SchNEWS Of The World


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Munlochy: Fighting for a GM free Scotland

An intense anti-GM campaign has been fought against Aventis crop trials in Munlochy, on the Black Isle peninsula in the Scottish Highlands.

Protests have been ongoing since GM crop trials were approved by the Scottish Government early in 2000, and the first GM oil seed rape trial was planted that winter.

400 locals challenged Aventis Crop Science (since sold to Bayer) and the seed company involved on three points at a public meeting in August 2000. They firstly objected to the safety track record of GM crops causing harmful and unpredictable effects on humans and the environment. Secondly, concentrated dosages of herbicides and pesticides involved threaten the livelihood of Highland farmers whose produce has a reputation for coming from an unspoilt natural environment. Lastly they objected to the patenting, and ownership of seed types by GM companies which takes seed control away from the farmers into the hands of corporations. (see SchNEWS 346). Aventis couldn't answer these questions satisfactorily

A few months later, a government-organised meeting drew another 150 concerned locals, many of whom had never been involved in campaigning before. At the event one man turned to face the crowd and asked: "Who in this room would be prepared to destroy this crop with me?" Nearly half the audience raised their hands.

On the day of the general election, the 7th of June, a large x got trampled into a GM oilseed rape trial crop sending the message to politicians that "GM is not welcome in Scotland."

300 people gathered on August the 17th to oppose the farm scale trial of winter oilseed rape there. Following a march through the town with a tractor everyone enjoyed the sunshine with a picnic, music and speakers from around the country.

Then on the 23rd of August 2001, three women from Highlands & Islands GM Concern went to visit a site set for a farm scale trial of winter oilseed rape at Tullich Farm near Munlochy. "As we were standing looking at the field a tractor appeared with drilling equipment. We didn't want to believe that the GM oilseed rape was being planted in front of our very eyes!" The driver tried unsuccessfully to convince them that he was only fertilising, but then the media were called and started arriving, along with police, and then more local protesters. Twelve people - including a mum and her kid then blockaded the tractor, and after discussions the driver went home.

The next morning police called all the protesters together and announced that sowing would be starting again immediately. "Within minutes the tractor appeared on the horizon. Nancy and Rhona walked in to the field and sat in the tractor's path. They were arrested and removed from the field. The driver carried on sowing. At 4:45pm myself, Pete and Gavin decided enough was enough and we sat in the tractor's path."

By late afternoon about fifty protesters had gathered, their numbers matched by police. The protesters set up an information caravan. Thirteen people were arrested for breach of the peace, most of them over 35 and had never done direct action before. For several days a presence was maintained at the field, but despite repeated waves of obstruction the GM oilseed was eventually sown.

Following on from this action a permanent camp was built next to field to keep a vigil over the growing GM crop. The vigils petition now has over 4000 signatures. Local people are highly supportive. In a nearby village 92% of people voted against the trial.

Towards the end of September a yurt was built to keep up a constant vigil at the site. In November the protest camp - including two caravans and a toilet - was granted planning permission to remain until the end of August 2002; after the council received 120 letters supporting the application.

300 locals turned out to show their support in March 2002 when Donnie MacLeod, a local organic farmer and one of those arrested on August 24th, appeared in court. Donnie served eight days of a 21 day sentence, after he was charged with criminal damage and refused to name anyone else who was present with him.

Writing from inside Inverness's Porterfield Prison he said:

"It has taken me 53 years of living on this planet to achieve this new experience courtesy of Sheriff James Fraser at Dingwall Sheriff Court. There has just been a very noisy demonstration outside that could be heard through the bars on the window and I wished that I could break open this metal door to thank the 300 or so people showing their support.

But I am not free to do so.

I have received about 200 letters of support from people all over the country and I would like to reply to them.

But I am not free to do so.

For the last week I have not been a free man in the physical sense of the words. But that week has allowed me to reflect on what freedom is all about. There are very few people who are truly free. We all have responsibilities of one kind or another. Freedom itself carries great responsibilities towards others. That is why, when I am released, I fear that I will have a responsibility to continue my direct actions against the deliberate contamination of the Highlands by the biotechnological multinational moguls for their profit.

I ask myself why do I have to do it and not someone else? It simply stems from the fact that I am in the privileged position of being in possession of the facts behind the GM crop trial farce and am aware of the reasons behind it. Couple this with the fact that I am in a position of being able to do it, and you have the reason.

I believe that my imprisonment was a political tactic to try and intimidate other protesters against taking direct action against the iniquitous GM crop trial at Munlochy."

The Munlochy site has evolved into a GM information centre. Towards the end of last year a craft auction was held, and local musicians released 'Oilseed Raped?' - a five-track CD - to raise money for the Vigil.

In early February, a petition with over 5000 signatures, supported by all the main political parties and members of the Scottish, UK and European Parliaments, was presented to the Scottish Parliament.

On the 16th February they held a conference 'Biotechnology, Environment and Health' which was attended by several top scientists in the (eherm) field, with 350 people attending.

The latest action happened in April. Just days after the Scottish executive called for the Munlochy crop trial to be ploughed up because it had come into flower, about 5 acres of the field was mysteriously destroyed.

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