Vandalism toward GM Plants
In France and Germany, small-scale field trials of gene-spliced plants conducted by researchers at universities and research institutes have been regularly vandalized by activists, even though most of these investigations were studying the environmental safety of growing gene-spliced plants in normal agricultural environments. One German postdoctoral fellow was attacked with stones while trying to protect his virus-resistant sugar beets from vandals.
A few scientists have continued to pursue their research in the face of such violence—which, unlike similar attacks in the U.K. and U.S., has been virtually ignored by the criminal-justice system. The coup de grâce, however, may now have been administered by the recent decision of two German universities to prohibit field trials of gene-spliced crops.
In April, the rector and external advisory board of Nürtingen-Geislingen University in Baden-Württemberg “urgently recommended” that a faculty member terminate his field trials that had begun in 1996—on insect-resistant and fungus-resistant gene-spliced corn. “We have always been very critical of this kind of research,” said economist Werner Ziegler, the university’s rector. “Lately, things got out of control. There were e-mail attacks, vandalism, intimidation, and personal threats.”
Also in April, the Justus Liebig University in Giessen, Hesse, announced that it would stop its planned initiation of two small field trials of insect-resistant gene-spliced corn after protests by activists and local politicians. Both trials had been approved by the national consumer protection and food safety agency and were to be conducted on behalf of the national authority for agriculture variety and seed affairs.
“I am not happy at all with this decision,” said Stefan Hormuth, the university’s president. “Unfortunately, we were no longer able to deal with the massive opposition from politicians and the general public. The university has a reputation in the region that we cannot risk losing.”