© 2012 Landes Bioscience.
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of this decade. Strategically planned GMO field trial destruc-
tion in Europe was initiated on June 17, 1997 at Saint Georges
d’Espéranches (Isère, France), where a group of a radical farmers’
union and “Green” activists cut down an experimental rapeseed
trial belonging to Monsanto. However, GMO destruction has
not been limited to trials implemented by private companies, nor
to outdoor experiments.
To the best of my knowledge, no official compilation of
destruction of GMO trials from academic or governmental
research institutes in Europe is available. The purpose of this
article is to list them in a factual manner and to highlight their
main characteristics. About 80 acts of vandalism against aca-
demic or governmental research on GMOs are identified, mainly
in 4 countries; namely Germany, France, the United Kingdom
and Switzerland, and examples are also provided for Italy and
Belgium. The general conclusions that can be drawn from these
acts are also discussed.
www.landesbioscience.com GM Crops and Food: Biotechnology in Agriculture and the Food Chain 1
GM Crops and Food: Biotechnology in Agriculture and the Food Chain 3:4, 1-7; October/November/December 2012; © 2012 Landes Bioscience
Destruction of public and governmental
experiments of GMO in Europe
Field trial vandalism was sporadic before the end of the 1990s but
became a phenomenon with important consequences at the end
Academic and Governmental Research on GMOs
Has Been the Target of Numerous Acts of Vandalism
in Europe—An Overview
France. Field trials of two teams from the Institut National de
la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), implemented at Gaudiès
*Correspondence to: Marcel Kuntz; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Submitted: 04/17/12; Revised: 06/05/12; Accepted: 06/22/12
The purpose of this article is to compile the destruction of
GMO trials from academic or governmental research institutes
in Europe, in a factual manner and to highlight their main
characteristics. About 80 acts of vandalism against academic
or governmental research on GMOs are identified, mainly in 4
countries; namely France, Germany, the United Kingdom and
Switzerland. Examples are also provided for Italy and Belgium.
The general conclusions that can be drawn from these acts are
Laboratory Physiologie Cellulaire Végétale (CEA/CNRS/INRA/Université Joseph Fourier, Grenoble); Grenoble, France
†The author is a Director of Research at CNRS but is not the spokesman of the institution for which he works.
Keywords: academic research, anti-GM0 activists, anti-science, field trial, risk assessment, transgenic plants, vandalism
This manuscript has been published online, prior to printing. Once the issue is complete and page numbers have been assigned, the citation will change accordingly.
(Ariège) were destroyed on June 2, 1999 and on April 13, 2000.
These field trials were intended to evaluate the possibility of out-
crossing between rapeseed and related wild species.
CIRAD (Centre for international cooperation in agronomic
research and development) was attacked on June 5, 1999. A
group led by the anti-globalization activist José Bové penetrated a
glasshouse in Montpellier and destroyed cultures of rice and also
computers. Posters stating “Let’s unmask the researchers. Let’s
empty laboratories” were displayed (Fig. 1).
A group calling itself “Researchers in the Night” proceeded,
in the night and early morning of June 25–26 2000, to destroy
experiments of diverse transgenic plants (tomatoes, bananas,
tobacco, arabidopsis) in an INRA glasshouse near Toulouse.
CIRAD’s only experimental culture of GM coffee, planted at
Sinnamary (French Guyana), was destroyed on August 30, 2004.
The objective of this trial was to study the resistance to a leaf
borer parasite and also the possible impact on the environment of
these plants. Guyana had been chosen because of the absence of
surrounding cultures of coffee trees.
During the weekend of September 5, 2009, a field trial of
GM grapevine, intended to resist the grapevine fanleaf virus,
was plundered by an individual at the INRA center in Colmar
(Alsace), despite an ongoing process of dialog with stakehold-
ers (including environmental organizations), which was meant to
“co-construct” this experiment.1 The same trial was implemented
again in Colmar, but on Sunday August 15, 2010, 62 persons,
after having cut the fence, entered the experimental plot and tore
out the 70 vines. The damage was estimated at €1,200,000.2 It
should be noted that the trial involved an obsolete virus-resistant
technology and had no commercial purpose. It was considered
(even by some GMO opponents) as a “confined outdoor” experi-
ment since several measures rendered transgene dissemination
impossible (e.g., only stocks were transgenic, flowers were cut,
One can add to this list of destroyed public interest research.
