BBC1 Sunday 30 April 2000
(with reference to Hemel Hempstead GM Action Group "Crops 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 governments controversial field trials of Genetically Modified crops, despite whats 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. Thats 53 communities split over GMs and a lot of farmers facing stiff competition.
Bob Fiddaman (farmer): Im quite happy that these crops are tested thoroughly so that when theyre 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 dont 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 dont 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 sos this. They look exactly the same and in fact, the plants they produce will also look exactly the same. But theres a difference. For while this is conventional oil seed rape, this has been altered, right down at the cellular level. Its 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 theres 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 Id 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, its got to be destroyed so theres 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 dont always like the headlines that appear in the press that a few people are saying that it might or might not be dangerous. Lets 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 dont 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 cant stop them. Its 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 theyre just ordinary people. Diana Harding is a Parish councillor. Shes been living in Hemel Hempstead for 10 years.
Diana Harding: Im not an activist sort of person and Im certainly not a political kind of person, but if you find out, theres 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 Im afraid.
Rupert Sega: Another member is farrier, Martin Humphrey. Hes fondly known as the mild mannered black smith, but when it comes to GMs hes willing make an exception.
Martin Humphrey: I think if youre 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 shouldnt be like that but thats 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 Hitlers army. He claims democracy is under attack because of GMs.
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 its 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 theres another delay the latest test crop should be in the ground by now, but its 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 weve 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 were not there we wont 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 wouldnt want to come across private land because were a very law abiding group
Rupert Sega: The rebels relent and return the way they came though theyre fun from repentant.
Local resident 2: We might have got up the farmers nose cause he probably doesnt 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. Lets 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, thats 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 havent got that evidence then how can we make a sane discussion just on the basis of oh well, I dont like GM because it might
Local resident 1: Its totally reversible, once the genes cross transfer they cant be put back again.
Martin Humphrey: If we start mucking around with the building blocks of life, its a very dangerous game youre 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.