breeding over hundreds of generations of the past.

    Oh yeah – what Paul said on the civil disobedience.

  12. It’s been scientifically shown that GM food makes Gaia angry. Why do you think we had Hurrican Katrina?

    News flash: Obama won. The Bush era of ignoring science is over.

  13. Please don’t assume I’m a troll, because I love Reason. But this is something that really bothers me…

    A libertarian really could make the case that such an attack on the food system qualifies as a sort of property damage (not to mention, a defrauding of clients and customers) – that is, assuming you believe that GM food is somehow different from organic or conventional food, and I do.

    It seems that Reason’s contributors have some sort of beef with the claim that GM food could possibly be unsustainable and thus dangerous (aside from the fact that the government mandates what can and cannot be consumed – which it should not, no matter how dangerous the product). That is to say, there seems to be a disagreement about the science. So, let’s see it. Who has read the studies? Am I hearing the masses rally to decry the anti-GM fanatics simply because it’s the party line around here? Where’s the beef?

    Did it occur to anyone that GM food production is a possible threat to natural competition in agricultural plant life – something that the UK/EU government may have good reason to want to preserve? What happens to a plant that has been hardwired to do the bidding of humans instead of being allowed to adapt to threats naturally? I’ll tell you what happens: a system develops that favors the adaptation of predators and pests, and restrains the ability of the plant to do the same. The plant is forced to wait on humans to come in and fix any problems – it’s adaptation is tied to our ability to fuck up its DNA. It is impossible to gaurd against new threats as an organism when your DNA has been hardwired to even deny the value of reproduction!

    I’m no fanatic, either. That’s SCIENCE. Pick up a biology text.

    *****

    By the way- in response to the last little section of the post – dissent is not exclusive to those who can prove that it is warrented by science. Try proving scientifically that marijuana should be illegal. Or that people are entitled to rights. My point is, when it comes to civil disobedience, science has no bearing. As a libertarian, I’m ashamed to see this sort of appeal to political correctness.

  14. Hahaha! Wow! I happened to post my dissent under someone claiming to have a troll following them! Anyway, it’s not me! Hope you can shake that troll, Joe.

  15. An ABC phone poll is not scientific evidence of anything, fake-or-not-Joe.

  16. Here’s the evidence.

    http://abcnews.go.com/sections/scitech/DailyNews/poll010619.html

    @Whoever is posting under “joe”. (Pretty sure it’s not the real joe as he usually brings real evidence to his arguments.)

    A poll is not scientific evidence. If everybody believes a falsehood, it’s still a falsehood.

  17. Humans have been manipulating crops for generations. Wheat didn’t always look like wheat, corn didn’t always look like corn. In other words, these are “natural” organisms anymore, and as such, they haven’t responded “naturally” to problems for thousands of years.

    Not only is that SCIENCE, it’s HISTORY.

  18. ^^ not natural organisms anymore ^^

  19. Ben, do you want to know why I think you’re full of shit?

    Cause you’re against all GM crops. The reasons you state may well be accurate for some types of changes, but not all. A blanket opposition to something because in some particular cases there might be a problem is not a rational position. That’s like vowing celibacy cause you might get the clap.

    All the crops we grow are heavily modified over thousands of years to suit humans; that’s the whole bloody point of the crops. I fail to see how crops that are changed by selective breeding would be any less dangerous than changes accomplished more directly. Natural defenses can be reduced through entirely “natural” genetic manipulation. Check out the incipient extinction of bananas for an all natural defense problem (whose only hope is … genetic modification).

  20. We should go back to the whole hunting and gathering thing. This capitalist conspiracy called “agriculture” is nothing but hunger.

    Hunger for POWER and GREED.

  21. Tyler,
    We don’t need to go back to pre-agricultural society. We just have to go back to pre-industrial society. That way those damn tractors can’t take away jobs from plowmen. It’ll create jobs!

  22. Well you can’t expect me to name every tool that the burgeoise uses to exploit the workers!

    In fact, I’d better get off this computer. I’m being exploited by the internet and this keyboard AT THIS VERY MOMENT!

  23. I would not hang my hat on a “study” released by the National Academy of Sciences. Not exactly a bastion of credibility.

  24. Google “Genetically modified crops are dangerous”. You might find some differences of opinion.

  25. heres hoping joe’s troll dies of a heart attack while furiously masturbating himself as he re-reads his “work” tonight. Of course, then we’ll figure out which H&R regular committed the atrocity which was today’s spoofing goat rope.

