GREENPEACE has been widely castigated and condemned for destroying scientific trials of Genetically Modified wheat at CSIRO facilities in Canberra last week, using a whipper snipper, but scientists conducting the trials have vowed to push on.
CSIRO plant industry chief, Jeremy Burdon, said the data from the Canberra GM wheat trial had been compromised and would now have to be re-started next year.
But he said research into the technology would forge ahead despite the damage caused by Greenpeace.
“We will continue working in GM wheat as part of our commitment to delivering better crops to Australian farmers and healthier products to consumers,” he said.
“The incident has delayed research that would have provided the Australian public with healthier cereals and farmers with crops better suited to the Australian environment.”
Greenpeace's ill-timed publicity stunt has also been described as “an act of virtual terrorism”, that signals an outright war on Australian agriculture by like-minded radical conservation groups, determined to sabotage the industry’s progress while masquerading under the name of environmental and ethical concerns.
At present, it is unclear what legal censure the organisation will face, following a raid and lock-down on Greenpeace's Sydney headquarters yesterday by the Australian Federal Police, as part of its ongoing investigation into last week’s attack.
What the environmental activists have received however, is the full weight of condemnation from the agricultural and science communities.
Last Thursday, Greenpeace activists dressed in theatrical style protective clothing to create an impression the approved GM wheat trials were a health risk and entered the CSIRO Ginninderra research facility illegally, using the whipper snippers to inflict about $300,000 damage.
The activists also managed to take pictures of their actions during the dawn raid, which accompanied a media release issued on the day, drawing attention to Greenpeace’s GM wheat report.
The GM wheat report was released on July 7 but has been roundly slammed by grains industry representatives and government for failing to consult industry during its production and making a range of misleading claims, including allegations of government negligence in approving the GM wheat trials.
But those claims were immediately scotched by the Gene Technology Regulator last week saying Australia had a “robust and internationally respected regulatory system for gene technology”.
Gene Technology Regulator, Dr Joe Smith, declined to comment on last week’s incident while the issue is under investigation.
Greenpeace spokesperson, James Lorenz, confirmed two activists participated in the publicity stunt but reports have suggested up to four were involved.
Mr Lorenz confirmed the activists entered the CSIRO facility illegally but said it was now up to the police and CSIRO to make a decision on charges being laid.
He refused to name the activists or clarify other details of the raid.
ACT police media said the investigation was ongoing, but likely charges could be trespass and damage to Commonwealth property.
In the meantime security has been increased at the CSIRO Canberra trial site, while other trial sites around the nation have been placed on red alert in anticipation of further criminal damage.
Greenpeace claims its actions were justified because CSIRO had refused to release information about the trials, under a recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request.
But Mr Burdon said that information had been publicly available on the CSIRO and Office of the Gene Technology Regulator’s websites since 2008.
He said CSIRO was currently assisting Greenpeace to modify the terms of the FOI request to be more specific so it can be actioned appropriately.
Shadow Agriculture Minister, John Cobb, was joined by a range of critics, including other politicians, scientists, farmers and farming groups, condemning the Greenpeace activists’ actions, saying they should be prosecuted “to the full extent of the law”.
They also slammed comments attributed to Canberra Greens MLA, Shane Rattenbury, understood to be a former Greenpeace staff member, who said on ABC radio that he condoned the Greenpeace activists’ actions and that sometimes the end justified the means.
The Gene Technology Act 2000, under which the trials are conducted, sets out a maximum penalty of two year imprisonment for anyone found guilty of damaging or interfering with approved GM trials and associated facilities.
“There’s never been any indication GM’s have caused health issues,” Mr Cobb said.
“Even if they were, this trial is being totally done under licence, legally and I hope the perpetrators are prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
“And if any elected member of the Australian Parliament at State or Federal level does condone this type of behaviour they should seriously consider their fitness for office.”
Victorian Democratic Labor Party Senator, John Madigan, said the act of destruction by Greenpeace “extremists” exposed them as “criminally-minded vandals”.
He said while the DLP was cautious about GM modified foods, they respected the scientific community’s right to carry out lawful experiments, free from sabotage and free from intimidation.
“This extremist group aims at shutting down debate and excluding from the public forum all views which they judge unacceptable,” Senator Madigan said in demanding full payment of compensation in addition to appropriate criminal penalties.
“Their pretence of environmentalism is nothing more than a cover for dangerous political radicalism with unpleasant fascist overtones.”
Asked to comment on whether or not Greenpeace should be made to pay for the increased security at GM wheat trials sites, sparked by last week’s publicity stunt, Mr Lorenz also declined to comment.
He also declined to comment when asked how Greenpeace would react if farmers and pro-GM supporters entered its offices at the crack of dawn and started shredding documents, such as the draft GM wheat report, wearing theatrical style clothing.
He said all “sensible questions” were answered in a pre-prepared Q&A on the internet, relating to the illegal destruction of the CSIRO’s scientific trials.