(1) The GEVES (a joint center for study and control of plant
varieties and seeds), a public interest organization: in the evening
of July 22, 2003, in Guyancourt (Yvelines, near Paris), an anti-
GMO group plundered a plot of land intended to check trans-
genic corn varieties. Similar acts were perpetrated on July 16,
2001 on a maize plot.
(2) Two field trials run by Arvalis (an applied research organism
financed and managed by producers) in collaboration with State
© 2012 Landes Bioscience.
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Germany. On the night and early morning of March 21–22,
2002, unknown persons destroyed test fields sown with GM
rapeseed in Dahnsdorf (Brandenburg). Several trials of the
Kleinmachnow Federal agency for Biology have been affected,
some of which were part of a safety research program.3
On the night of 23rd June 2003, a field trial of the Department
of Plant Breeding of the Technische Universität München
(TUM), planted with GM potatoes on the Roggenstein estate
near Munich was destroyed. The field was to be used to propa-
gate potatoes with a higher carotenoid content as part of a project
funded by the Federal Ministry of Research (BMBF).4
In the early hours of June 22, 2004, unknown perpetrators
destroyed completely a field of GM potatoes. The Max Planck
Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology in Golm near Potsdam
had been conducting basic trials of starch formation in potatoes.5
In June 2006, activists partially destroyed a field trial (10
m2) with genetically modified barley being conducted by
the University of Giessen as part of safety research. Two days
later, a trial field of GM maize was destroyed in Nürtingen
(Baden-Württemberg). Nürtingen-Geislingen University
(HfWU) was conducting a field trial in collaboration with the
Bundessortenamt (Federal Office of Plant Varieties) on a one-
In July 2006, opponents of genetic engineering destroyed
parts of a field trial of GM maize near Forchheim (Karlsruhe
district). The site, which includes a plot of GM maize measur-
ing about three hectares, was part of the coexistence research
2 GM Crops and Food: Biotechnology in Agriculture and the Food Chain Volume 3 Issue 4
program of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and
Consumer Protection (BMELV).7
Several Bt maize fields had already been destroyed earlier in
the year, including cultivar trials being conducted by the Federal
Office of Plant Varieties in Dachwig (Thüringen) and Ladenburg
(Baden-Württemberg) and trial fields that were part of biosafety
On the night of June 12, 2007, unknown perpetrators forced
their way onto the trial field and systematically destroyed some
of the barley plants belonging to the University of Giessen. They
had been planted on the research station site belonging to the
Institute for Phytopathology and Applied Zoology at the end of
April. They had been produced from two barley lines developed
in the USA, one of which contains an active chitinase gene from
a soil fungus. Chitinases break down chitin, which is also a com-
ponent of fungal cell walls. The second line contains a gene from
a soil bacterium producing glucanase. The gene was transferred
to barley to improve its brewing properties and to make it more
easily digestible as animal feed. However, glucanase also has fun-
Trial fields belonging to the University of Giessen had already
been destroyed at the end of May 2007. In these fields the
Institute for Plant Breeding was conducting value tests on behalf
of the Federal Office of Plant Varieties with numerous maize
varieties, including varieties of GM maize MON810.8
In a repeat of the previous year’s events, parts of a trial field
with GM maize in Forchheim (Baden-Württemberg) were once
again destroyed. The field was part of the coexistence research
program funded by the BMELV, which is investigating practical
questions of coexistence between GM and conventional maize
farming. During the night of Friday June 22, 2007, anti-biotech-
nology activists forced their way into the field and trampled some
of the maize plants.9
On April 21, 2008, in Gatersleben, radical opponents of
genetic engineering destroyed a GM wheat field trial from the
Leibniz Institute for Crop Research (IPK). This experimentation
was planned to test various approaches to increase the protein
content of wheat grain and to improve the feed quality.
On June 23–24, 2008, in Mariensee (Niedersachsen):
destruction of a field trial of the Julius Kühn Institute (JKI)
devoted to coexistence studies. Unknown offenders with hand
scythes destroyed the entire trial (2 hectares), so that is no lon-
ger possible to continue the trial. The damage was estimated at
On July 4, 2008, in Rheinstetten (Baden Württemberg),
unknown perpetrators destroyed a fenced trial of the
(Agricultural Technology Centre). The official coexistence
experiment should have provided new data on outcrossing behav-
ior. Conventional maize plants on an area of 1,600 m2 were tram-
pled or cut down. The damage was estimated at 30,500 €.
