Delivering the answer to GM spuds in Norwich

Saturday 23rd July saw growers and supporters from all over the UK and beyond descend on Norwich to help deliver 40 boxes of organic blight-resistant potatoes to the Sainsbury Laboratory to highlight the re-emergence of open-air field testing, and the £1.7 million of public money being spent in the hunt for a GM blight-resistant spud. Folk came from Wales, France, London, Devon, Lancaster, Manchester, Dorset, Liverpool, Bristol, Yorkshire, Bungay and Norwich itself. You can see photos of the event by clicking on http://www.flickr.com/photos/chickenpea111/sets/72157627303039592/
Backing from celebrity foodie Antonio Carluccio, combined with grassroots organising and the sheer absurdity of the GM research, meant that the event got extensive press coverage (see the links below).

Most of the speeches were conducted in the city centre, next to the farmers' market, and featured the head of policy at the Soil Association, the Director of GM Freeze and a selection of farmers, who explained why GM is a risky, expensive and outdated technology, which is still failing to deliver commercial crops of any benefit to farmers or consumers. Peter Lundgren, a conventional farmer from Lincolnshire, described the ongoing research as "flogging a dead horse". “Why are we throwing good money after bad when we already have six varieties of blight resistant potatoes in the marketplace available for growers? The GM industry makes a great effort to suggest that existing varieties don't taste good.” “Look” he said, pointing to the children in the crowd tucking into hot blight-resistant potatoes being served by the local Greenhouse café. “That's the real test." The crowd of growers, councillors, senior citizens and kids then headed out to the John Innes Centre to deliver the organic spuds under the watchful gaze of several vans of riot cops and a police helicopter.

Prof. Jonathan Jones (or JJ to us…) Field notes from close quarters.

The most unusual aspect of the demo which followed was the intimate approach adopted by the Sainsbury's lab researchers. Normally industry scientists are more than coy about engaging with critics. Stop GM attempted to organise a standard public debate in Bramham near Leeds University a couple of months ago. The village is next to the only other open-air trial site in the country at Leeds University, but Prof. Atkinson refused to attend, saying that he didn't believe adversarial debates inform the public.

Up until 6 days before the Norwich rally Jones was issuing threats against anyone attempting to make a delivery to his door and refusing our offer of a modest platform. So it was curious that JJ brought not only a small army of security, but also what appeared to be a not insignificant part of his research team, his PA, and his wife to the party outside the Sainsbury Lab gates, who all mingled with the crowd and attempted to engage in a variety of ways. Jones gave us some useful insights into what to expect from the industry when cornered. The intro to his speech actually included a substantial 'I used to subscribe to the Ecologist in the 70's you know' section. He also talked a lot about the support he had from local farmers, none of whom were actually in attendance, and he didn’t acknowledge viable alternatives to GM, other than to say that the potatoes that had been delivered were "not popular with consumers" (Unlike, say, GM foods - the only product ever to be universally banned by supermarkets from their own lines in response to mass consumer opposition). He attempted throughout to paint himself as a champion of impartial public science dedicated to reducing chemical use, reducing carbon emissions and feeding the world. This from a man who’s other day job is that of co-founder of Mendel Bio-technology. This is taken from their website: "Mendel is dedicated to being a premier biotechnology company serving large agricultural companies with new genetic and chemical solutions and to becoming the leading seed company serving the bioenergy industry." Those chemical solutions and large agricultural companies he so carefully aligned himself against in Saturday's speech? Mendel has three strategic partners: Monsanto (the largest), BP and Bayer Crop Science.

JJ defending his Monsanto links in the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jul/18/gm-scientist-defends-m...

For more on Jones and his commercial bio-tech and lobby group links see: http://www.powerbase.info/index.php/Jonathan_Jones

Jones is also on the board of directors of the ISAAA, a GM industry lobby group.
ISAAA's annual review of GM crops is often used to promote the technology, as no one else is putting similar data out.

The rally was followed by some fine shapes being thrown around the campfire at the excellent after-party, and day of grassroots organising where we gathered inspiration from our amazing French friends and further evolved campaign ideas started at Gathering Momentum in January. Watch out for our stall and workshops at the Green Gathering in Chepstow this weekend. Drop in and say hello if you’re passing. For more information about non-GM blight-resistant potatoes see www.savari-trust.org

A summary of some of the news coverage-

TV -

ITN : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REZwCEZqoSU&feature=player_embedded
BBC:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-norfolk-14277147
Radio: BBC Norfolk:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/p00hxv3f

Press –

http://www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/2011/07/25/127998/Campaigners-protest-agai...

http://www.edp24.co.uk/news/health/anti_gm_protesters_descend_on_john_in...

http://www.newmarketjournal.co.uk/news/regional/protesters_meet_gm_crop_...

http://www.farmersguardian.com/home/latest-news/norwich-protest-over-gm-...

JJ also got a pre-emptive piece in the on-line Guardian. For those who aren't aware, the Guardian has started receiving Gates Foundation funding. The Microsoft billionaire’s fondness for biotech appears to have rendered several previously impartial organisations slightly blinkered in their engagement with GM issues. Whilst some of the media coverage is undoubtedly unbalanced, the Sainsbury laboratory do a lot of PR anyway, and this rally is the first time in many years that they have been forced to defend rather than just promote their work. At their site they seem to have expended a fair bit of energy in defence as well, with a convenient contamination containing 'tent' over the trial site, and earth barricades at every entrance.

The campaign continues - come and get involved. Contact info@stopgm.org.uk