Greenpeace anti-GM campaigner Laura Kelly said in the media release, “We had no choice but to take action to bring an end to this experiment”.
Greenpeace activist, Heather McCabe, said, “I'm sick of being treated like a dumb Mum who doesn’t understand the science”.
Mr Lorenz also refused to respond to allegations Ms McCabe is employed by Greenpeace.
The WA based Pastoralists and Graziers Association said the agricultural industry needed stronger protection from the recent “rise of extremism”.
PGA Executive Committee member, Gary McGill, said the Greenpeace name was a misnomer and suggested they should actually be called, “red-war”, while describing destruction of the scientific trials as “an act of virtual terrorism”.
Mr McGill said farmers and agricultural industry members needed a government that could stand up to acts of extremism, such as Greenpeace destroying approved GM wheat trials.
He said farmers also needed to be on “red alert” against the rising incidence of actions which threatened their livelihoods, including the over-zealous attitude of animal rights groups in wanting to close down the live export trade and ban mulesing, as a means of addressing animal welfare issues, but with no consideration for the social and economic impacts on rural communities and farmers
“The only way to handle these groups is to stand up to their extremism,” he said.
“There’s no doubt they have other agendas and are blatantly determined to see all normal farming activities in Australia cease.
“They may seem green on the outside but they are really red in the centre.
“They have no conscience about taking the law into their own hands and doing whatever it takes to forge ahead with their agenda to run down agriculture in this country, as we know it.
“Farmers and farming groups need to wake up, get their heads out of the sand and stand up to this kind of bullying before it gets too late.”
Agrifood Awareness Australia CEO, Paula Fitzgerald said it was hard to believe Mr Rattenbury, would condone the illegal behaviour of breaking and entering, by Greenpeace.
In a statement responding to Senator Madigan’s statements, Mr Lorenz said the Australian government had “refused to protect Australians from harm caused by the release of unsafe genetically modified wheat”.
He said CSIRO’s “closeness with foreign GM companies has created a clear conflict of interest within the CSIRO”.
“CSIRO’s closeness to these GM corporations compromises their ability to make decisions in Australia’s public interest and has resulted in the release of unsafe genetically modified wheat into the Australian environment.”
Ms Fitzgerald said Greenpeace’s response and justification for destroying the CSIRO trials were “ridiculous and Disney-like”.
OTHER farming groups condemned the Greenpeace attack, including Grain Producers Australia, the NSW Farmers Association, the Victorian Farmers Federation, AgForce in QLD and the Producers Forum. The Network of Concerned Farmers and other anti-GM groups, issued media statements warning of potential “contamination” from GM wheat.
A damning chorus THE Australian Academy of Science condemned Greenpeace’s “destruction of a scientific trial…..in the strongest possible terms”.
The Academy’s President, Professor Suzanne Cory, said this kind of “mindless vandalism” against science was “completely unacceptable”.
Professor Cory said scientists must be free to conduct their work without fear or favour, which was also supported by Senator Madigan.
“For an organisation that claims to be dedicated to the protection of the environment, this is an unconscionable act,” Professor Cory said.
PROFESSOR Mark Tester, a plant scientist at the University of Adelaide, said he was “deeply disappointed” at Greenpeace’s attempt to gain publicity for their campaign against GM wheat.
He said GM technology was not a magic bullet but does offer new opportunities to improve the quality and quantity of wheat.
“One cannot make any generalisations about GM or any other technology – it all depends on how it is used,” he said.
“It’s like saying that all nuclear technology is bad and then getting radiotherapy to treat cancer.
“Some applications would be bad but others have the chance to do some real good for the world.
“One cannot say that all GM is good or that all GM is bad but it is one of many tools in our toolbox to try and help protect the environment and feed people around the world.
“We have been modifying the genomes of plants for thousands of years using breeding technologies and continue to do so, giving them the properties that we desire.
“Previously we have been crossing plants and hoping for the best – now we are able to selectively choose the genes that we want and discard the ones that we don’t.
“Genetic modification may not solve all the problems, but with growing populations and climate change causing more extreme weather events, then it doesn’t make sense to ignore this potentially useful tool.”
CROPLIFE Australia CEO, Matthew Cossey, heavily criticised the Greenpeace activists, saying the vandalism of GM trials was “nothing but a short sighted attempt to garner publicity”.
“This is a dark day for Australian science and there can be no justification for this act,” he said.
“Reckless interference of this kind only delays valuable and essential scientific research.
“It is hypocritical of Greenpeace to demand that governments act on the science of climate change and at the same time demand that government completely ignore and act against the science of biotechnology.
“Through these actions Greenpeace have reduced themselves to a 21st Century equivalent of the flat earth society, with their luddite destruction of scientific trials.
“Regulatory decisions need to be based on proven science, not on Greenpeace’s deception, falsehoods and half truths.”