Also of note in 2008.
(1) Seven fields were occupied that year (4 planned for aca-
(2) March 31–April 10, 2008, in Giessen (Hessen): A
GM barley field trial at the University of Giessen, occupied
Offices, INRA, CETIOM and environmentalist organisations,
within the frame of the “Biovigilance Committee” implemented
by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Environment:
6,000 m2 of GM maize were destroyed on the night of October
3–4, 2004 by unknown perpetrators near Dijon.
Figure 1. Anti-science poster displayed in the CIRAD glasshouse vandal-
ized on 5th June 1999.
© 2012 Landes Bioscience.
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GM potatoes, barley and wheat.
(7) On July 2, 2009, again in Groß Lüsewitz (Mecklenburg-
Vorpommern), unknown perpetrators attacked officially
approved field trials of the Biovativ GmbH. By spraying an
unidentified liquid, they partially destroyed a GM barley experi-
ment and fully destroyed GM potato and GM wheat experi-
ments. A security guard was injured during the attack.
Also of note in 2009.
(1) Four fields were occupied (one planned for academic
(2) GM opponents sent threatening mails to leading scientists
with defamatory content.
(3) GM opponents hindered the sowing of improved Amflora
potatoes in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern by catapulting organic
potatoes onto the field.
(4) GM opponents beat and injured a security guard in
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern during his attempt to discourage
them from perpetrating further destruction.
Of note in 2010.
(5) The number of field destructions has dropped in Germany
in 2010 and no public GM trial was affected. This is explained
by the fact that a) many companies, as well as public institu-
tions, have reduced or even stopped their projects (voluntarily or
because of political pressure), b) when carried through, the trials
were guarded at extremely high cost. The number of GM field
trials (public and private) decreased to 25, compared with 80 tri-
als performed in 2007.
www.landesbioscience.com GM Crops and Food: Biotechnology in Agriculture and the Food Chain 3
(6) For the first time in Germany, a GMO opponent was sen-
tenced to jail for field destruction (a barley trial of the University
of Giessen in 2006).
(7) During the night and early morning of July 8–9, 2011,
at Gross Lüsewitz, near Rostock, on a Biovativ site; a company
implementing field trials, half a dozen masked activists armed
with bats forced their way into the field and brutally overpowered
the guard. The potatoes destroyed were producing cyanophicin,
a raw material for plastic manufacture. The destroyed wheat was
developed by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ)
in Zurich and is resistant to certain fungal diseases. Part of the
destroyed trials belonged to a joint project involving SMEs and
universities and were funded by the German Federal Ministry of
Education and Research (BMBF).13
(8) During the night of July 10, 2011, during a similar attack,
a dozen masked and armed activists destroyed potato and wheat
field plots at an exhibition garden (Schaugarten) founded by the
Government and companies, at the Biotechfarm in Üplingen (Saxe-
Anhalt), and open to public. This farm was under constant threat
of activists during the year 2011. In a press statement dated May 9th
2012, the agricultural organization InnoPlanta (www.innoplanta.
de) announced that its Schaugarten will not take place this year.
United Kingdom. Among other destructions, on July 7, 2007,
a field trial of the National Institute for Agriculture and Botany
concerning GM potatoes developed by BASF to resist a fungus
called late potato blight (estimated to cost the global industry
£3bn/year) was destroyed in Cambridgeshire.
On June 5, 2008, a field trial of the Centre for Plant Sciences,
University of Leeds, concerning potatoes developed to control
nematodes (a pest that costs British farmers around £65 million
a year) was destroyed.14
Farm-scale evaluations (FSE) involved 256 plantings of GM
crops in England after January 2000, in addition to the first three
sites planted in the autumn of 1999.15 During the 2000–2005
period, 41 plantings were vandalised and, of these, only eight
were terminated while 33 continued. The list of vandalised sites
is presented in Table 1.
On May 20, 2012, an individual broke into the Rothamsted
Research center (Harpenden, Hertfordshire; www.rothamsted.
ac.uk) where a trial of GM wheat was underway and caused sig-
nificant, random property damage. This GM wheat produces a
pheromone (normally emitted by aphids when they feel threat-
ened) in order to deter aphids without pesticide use. The trial has
also been under threat of destruction from an anti-GM group
calling itself “Take the Flour Back” which declined an invitation
from Rothamsted to discuss with scientists. On May 27, 2012,
the planned destruction of the trial was prevented by an Order to
restrict public access to land at Rothamsted Research, signed by
the St Albans District Council (valid only during the weekend)
and enforced by the police that day.
