Authorities investigating the destruction of a genetically modified (GM) wheat trial at a CSIRO farm in Canberra raided and seized property from Greenpeace's head offices in Sydney, it has been revealed.
Greenpeace activists are said to have scaled a fence at CSIRO's Ginninderra Experiment Station and destroyed $300,000 worth of genetically modified wheat last Thursday. The incident sparked an investigation by ACT Policing, and officers spent about two hours yesterday searching Greenpeace Pacific's Sydney offices for evidence.
“While we may still get something out of the experiment, the main function has been compromised as a result of the damage,” said Jeremy Burdon, chief of the division of Plant Industry at CSIRO. “That puts us back a year in the program.”
While no arrests were made following the seizure, Brian Campbell, head of campaigns for Greenpeace Australia Pacific, said that it is likely that could change:
“Our activists are often arrested when they stand up for what they believe to be right,” he said.
Greenpeace campaigner Heather McCabe, who publicly admitted to the attack, is believed to be one of two individuals ready to hand themselves in to the police.
Greenpeace Food campaigner Laura Kelly said the organisation would not try to hide from the legal implications of breaking into the CSIRO station.
“Greenpeace always stands up and takes responsibility for its actions … We're proud of bringing the significant threats associated with GM wheat out into the open, and we always cooperate fully with the police,” she said.
The environmental protection group says GM crops are dangerous to public health and risk destroying natural wheat varieties and are calling on the Australian government to ban GM wheat.
However, the destruction of the crops has sparked outrage in Australia's scientific community.
“For an organisation that claims to be dedicated to the protection of the environment, this is an unconscionable act,” said Suzanne Cory, president of the Australian Academy of Science.
Anna-Maria Arabia, head of the scientific advocacy group Science and Technology Australia, echoed these views, arguing that “destroying research that provides answers to important questions affecting our health and safety is counterproductive and insults scientists who undertake their work professionally, with integrity, and without fear or favour.”
“To shut down a scientific trial by effectively destroying the laboratory it is conducted in is deplorable, undemocratic, and will not give us answers to important questions raised in this area of research,” added Arabia.
Conflict of interest?
Greenpeace has also called for an investigation into alleged links between CSIRO, the biotechnology company Monsanto, and its Australian distributor Nufarm.
It is also calling on CSIRO to reveal where the funding for the GM experiments came from.
“At this point, they've rejected all of our freedom of information requests about who exactly has given the money and is behind those GM wheat trials,” said Kelly.
However, the CSIRO has described the act as a media stunt, and is reviewing security arrangements.
It said that the GM trials were conducted under licences from the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, which imposes strict containment conditions.