Agricultural Sabotage

A Welsh farmer has become an "agricultural saboteur" by "secretly planting and harvesting genetically modified varieties of maize and feeding them to local sheep and cattle." This undercuts Wales's ability to claim that it is a GM-free nation.
    An unrepentant Harrington [the farmer in question] said he had resorted to the secret planting after the Welsh assembly, which voted unanimously for GM-free status in 2000, refused to have any meaningful discussions over its policy. He said: "Out of frustration I went and bought some varieties of maize bred to be resistant to a pest called the European corn borer and which are grown widely in Spain, France, Germany and the Czech Republic."
    The varieties he chose were on the EU common variety list, and as such it is legal to grow them anywhere in Europe.
The ease with which this sort of thing could happen makes it obvious that the genetic purity of a nation's agricultural supply cannot be rigorously policed.

[Image: "Johnny Apple Sandal" by Lift].

Briefly, I'm reminded of a design project from nearly half a decade ago called "Johnny Apple Sandal," where the soles of a pair of sandals had different varieties of wildflower seeds embedded in their plastic; as your soles wore down, the seeds were released – theoretically going on to form new landscapes. A kind of pedestrian agronomy.
But what a perfect tool for agricultural smuggling! You load up your sandals with genetically modified seeds, fly to Wales, and go for a long hikes in the Brecon Beacons. Soon enough, you've contaminated the hills with illegal plants, or forms of life subject to government regulation.
In any case, I also can't imagine that this is the only example of such a thing; this farmer just seems like the only one who was caught. It's not hard to speculate that there are what might be called – with no small amount of irony – protest gardens full of genetically modified plants sprouting in secret across the world.
What strange cultivations might we yet stumble upon in some unofficial garden in the woods?

(Thanks, Alex, for the Welsh farmer article!)

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Blogger Kit said...

I came across the Johnny Apple Sandal in a comic once; surprising to see that it's real!

February 10, 2009 11:28 AM  
Blogger Laurel Lyon said...

Maybe that farmer should come live here in Spain, where people who want to grow organic maize find it contaminated by GM pollen blown in from several kilometres away, making it impossible for us who choose to read science fiction rather than to eat it to exercise that choice. Or maybe I should just go cut his effing nuts off.

February 10, 2009 12:58 PM  
Blogger pete v said...

I'm no Monsanto apologist, but the "GM-Free" ideology doesn't jibe.

Crop strains modified to resist pests/disease or bear high yields are eminently desirable. "Science fiction" is not the enemy, rather recklessness and exploitation by corporate profiteers.

Shouldn't the folks yearning for organic food welcome strains which require no pesticide? Increased yields to mitigate land-use? There seems to be a cognitive dissonance by "GM-Free" idealogues which can be frustrating when it's implemented as blanket policy without thorough discussion.

As for agricultural smuggling and protest gardens, some government regulated plants warrant more policing rigor than others. If you're going to start an "unofficial garden in the woods" be sure to use proper precautions.

February 10, 2009 5:14 PM  
Blogger Laurel Lyon said...

The majority of GM crops so far developed and in use in Spain are designed to work in tandem with the chemical pesticides and herbicides produced by the same companies. These companies are not interested in providing healthy food or preventing world hunger, they are interested in making money. Ideology has nothing to do with it.

For example, a strain of maize was engineered to incorporate a bacillum which attacks a pest of the maize, in theory making it immune to the pest. However, after just 2 years of use the pest has adapted and become immune to it, thanks to the constant exposure. The bacillum was previously used by organic farmers in the 2 or 3 weeks of the year that it was needed as a chemical-free method of eliminating this pest; now we can't use it.

February 10, 2009 6:07 PM  
Blogger pete v said...

Yeah, that's a bummer.

Regarding the ideology bit, perhaps it was the threat of castration that threw me.

February 10, 2009 9:24 PM  
Blogger Bill Randall said...

Have you heard of Perry Schemiser's strange case? Monsanto sued him for patent infringement when their GM crops infected his fields; maybe Harrington's got the same fate coming.

And those sandals... they talk about the same thing in Cradle to Cradle, but the thousands of invasives killing the understory in my forest make me uneasy at it all.

February 11, 2009 3:12 AM  
Blogger John said...

GM paranoia notwithstanding, this is an alarming precedent. Imagine a seed company wanting to import grass seed that tended to be contaminated with an invasive species not presently established in the importing country. If the country's rules manage risk in such a way that already established invasive plant species are not as heavily regulated, would it not be tempting to illicitly establish populations of the invasive plant in order to escape the regulatory burden? I once would have thought that kind of behavior unlikely, but after all of the contaminated food scandals, Ponzi schemes, and other examples of private parties putting self-interest ahead of public interest, nothing would surprise me. A review of laws with a view to powerful disincentives for such behavior is certainly indicated.

February 12, 2009 8:17 AM  
Blogger kristin said...

Anybody who says government policies on GM foods should be thoroughly debated and explained is completely right. Too many people really don't understand the science behind this technology, not surprisingly since at least here in Canada we're not teaching genetics in high school.

I know two good books that lead the average person along a gentle path into the science. The first is Seeds of Deception by an American Jeffrey Smith. The U.K. edition has a forward written by Michael Meacher, former U.K. environment minister. Here's the website:

The second is Darwin's Ghost by Steve Jones is a professor of genetics at University College London (chapt 8-hybridism) which is a brilliant updating of The Origin of Species. And this year is that book's 150th birthday!(read the publisher's blurb here: You can get it at almost any book store.


February 14, 2009 9:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't the first time. Mini case studies on page 90 of this adobe

February 16, 2009 8:37 PM  

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