Switzerland. During the night and early morning of June
23–24, 2010, at Pully, an experimental transgenic wheat field
underwent an act of sabotage (herbicide spraying). Furthermore,
a renowned plant scientist, on the night and early morning of
June 28–29, 2010 suffered damage to possessions at his pri-
vate residence near Zurich, an act of vandalism claimed by an
in 2006 and 2007, was regained. There was property dam-
age to fences and implements, verbal attacks against members
of the Institute and destruction of bee-hives. In April, the
University of Giessen abandoned plans for two small field tri-
als of insect-resistant GM maize after protests by activists and
(3) Early April 2008, GM opponents occupied a trial field
at HfWU. The Nürtingen-Geislingen university management
bowed to pressure from the protest groups and announced that
all trials of GM plants would be stopped for the next five years.10
The HfWU had been studying GM plants since 1996 and agron-
omists have had to contend with the partial destruction of their
research projects almost every year since.11
(4) As in 2007, in 2008 GM opponents bound objects (metal
bars and bottles filled with concrete and metal parts) to maize
plants to prevent their harvest. In two incidents of this kind,
extensive damage was caused to a combine harvester.
(5) On June 1, 2009, 270 apple trees on a trial site owned by
the Institute for Breeding Research on Horticultural and Fruit
Crops of the JKI in Dresden-Pillnitz were destroyed by unknown
intruders. Most of the trees were GM plants being grown in tubs
in a special safety tent under field-like conditions. It is the first
time in Germany that protesters have destroyed plants that were
not being grown in a field.12
(6) On May 17, 2009, in Groß Lüsewitz (Mecklenburg-
Vorpommern), opponents destroyed large field trials with GM
plants on the experimental site of the AgroBioTechnikum. These
are apparently the same activists who occupied the experimental
plots in April. This field trial concerned biosecurity research on
© 2012 Landes Bioscience.
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Herefordshire - Preston Wynne
West Yorkshire - Bramham
4 GM Crops and Food: Biotechnology in Agriculture and the Food Chain Volume 3 Issue 4
on June 23, 2009 at the Federal Station for Agronomic Research
(Agroscope Pully-Candaux near Lausanne).17
Destruction in other countries. It is beyond the scope of this
review to list all acts of vandalism perpetrated in all EU countries.
anti-GMO group which declared itself “inspired by the Pully
sabotage.” These acts followed attacks in previous years against
transgenic wheat fields, on June 13, 2008 at the Federal Station
for Agronomic Research (Agroscope Reckenholz-Tänikon) and
Table 1. Vandalism against farm-scale evaluations in England
Local Village / Town or Parish Reglementary (Part B) consent reference n°Crop type Vandalism consequences
Norfolk - Great Moulton 01/R33/11 Oilseed rape (w) Trial terminated
Dorset - Hilton 00/R33/09 Oilseed rape (s)Trial continued
Norfolk - Bradenham99/R22/16Sugar beet Trial continued
Norfolk - Raynham (East Raynham)99/R22/16Sugar beet Trial continued
Dorset - Bincombe* Forage maize Trial terminated
Dorset - Bincombe* Forage maize Trial terminated
Essex - Weeley* Forage maizeTrial continued
Leeds-Bramham cum Oglethorpe* Forage maize Trial continued
Norfolk - Horningtoft* Forage maize Trial continued
Norfolk - Old Buckenham* Forage maizeTrial continued
Shropshire - Hinstock* Forage maize Trial continued
Warrington - Lymm* Forage maize Trial continued
Shropshire - Whitchurch* Forage maize Trial continued
Norfolk - Winfarthing01/R33/11 Oilseed rape (w) Trial continued
Oxfordshire - Hinton Waldrist01/R33/11 Oilseed rape (w)Trial continued
Warwickshire - Long Marston01/R33/11 Oilseed rape (w)Trial continued
Durham - Hutton Magna00/R33/9 Oilseed rape (s)Trial continued
North Lincolnshire - Low Burnham00/R33/9 Oilseed rape (s) Trial continued
Cheshire - Broomedge* Forage maize Trial continued
Berkshire - Shinfieid* Forage maize Trial continued
Dorset - Broadway* Forage maize Trial continued
Essex - Wivenhoe* Forage maize Trial continued
