Special report: GM food debate
Wednesday August 8, 2001
Jim Dutton's genetically modified maize field at Sunnymead farm near Wivenhoe, Essex, is thought to hold the record for the number of times protesters have tried to trash it. In the past few weeks there have been at least 12 night-time attempts and one daylight foray to destroy the government test trial.
The raids have attracted protesters from all over, but have also proved unmissable to Essex Police, officials from the GM crop company Aventis and a mass of hi-tech and low-tech surveillance equipment. Helicopters routinely swoop on the fields, infrared sensors have been installed, and security guards and car patrols introduced, along with dogs and CCTV cameras hidden in bird boxes.
But despite the effort to stop the almost nightly attacks, only three people have been charged so far - for criminal damage worth 20p.
So crowded has Mr Dutton's field been at times that protesters, guards, police and dogs have almost fallen over one another. On July 17, said one protester yesterday, there were at least two groups of crop pullers at work at the same time.
"It was a bit crazy. No one knew what was going on. No one knows how many attempts have been made on it."
The hi-tech and low-tech airborne and ground surveillance is not thought to have been a great success. Aventis said that at least 75% of the crop had been destroyed and the protesters claimed they were able to dodge the CCTV camera after children discovered its lens sticking out of the bird box with an aerial coming out of the top.
The protesters say they have hidden under tractors to avoid helicopters' heat-seeking devices.
"How much more of our taxes will be wasted on a GM crop trial no one wants?" asked Andy Abbott, a protester.
"Police claim to lack resources, but when they want to protect a mutant crop that no one wants there's suddenly a bottomless pit of cash."
Mr Dutton has been growing GM crops for Aventis for two years, despite, as polls suggest, the 88% local opposition.