A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

The law and GM crop protests.....

"This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast - man's laws, not god's - and if you cut them down ... do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?" (Attributed to Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt's 'A Man for All Seasons', 1966 Film).

I am relieved for the future of civil society in this country to read the (now revised) BBC News Online Report (November 4 ): 'Blow for anti-GM protesters'. "Four GM crop protesters were wrongly cleared of trespass after a protest at a crop trial, appeal judges have ruled. Two judges at the High Court in London overturned a district judge's decision to acquit the four..."

"The district judge was wrong to accept the protesters' defence that they were protecting the environment, said the judges."

"The four cannot be tried again, but GM protesters will not be able to use the same defence in future trials."

I expect that there will follow a repeat episode of 'Much Whinging in the Marsh' from some elements of the ever-lachrymose, sanctimonious, and self-pitying green movement about the 'injustice' involved. I can't see this. One of the finest men I ever knew (sadly now dead), a founder member of CND, would have had no time for it. His view was simple; he believed passionately in free debate and non-violent direct action, but, if he was arrested (and later jailed, as he was), he calmly, and with immense dignity, accepted that this was the price he must pay for his chosen values. His respect for the law was exemplary. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, he was immensely persuasive through his quiet courage. He was also the kindest of men in argument, and one who would have had no truck whatsoever with violent protest and aggravated trespass, ad personam abuse, or, I suspect, with physical damage to crops and farm equipment.

Since 1999, 'Sense About Science' report that there have been at least 28 incidents of serious vandalism against basic crop trials, with around 52 against the government's Field Scale Evaluations (FSEs) of GM crops. The nadir was probably plumbed when an investigation into crop drought resistance for poverty-stricken sub-Saharan Africa was destroyed (I trust by mistake!)

We are immensely lucky in the UK to live in a country with the secret vote, an independent judiciary, and a relatively free press (not to mention, of course, blogging!). Lobbying, and peaceful, non-violent direct action, will also always have a place in our 'constitution'. I could well see even me protesting against the claims of some 'organic' and health food shops! But there is no place at all in such an open, civil society for aggravated trespass and violent action, either against people or property. Where this occurs, the full force of the law should apply, without fear or favour. Otherwise, we will soon witness the collapse of civil society, with every obsessive and self-righteous pressure group having a temper tantrum and believing that it has the right, unpunished, to resort to aggravated trespass, vandalism, and violence, whether pro-or anti-GM, pro- or anti-abortion, pro- or anti-the death penalty, pro- or anti-hunting, pro- or anti-tax on petrol, and ad nauseam. If we allow this, we open Pandora's box. And the left (and I am mildly of that persuasion) should always remember that violent protest is not just their prerogative - witness the attacks on clinics for women in the US by 'moralists' on the right. And soon there could be such protests over hunting and petrol taxes.

Many people disagree strongly with the actions of certain green protest groups; does that give them the right to trash the offices of such groups or chain themselves to their PCs? Of course not. But if they did, I do hope that they would accept the consequences of their actions.

I would also add that crop vandalism denies me my democratic right to the results of properly-run and approved scientific trials. Philip. [Note: This blog has been slighted amended (at 2.05 pm) after a change in the original BBC report.]

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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