BBC1 Sunday 30 April 2000

(with reference to Hemel Hempstead GM Action Group "Crop’s a Flop Party", 9 April, 2000)

Today on Countryfile the British farmers who say they will now grow genetically modified crops. But will they beat the opposition – and the weather.

John Craven: Countryfile has learned that more farmers have agreed to take part in the government’s controversial field trials of Genetically Modified crops, despite what’s likely to be strong opposition in many of their local communities. And the weather against them as well – in many places the land has been just too wet for planting. Well, over the next few months Country File is going to be following just one of these field trials [Hemel]. Rupert Sega now reports:

Rupert Sega: Across the country 53 sites have now been selected for full scale farm trials of genetically modified crops. That’s 53 communities split over GMs and a lot of farmers facing stiff competition.

Bob Fiddaman (farmer): I’m quite happy that these crops are tested thoroughly so that when they’re available we can say to the consumer ‘I say to you these are as safe as anything else that you could possibly have’.

Local resident 1: Most mothers do not want their children eating GM ingredients and also we don’t know the environmental impact of this or any other GM ingredient.

Local resident 2: While the jury is still out on whether or not this stuff is actually safe to use and eat then I don’t think we should be growing it.

Fiddaman: They will not listen to the discussion. They will not consider the many potentials about it.

Rupert Sega: This is the seed for oil seed rape – and so’s this. They look exactly the same and in fact, the plants they produce will also look exactly the same. But there’s a difference. For while this is conventional oil seed rape, this has been altered, right down at the cellular level. It’s been given and extra gene, which will make it tolerant to a specific herbicide. But that very small difference has caused a huge controversy. The focus of attention is now on the farm trials themselves. Here, near Hemel Hempstead there’s already one crop of GM oil seed rape and farmer Bob Fiddaman has agreed to grow another, why?

Fiddaman: I wanted to take part, partly because I’d been following the technology for a while. But I wanted to take part because I wanted to see that the trials were sound. I mean, none of this trial is going to go into commercial usage, it’s got to be destroyed so there’s no risk in the sense of it ever entering the food chain and this is what most of the public, when I talk to them, say to me, ‘Yes we do actually, we would like to know whether it is true or not and we don’t always like the headlines that appear in the press that a few people are saying that it might or might not be dangerous. Let’s find out.

Rupert Sega: The decision to take part was by the whole Fiddener family. Jenny agreed with her husband; the experiments are important or need to be done, but she worries they may caught in trouble.

Mrs Fiddaman: ‘Yes, my main concern is violence. I don’t mind people saying what they want to say, having their protest meetings and having their picnics down at the farm and all that sort of thing and even if they get in the crop, I mean you can’t stop them. It’s just the violent aspect that worries me’

Rupert Sega: Far from being violent the protests have been peaceful, very peaceful. On the boundry of Bob Fiddemans fields this demonstration and organic picnic has been organised by the Hemel Hempstead GM Action Group. Members of the group say they’re just ordinary people. Diana Harding is a Parish councillor. She’s been living in Hemel Hempstead for 10 years.

Diana Harding: I’m not an activist sort of person and I’m certainly not a political kind of person, but if you find out, there’s somebody that said that ‘all that remains for evil to conquer the world is for good men to do nothing’ and so I count myself as one of the goodies and I have to get on with it I’m afraid.

Rupert Sega: Another member is farrier, Martin Humphrey. He’s fondly known as the mild mannered black smith, but when it comes to GM’s he’s willing make an exception.

Martin Humphrey: I think if you’re meek and mild and polite and just ask for things to be done or not to be done you just get totally ignored. I think the people who shout the loudest get the most attention. It shouldn’t be like that but that’s the way the world works.

Rupert Sega: Rudolph Kirst is not so ordinary. He was a conscientious objector during the Second World War not here but in Germany where he risked his like by refusing to join Hitler’s army. He claims democracy is under attack because of GM’s.

Rudolph Kirst: My experience as a teenager in Germany has been that brain washing a whole nation is possible and that a whole nation would say ‘Heil Hitler’. A similar thing is happening here, trying to make people believe that GM was safe when it’s blatantly not, and I cannot agree with it.

Rupert Sega: The government says the trials are needed to see if GM crops harm the environment. It will be three years at least before commercial crops are grown here, unlike America and China where millions of acres of GM wheat and soya are already cultivated. On the farm there’s another delay – the latest test crop should be in the ground by now, but it’s been too wet. In fact mostof the farmers in the experimental trials have yet to plant their seeds. That could push the commercial development of GMs in Britain back further still.

Fiddaman: The potential for European agriculture to fall very rapidly behind large chunks of the rest of the world is real because we’ve already seen the globelness of food, the way that whatever Australia or South America decides to do effects us tomorrow. So if they have the ability to grow these crops at lower prices and cost to ourselves then if we’re not there we won’t be able to compete and we shall have serious problems.

Rupert Sega: The protesters march around Bob Fiddemins’ fields on a tour of his experimental sites. They stick to the bridleway – well, most of them.

Police shout: ‘scuse me…common back’

A small break away group decides to straight across the fields but the majority stick to the right of way,

Diana Harding: Which is what the Hemel Hempstead group had decided that we should definitely come round the woods because we wouldn’t want to come across private land because we’re a very law abiding group’

Rupert Sega: The rebels relent and return the way they came though they’re fun from repentant.

Local resident 2: We might have got up the farmers’ nose ‘cause he probably doesn’t like large numbers of people turning up and walking all round his land.

Rupert Sega: The final destination and most of the group cannot resist the temptation to take a closer look – only a little damage is done (footage of child ripping tiny bit off).

Fiddaman: People have the right to protest if they deep to the public rights of way and that sort of thing, which this field is right beside. I have no problem with that, they have the right to do that. Let’s just look and see the results that this trial produces. If it actually show there are disbenefits to the environment then I will have to take that result, that’s what the trial is about. If it proves to be harmful to the environment then we will have to stop using the technology, but if we haven’t got that evidence then how can we make a sane discussion just on the basis of ‘oh well, I don’t like GM because it might…

Local resident 1: It’s totally reversible, once the genes cross transfer they can’t be put back again.

Martin Humphrey: If we start mucking around with the building blocks of life, it’s a very dangerous game you’re playing.

John Craven: If the weather gets better and the seeds can be sown, the row over GM crops will, like the plants, probably grow during the summer months.