SHADOW Agriculture Minister, John Cobb, says Greenpeace activists, who destroyed scientific trials of Genetically Modified wheat during an early morning raid on CSIRO facilities in Canberra this morning, should be prosecuted “to the full extent of the law”.
Mr Cobb has also slammed comments attributed to Canberra Greens MLA, Shane Rattenbury, understood to be a former Greenpeace staff member, who said this morning on ABC radio that he condoned the actions of the Greenpeace activists and that sometimes the end justified the means.
Greenpeace activists, dressed in theatrical style protective clothing to create an impression the crops were a health risk, entered the CSIRO facility and used whipper snippers to destroy the approved scientific trials.
During the 6.30am raid, they also managed to take pictures of their actions which accompanied a media release issued this morning drawing attention to Greenpeace’s recently released GM wheat report.
A Greenpeace spokesperson said they could confirm only two activists were involved in the publicity stunt but reports have suggested up to four were involved.
The GM wheat report was released last week but has been widely castigated by grains industry representatives and government for making a range of misleading claims, including that the government had been negligent in approving the GM wheat trials.
Police are understood to be investigating this morning’s incident.
A Greenpeace spokesperson confirmed the activists entered the CSIRO facility illegally this morning and that it was now up to the police and CSIRO to make a decision on charges being laid, but they had not been contacted as of lunch-time today.
The Gene Technology Act 2000 under which the trials are conducted sets out a maximum penalty of two year imprisonment if found guilty of damaging or interfering with approved GM trials and associated facilities.
Mr Cobb said if the protestors have broken into the facility or entered unlawfully they should be prosecuted “to the full extent of the law”.
“There’s never been any indication GM’s have caused health issues,” he said.
“Even if they were, this trial is being totally done under licence, legally and I hope the perpetrators are prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
“And if any elected member of the Australian Parliament at State or Federal level does condone this type of behaviour they should seriously consider their fitness for office.”
Agrifood Awareness Australia CEO, Paula Fitzgerald said Greenpeace had demonstrated with the launch of their GM wheat brochure last week that they knew “very little, if anything, about farmers, agriculture and food production”.
Ms Fitzgerald said “today's stunt further proves this, potentially destroying years and years of research, plant breeding, data collection and outstanding science”.
“Greenpeace stunts - law-breaking activities with costumes - may have success in other parts of the world, but Australian agriculture recognises the need and potential of GM wheat R&D and supports this research moving forward,” she said.
“It is hard to believe that an ACT elected official, in a public position - Shane Rattenbury the Greens spokesperson and a former Greenpeace staff member - would condone the illegal behaviour of breaking and entering.
“The Australian grain industry is committed to ongoing communication and dialogue.
“This will not be achieved via people dressing up in costumes and potentially destroying years of responsible and costly research.
“CSIRO is a world class research organisation.”
Ms Fitzgerald said CSIRO scientists had already harvested the first GM wheat field trial at the Ginninderra research site that was broken into by Greenpeace this morning, in 1997.
She said CSIRO has been working in the field of cereal genetics for many years, delivering important new and improved varieties to Australian farmers.
“GM wheat is seven to 10 years away from commercialisation,” she said.
“There is ample time to have sensible discussions, but destroying good science and pulling stunts will definitely not achieve this.”
In its statement today, Greenpeace claimed the experiment was “shrouded in controversy following revelations that Australia’s peak scientific body, CSIRO, planned human feeding trials and stonewalled information requests”.
“We had no choice but to take action to bring an end to this experiment,” said Greenpeace anti-GM campaigner Laura Kelly.
One of the activists, Heather McCabe, said in the statement, “I'm sick of being treated like a dumb Mum who doesn’t understand the science”.
“GM wheat is not safe, and if the Government can't protect the safety of my family, then I will.”
Mr Rattenbury’s office was contacted and Ms Kelly but they did not responded before deadline.
Greenpeace accused the Federal government of negligence in approving the GM wheat trials but in responding to Rural Press this week, the Gene Technology Regulator scotched the claims saying Australia had a “robust and internationally respected regulatory system for gene technology”.
“Growing any GM crop in Australia is illegal unless it is approved by the Gene Technology Regulator,” a spokeswoman said responding to the negligence claim contained in the Greenpeace GM wheat report.
“The Regulator has approved eleven small GM wheat research trials and only after conducting a rigorous science-based risk assessment and extensive consultation.
“These trials are strictly controlled and monitored by the Regulator and information about them, including trial locations, is available on the OGTR website.
“There has been no breach of containment for any of these GM wheat trials and wheat from these trials cannot enter the human or animal food supplies.”
Government fact sheets also said the GM wheat trials, approved since 2005, are “very small and are strictly for research purposes only”.
The trials are subject to strict containment conditions, including a requirement to monitor the trial sites after harvest and destroy any remaining GM material.
CropLife CEO, Matthew Cossey, also criticised the Greenpeace activists, saying the vandalism of GM trials was “nothing but a short sighted attempt to garner publicity”.
“This is a dark day for Australian science and there can be no justification for this act,” he said.
‘This type of activity from Greenpeace is unethical and morally questionable, especially when the world is facing the challenge of global food security.
“Reckless interference of this kind only delays valuable and essential scientific research.
“The exact purpose of these independent scientific trials was to assess and analyse the safety and potential of healthier wheat varieties critical to Australia’s agricultural future.
“It is hypocritical of Greenpeace to demand that governments act on the science of climate change and at the same time demand that government completely ignore and act against the science of biotechnology.
“Through these actions Greenpeace have reduced themselves to a 21st Century equivalent of the flat earth society, with their luddite destruction of scientific trials.
“Regulatory decisions need to be based on proven science, not on Greenpeace’s deception, falsehoods and half truths.”