  26. Hey “toxic” – read a book instead of the internet.

    Also, nowhere in my post did I declare that I was against “all GM crops.”

    Also, you have a good point about selective breeding being equally detrimental. Truth be told, if we don’t want to condemn most of our agricultural endeavors to extinction, we would do well not to be so controlling in the first place. (A little more old-fashioned hunting, gathering, and personal growing would do us good.) Perhaps bananas would have survived without us, perhaps they would not have. Corn certainly won’t. Thanks to us, corn now has very little nutritional value, and is entirely dependant on our continued investment. Oh yeah – and ask any farmer what industrial corn does to quality farm land. Ask any corn farmer if GM is economically sustainable without government subsidy. Ask any nutritionist if industrial GM corn products have any nutritional value as a food. Ask any GM corn farmer if he would eat his own crop. (I’ve tried, here in Indiana. It’s mush.) Take it from someone who knows: no one in their right mind would. Most GM food is designed to supply the food industry with a-nutritional matter with which they can “beef up” the products they so ironically sell as “food” to the general public. EU/UK has taken steps that would never pass here, in the land of McDonalds and Kraft, and, despite the deplorable mandate disallowing people to eat whatever they want, they probably have actually done something good for the health of individuals on that continent. Remind me again: which country has a failing AG system dependent on subsidies and the higher rate of obesity and heart disease? EU? UK? No. The US.

  27. Ben: On the issue of “fraud” — I direct your attention to Oklahoma University law professor Drew Kershen’s article “Legal Liability Issues in Agricultural Biotechnology.” See also my much shorter column, “Organic Law.”

  28. Ben: EU ag subsidies are much higher than U.S. subsidies.

  29. Ben, the problem with your suggestion to read a book is that a book titled “Nothing to see here, move along” isn’t going to sell very well. That’s why the richer authors write books full of “startling revelations”. Same goes for newspaper headlines and magazine covers. A magazine with the lead story “Cell phones don’t cause cancer” or “vaccinations not linked to autism” isn’t going to sell as well as the one next to it that quotes a different “expert” letting us know the grave danger we are in.

    That said, there is a lot of information you cannot get on the internet which can lead people to think if they can’t find it with google then it isn’t true.

  30. If anti-biotech activists can claim that invading farms to tear up biotech crops are acts of civil disobedience, then surely farmers like Harrington can justify planting biotech crops as acts of civil disobedience. The difference is that Harrington has science on his side.

    Harrington also has human rights, common sense and common decency on his side. But those don’t count for much nowadays.

  31. Arguing with the Frankenfoods crowd is like arguing with the Creation Science crowd. When you start with the assumption that facts, evidence, and science are part of the E-VIL conspiracy, there’s not a lot of room left for discussion.

    Arguing with them might be a good way to practice your debating skills, and shooting fish in a barrel might be a good way to practice your marksmanship.

  32. kinnath: The biotech industry is heavily dependent on that kind of fraud, with the government as its accomplice. FDA labeling regulations and food libel laws sometimes actually prohibit labeling products as free from GM foods.

    Now that’s the kind of civil disobedience I’d like to see: people treating restrictions on commercial free speech with the contempt they deserve.

    And while we’re at it, what about the role of government R&D subsidies and anti-market patent monopolies in propping up the biotech industry?

    These heroic John Galt wannabees are really a bunch of corporate welfare queens.

  33. The science is overwhelmingly on the side of GM foods.

    At one point, back in 2001, I had collected statements made by every single professional society involved in biology: plant biologists, micro-biologists, molecular biologists, as well as the american dietetic association, the AMA and the National Academy of Science. All universally stating that there wasn’t a shred of evidence that GM foods were unhealthy, or any more dangerous than those bred by conventional means.

    The links are all dead by now, but if you want to do the investigating, instead of reading whatever pops up first on Google, read statements made about the subject by the relevant organizations with the professional scientific background, you will find the consensus hasn’t changed.

  34. I fail to see how crops that are changed by selective breeding would be any less dangerous than changes accomplished more directly.

    Not to mention, mutation breeding. Apparently, bombarding plant seeds with massive amounts of radiation, in order to scramble their DNA and produce mutations unlikely to happen in nature is “Organic”… but deliberate, careful manipulation of DNA is not.