Essex - Alresford* Forage maize Trial continued
*Forage maize Trial continued
*Forage maize Trial continued
Norfolk - North Tuddenham* Forage maize Trial continued
Worcestershire - Crowle* Forage maize Trial continued
Nottinghamshire - Meden Vale 00/R33/07Oilseed rape (w) Trial continued
Warwickshire - Harbury 00/R33/07Oilseed rape (w) Trial continued
Gloucestershire - Chipping Campden98/R19/18 Oilseed rape (s)Trial continued
Gloucestershire - Kempley98/R19/18 Oilseed rape (s)Trial continued
Hertfordshire - Piccots End98/R19/18 Oilseed rape (s)Trial continued
North Yorkshire - Hutton Magna, Durham98/R19/18Oilseed rape (s) Trial continued
Norfolk - West Raynham 98/R22/12Sugar beetTrial terminated
Suffolk - Kenny Hill 98/R22/12Sugar beetTrial terminated
Dorset - Over Compton*Forage maizeTrial continued
Essex - Wivenhoe*Forage maize Trial continued
Herefordshire - Preston Wynne (Rosem)* Forage maize Trial continued
Hertfordshire - Harpenden* Forage maize Trial terminated
North Yorkshire - Bramham* Forage maize Trial continued
Hertfordshire - Piccots End98/R19/18Oilseed rape (w) Trial terminated
* The forage maize crops had a Part C (for cultivation) consent, ref.C/F/95/12–07. w, winter; s, spring. Source: Secretary of State for Environment, Food
and Rural Affairs and UK Parliament.16
© 2012 Landes Bioscience.
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force of 86 was present. The activists agreed that around 30 peo-
ple would try to destroy the trial without violence and would
offer no resistance to arrest. But after the arrest of some individu-
als, almost all the others invaded the trial premises. A number of
police officers got wounded in the subsequent violence. Finally,
18 people succeeded in getting through the fences and 7 of these
were able to reach the potatoes and destroy 15% of the trial.
www.landesbioscience.com GM Crops and Food: Biotechnology in Agriculture and the Food Chain 5
night, whereas in France responsibility was generally openly
claimed in front of the convened press.
Destructions were not limited to field experiments since in
some instances vandalism of confined experiments occurred. It
seems possible that outdoor experiments are more frequently hit
simply because they attract more attention since their location is
specifically published each year. Thus, this openness (imposed
by law) has not been accompanied by adequate measures from
the political authorities to prevent acts of vandalism that are
facilitated by this openness. One exception being the recent
Rothamsted wheat trial (see above) for which local public author-
ities emitted an Order to restrict public access to the site over the
weekend of the planned destruction. Then, following an applica-
tion by the Lawes Agricultural Trust, the landowner, and other
charities, the High Court has granted Rothamsted Research a
civil injunction to protect its field trial.
Data obtained in Switzerland indicate that for each euro spent
on GMO field research, an additional 78 cents were spent on
security, 31 cents on biosafety and 17 cents on government regu-
latory supervision.22 The authors concluded that further trials are
unlikely in such a context. In the UK, the Rothamsted wheat trial
is part of a five-year project funded by the BBSRC. The value of
the whole project is £732,000 and an additional £180,000 was
provided by the BBSRC for security measures.
During the inquiries which lead to this compilation, no evi-
dence was obtained that destruction can be prevented by dialog
initiated by scientists. This is illustrated by the above-mentioned
destruction in Wetteren (Belgium) and in Rothamsted. It is
also noteworthy that the destructions of the Colmar (France)
grapevine trial was preceded and accompanied by a long “pub-
lic engagement” process.1,2 These factual observations give credit
to the description of radical opposition to GMOs as a “new
Field trial of GMOs is now virtually impossible in many
European countries.19 For example, in France, which hosted the
highest number of trials in Europe (a total of 590), no request for
any new trial has been submitted by academic laboratories nor
private companies since 2008.
