Posted on behalf of Marian Turner.
Three Greenpeace activists broke into a scientific farm near Canberra overnight on 14 July and destroyed a crop of genetically modified wheat (see photo). The farm belongs to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the Australian national science agency, and the crop was part of research into developing genetically modified crop plants with enhanced nutritional value.
Suzanne Cory, president of the Australian Academy of Sciences, issued a statement in which she condemned the attack. “For an organisation that claims to be dedicated to the protection of the environment, this is an unconscionable act,” she said.
Greenpeace claims the research puts Australia’s $4.7 million wheat industry at risk of ‘inevitable’ contamination. According to a Greenpeace Australia report published on 6 July, the CSIRO trials, which include consumption of the wheat by human volunteers, pose serious health, economic and environmental risks. The organisation says that the CSIRO had rejected their request for documents outlining the health, safety and ethical parameters of its human trials.
But the Australian Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, which oversees experiments using genetically modified organisms, had already approved the trials and rated them as posing a ‘negligible’ risk to humans or the environment.
The wheat crop had been engineered to have a lower glycaemic index and higher fibre content. CSIRO chief director of Plant Industries Jeremy Burdon told ABC news the attack was “a setback to an important global food security program”.
Other Australian scientists expressed their anger at Greenpeace Australia’s actions via Twitter. They used publicity photos released by Greenpeace to accuse the organisation of hypocrisy, saying such attacks are far more likely to lead to the release of GM materials than controlled scientific trials. They asked whether Greenpeace disposed of the destroyed plants in compliance with government regulations. @GreenpeaceAustP has posted an FAQ on the action, and says it will hold a live Q&A session on Monday 18 July at 19.00 Australian Eastern Standard Time.
Image courtesy of Greenpeace.