  35. Since most of the subscribers to this blog appear to want total deregulation of everything, and the devil take the hindmost, can I assure you that I’m not a lunatic and that those who are angry about Harrington’s planting of GM maize are upset for perfectly rational reasons? I am a scientist, and so are most of my colleagues who are involved in GM Free Cymru. For a start, the safety of MON810 has never been scientifically established. There is much science that shows that it causes damage to animal tissues and negatively affects the reproductive system. You may be perfectly happy with that situation in the US, but in Europe we are not. Secondly, Harrington is deliberately defying the wishes of the great majority of people in Wales, who want nothing to do with GM crops or foods. Thirdly, he also shows scant regard for the wishes and rights of his neighbours, having planted this crop without informing them that cross-pollination (ie genetic contamination) is a virtual certainty, and that organic bee-keepers (for example) may well find their certification in jeopardy if GM is found in future in their honey. Fourthly, he has deliberately grown a maize crop that was bound to fail, since it was engineered for southern Europe. What sort of farmer deliberately plants a crop which has never been tested in Welsh conditions and which will be a disaster in any sensible farming cost/benefit analysis? And this guy calls himself an agronomist. And fifthly, he has planted a Bt maize crop (with built-in toxins, in case anybody is not aware of what it is) which will have unpredicted and unstudied effects on non-target insects and soil microfauna inside a protected environment — namely the Brecon Beacons National Park. I repeat — thus guy has just pulled a cheap political stunt, which has nothing whatsoever to do with sensible farming or environmental management. And make no mistake about it — he has the weight of the GM industry behind him. Contamination by stealth is the name of the game. You know all about that in the USA…….but please don’t expect Europe to follow your example. I think we have rather more respect for the environment and for food quality.

  36. Brian John, that’s great we don’t expect Europe to follow our example. Europe can stay in the 17th century. As you may recall, we are the nation of people who left Europe because we didn’t like it very much and weren’t inclined to stick around in an attempt to fix it 🙂

    But, on the subject of deregulations, the fox running the chicken house, etc, would you like to compare product safety and EMC between the EU and the US? I was reading in Conformity magazine about the EU trying to convince the US to adopt their scheme. And a “scheme” it is. So far the answer is “nope”. For those unaware, I’m refering to the “CE” mark. That’s the mark you see on electrical goods in Europe. Self-applied and it means “buy me, I’m OK. Honest.” You’ll notice this mark and no NRTL marks on the cheapest junk you will find online. That un-Listed power supply you bought online or at a computer show that shot flames out the back after 2 months…yeah, CE mark (only). I know I’m not being very libertarian at the moment…

  37. Actually, on second thought, there is a particularly libertarian aspect to product compliance in the US: It is driven by private 3rd party companies. This is an asset. These NRTL’s own their respective safety marks – UL, ETL, CSA, CS, MET, and they have a vested interest in ensuring the products bearing their marks meet the applicable standards. What is not libertarian is the marks are OSHA driven, but only for products in the workplace. For consumer use, the marks are insurance company and market driven by equipment retailers.

    In my field it is common for equipment suppliers to attempt to source a product with just the CE mark. A good laugh every time.

  38. “I’ll tell you what happens: a system develops that favors the adaptation of predators and pests, and restrains the ability of the plant to do the same. The plant is forced to wait on humans to come in and fix any problems – it’s adaptation is tied to our ability to fuck up its DNA. It is impossible to gaurd against new threats as an organism when your DNA has been hardwired to even deny the value of reproduction!”

    Ben, all plants, GM or not, experience random mutations. Plants aren’t forced to wait for humans, Gaia, etc to help them adapt to changes in the environment. They either have the right mutations or they don’t.

  39. Brian John:

    Just because you and your anti-GMO zealot compatriots havn’t bothered to find out about any of the research on the effects of GM crops, doesn’t mean these effects are “unpredicted” or “unstudied”.

    Genetically modified crops are the MOST studied species ever put into commercial production. Hundreds of selectively bred crops or those mutated through other “unnatural” mechanisms have been planted without a tenth of the scrutiny to which those using gene-splicing are subjected. There have been field trials all over Europe for a decade, and they have been studied extensively in the US.

    Moreover, the anti-GMO lobby can propose no plausible biological mechanism by which gene-splicing would make a plant more dangerous than a conventionally bred one.

    Their entire argument amounts to a proclamation that their ignorance of microbiology must extend to the entire planet. If they don’t understand it, that automatically means nobody else does either. hence it should be banned.

  40. Aieeee! Food Eugenics!!

  41. Jonathon Harrington has written a comment piece on why he decided to grow GM crops

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jan/28/gm-wales-jonathon-harrington

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