When interviewed by Le Figaro newspaper on March 23,
2010,24 in answer to the question: “GMO research is flourish-
ing in the United States, China… In France, INRA [Institut
National de la Recherche Agronomique] researchers are discour-
aged. Is it wise to leave this research field to non-European coun-
tries?” Mrs. Valérie Pécresse, French Minister of Research until
2011, answered: “We have a duty of research on GMOs. It is a
matter of national sovereignty. Unfortunately, most researchers
have been discouraged by anti-GMO activists destroying field
trials.” Mrs. Pécresse was certainly right as to the negative effect
that field trial vandalism has had on European research, but it is
also quite often the national or local government attitude which
has discouraged researchers in the EU,25 without forgetting the
1999 de facto moratorium on new authorization and the ille-
gal ban on GMO cultivation imposed by several governments
(including the French one to whom Mrs. Pécresse belonged) on
the ground of controversial use of scientific reports.26,27
In some countries, few (or no) destructions have occurred sim-
ply because few (or no) trials were implemented. This is the case
for Italy, for example, where no new outdoor trials have been
approved since 2002. Nevertheless, on 7th April 2009, a research
station located at Cà Tron di Roncade, near Treviso, was attacked
by a group of around 50 masked people. They wrote slogans on
some greenhouse windows and smashed others, and placed minor
explosives in adjacent electrical boxes.18
This Italian Biosafety Outstation of the International Centre
for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB; http://
www.icgeb.org/) was set up to study potential risks concerning
GM crops and plant pathogens of importance to the developing
world. It opened in 2003 with the financial support of a private
foundation and involved academic researchers from several coun-
tries. The Station recently closed, officially because of financial
difficulties of the funding organism.19
In Belgium, at Wetteren, on Sunday 29th May 2011, a move-
ment calling themself the “Belgian Field Liberation Movement,”
assisted by French activists, damaged an experimental field of
GM potato resistant to late blight (caused by Phytophthora infes-
tans) which had been implemented by a consortium consisting
of the University of Gent, ILVO, VIB (Flemish Institute for
Biotechnology) and the University College of Gent.20 Consortium
scientists had attempted to dialog with the activists on their 7th
of May “gene spotting” activity. A broad group of scientists then
organized themselves, using the motto “Save Our Science” in an
attempt to call upon the protection of this field research. On the
29th May about 300 people gathered to protect the field trial site,
while about 350 people joined the opponents’ meeting. A police
What are the Lessons?
In this article, around 80 acts of vandalism against academic or
governmental research on GMOs are presented, mainly involv-
ing 4 countries; namely Germany, France, the United Kingdom
and Switzerland, but also Belgium and Italy. This is a vast under
representation of the total number of GMO field destructions
that have taken place across the EU since destructions of trials
implemented by private companies are not listed here. Germany
alone has had more than 100 acts of vandalism.21
The vast majority of destroyed academic or governmental
experiments were field evaluations designed to assess the safety of
GMOs. Although GMO opponents often use an anti-corporate
stance, as this article demonstrates all GMO research is obviously
targeted, including experiments dedicated to risk assessment.
Therefore, one has to conclude that GMO opponents want to
stop the research itself (see Fig. 1), whatever its aim.
It can be noted that in Germany for example these acts were
mainly perpetrated by unidentified persons, often during the
© 2012 Landes Bioscience.
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aim to discourage researchers to intervene in the GM debate. In
the absence of adequate measures by the political authorities, this
fear strategy appears to be highly successful. For example since
the harassment and threats against the coordinator of a report by
the French Academy of Science on GMOs published on the end
of 2002,28 the French Academy has not written another report on
this topic. It is noteworthy that violent anti-GMO acts are not
listed as “terrorism” and not even as “extremism” in the Europol
annual TE-SAT report (whereas several “animal right” activists
are), a single exception is listed in the 2008 report,29 at the initia-
tive of Portugal after a maize field destruction in 2007.
Police forces rarely attempt to stop destruction. This is espe-
cially the case in France, where most destructions were announced
publicly in advance, giving, in theory, adequate time for police
forces to anticipate. The notable exception is September 5, 2004
in Solomiac (Gers) where gendarmes used tear gas when con-
fronted with activists determined to destroy a Monsanto maize
field trial, and the confrontation resulted in minor injuries for
2 demonstrators and 10 gendarmes. It should be mentioned
that the activists had received the supporting visit of Philippe
Martin, from the Socialist Party and Chair of the local Council
(Conseil Général du Gers) that morning. Similarly, on 25th
September 2004, at the site of another Monsanto maize field trial
at Valdivienne (Vienne, France), activist confrontation with gen-
darmes resulted in around 15 demonstrators being slightly injured
(one was briefly taken to hospital). Both attempts by the public
authorities gave the activists the opportunity of new rhetorical
6 GM Crops and Food: Biotechnology in Agriculture and the Food Chain Volume 3 Issue 4
arguments (e.g., “militarized GMOs,” “disproportionate police
violence,” etc.). It can also be mentioned that police forces were
outmaneuvered in Wetteren on 29th May 2011, again with inju-
ries; while at Rothamsted on 27th May 2012, the police were
more successful in preventing destruction, without any injuries.
