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Beating the Unbound: Political Theatre in the Laboratory Without Walls

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It is the night of 27 August 2000, and five activists are en route to a field in North Wales where they will covertly ‘trash’ a crop of genetically modified (GM) maize. The crop had been planted in May of that year by farmer John Cottle at Birchenfields Farm in Sealand, Flintshire, and was one of the farm-scale trials of GM crops which had been announced by the UK government. Public unease, political protest and scientific controversy about the safety of GM foods during 1997 and 1998 had resulted in the imposition in late 1998 of a de facto European moratorium on further commercial planting of GM crops (Levidow 2001: 851). Since then, plantings in Europe had been confined to field trials, ostensibly to monitor possible environmental effects of the crops and their associated pesticide regimes, but also to buy time for the European Union (EU) and its member states to find a way forward for agricultural biotechnology which met public approval. Yet the trials themselves had produced public unrest amongst local residents and other farmers around the trial sites, and also vociferous opposition from national non-governmental organisations and other protest groups.

The planting that will be damaged tonight is the first, and so far only, GM crop in Wales. The Welsh Assembly had passed a GM-Free policy for Wales, but the farm straddles the English-Welsh border and the trial had been mistakenly permitted due to a misunderstanding about where on the farm the field actually lies. The crop consists of a test planting of a strain of fodder maize developed by Aventis, known as Chardon LL or T25, which has been genetically modified to be resistant to Aventis's own glufosinate-ammonium herbicide, LibertyLink. The crop, with its associated pesticide regime, will be tested for its effects on local biodiversity as contrasted with those of a non-GM control crop.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2005

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