It is out of the scope of this article to report in detail on the
judicial condemnation of activists. However, the Colmar trial is
worth mentioning since it was not only an experiment recognized
as safe by some members of the “Green” lobby but had also been
accompanied by an extensive dialog experiment with stakeholders
(see above). The perpetrator convicted of the first destruction was
given a suspended one month prison sentence, a 2000 € fine and
was ordered to pay 50 000 € in damages to INRA. The 60 people
convicted of the second destruction each received a suspended
two-month prison sentence and were ordered to collectively pay
57 000 € in damages to INRA. Those previously convicted for
field trial destruction were each sentenced to an additional 1200
€ fine, without imprisonment. Such fines are not dissuasive since
French field trial destroyers have regrouped themselves as an
organization (legal in France) receiving money officially from
various sources (organic businesses, various associations, fairs,
selling of books, DVDs, etc.) to finance their fines. In Germany,
few perpetrators were identified and court penalties were also lax,
although in extreme cases two persons were sentenced to prison.
Belgium is also worth mentioning since there has been an appar-
ent U-turn in political attitude after the Wetteren destruction.
Until then politicians did not condemn field trial destruction and
no legal action had been taken against the perpetrators. After the
Wetteren destruction, ministers (at the Flanders level) and politi-
cians (at the Flanders and Belgian level) condemned the destruc-
tion and the Justice Department reacted; the public prosecutor
launched a criminal investigation and initiated a prosecution
against 11 activists (ruling not expected before January 2013).
In conclusion, the perpetrators of violence against GMO
research share a common ideology and may be either small groups
or linked to larger organisations that often benefit, directly or indi-
rectly, from funding by the EU,30 national governments or local
authorities as well as from private sources.31 Thus, Europe contrib-
utes financially to a major impediment to its own research strategy
on green biotechnology and its « knowledge based bio-economy »
concept. However, there is also reason to be optimistic, at least in
some countries, as illustrated by media support of the Rothamsted
wheat field trial after an efficient communication strategy by
researchers and by reactions of political and judicial authorities.
Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest
The author declares no financial conflict of interest. Being a sci-
entist at a public institution, the author has an obvious interest in
freedom of research.
The author wishes to thank Owen Bethell, Franz Bigler, René
Custers, John Davison, Roberto Defez, Kerstin Mönch, Stefan
Rauschen, Penelope Sparrow, Jeremy R. Thompson and Jean-
Pierre Zrÿd for sharing information, and Emmanuel Guiderdoni
for providing photographs of the CIRAD glasshouse vandalized
It is out of the scope of this article to analyze in detail the effect
such governmental attitude has had on the GMO controversy,
but it is obvious it has provided new opportunities for activists to
justify their destructions. For example, since the implementation
of the ban on maize MON810 cultivation in France in 2008,
activists are repeatedly asking charges to be dropped when pros-
ecuted for GMO destruction since the government decision has
shown, in their opinion, that they are right in opposing GMO
field trials and cultivation, and that their destructions were only
anticipating the decision political authorities later took. Some
politicians (e.g., in Germany and France) actually support the
perpetrators of field destruction, such as Mrs. Segolène Royal
who stood as the Socialist Party candidate in the French presi-
dential election in 2007. Without reaching such extreme atti-
tudes, inconsistent policies are quite often found in Europe. For
example, in Germany the contract (Koalitionsvertrag) signed
by the two parties currently forming the Federal Government
advocates the use of plant biotechnology and the government
has encouraged the use of the genetically modified starch potato
Amflora, but on the other hand has banned maize MON810
cultivation. In addition, while the Federal Ministry of Education
and Research (BMBF) is positive on the development and use of
GM plants, Mrs. Ilse Aigner, the Federal Minister for Nutrition,
Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV), is opposed to
it (and got her way in the MON810 ban).
In a few cases, the destruction of an experiment was accom-
panied by other damage to property, threats or violence against
individuals. This seems to be in line with the opponents’ goal
to stop research on GMOs proceeding and also with a possible
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