French anti-science vandals invade a Belgium farm and destroy crops

Phytophthora infestans causes ‘late blight’ in potatoes. In regions of potato cultivation with a temperate climate, like Belgium, this is the single most dangerous disease. The disease costs farmers in Belgium about 55 million euros annually, and controlling it causes significant environmental pressure. However, in the last few years a number of resistant varieties based on conventional plant breeding techniques were introduced to the market, and work is being done on developing genetically modified Phytophthora-resistant lines.
These GM plant are environmentally much more friendly than some existing  methods of treating fungus attack on plants  such as the commonly used toxic copper sulphate.
But the GM potatoes will not be used if the anti-GM fanatics have their way.
A research field trial of these blight-resistant potatoes has just been destroyed in Belgium.
Belgian field trial of potato plants.
29 May 2011
Expatia report that environmental activists stormed a field of genetically modified potatoes in Belgium Sunday, breaking through a security cordon in a raid that left police and protesters injured, authorities and organisers said.
They state that police briefly detained around 40 people taking part in the “Field Liberation Movement”, which aimed to destroy the research crop in the northwestern town of Wetteren, according to Belga news agency.
Around 10 officers were slightly injured, according to police, while organisers said eight on their side were manhandled.
Expatia report that more than 200 people took part in the protest but only a few managed to sneak through fences and a police line protecting the field, said Franciska Soler, of the Volunteer Reapers of France which participated in the event.
“A certain number of potato plants were destroyed,” activist Soler told AFP.
  • Talking to activists about the science didn’t work.
Jo Bury, the director of the VIB science research institute that planted the potatoes, said around 100 scientists had tried to talk the actists out of vandalism.
“We are deeply shocked about the violent actions by the activists of the Field Liberation Movement. The field trial with blight resistant potatoes was almost entirely destroyed. Our hearts are with the scientists whose hard work was destroyed today.”
“Althought his is a dark day for science as a whole, we want to thank all 350 scientists and farmers who came out and supported Save Our Science. It was a strong message to the world that we believe that science has an important role to play in the development of environmental friendly agriculture” Geert Angenon, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Geert De Jaeger, UGent, Rony Swennen, K.U.Leuven, Jeroen Crappé.
  • Information about the field trial:


  1. It’s funny how people are always railing against GMOs claiming their reasoning herbicides this and Bt that and Monsanto the other thing, while saying they’re not against the science, they just want more research. I assume there will be a huge outcry among the anti-GMO people for destroying the research (which appears to be government funded non-corporate) they claim they want done on the traits they don’t claim to find fault with….right after they get around to objecting the destruction of those French government run virus resistant GM grape rootstocks a while back.

  2. The standard objections of anti-GMO activists don’t apply in this case. Potato is not native to Europe, there are no near-relative weedy species that it can cross pollinate with. Commercial potato isn’t propagated by seed, it is propagated clonally by bits of root. The traits can’t spread by pollen to other fields or contaminate other potato crops.

  3. These are the same people who trashed GM grape rootstocks. Yeah, rootstocks, so not even the flower or fruit were genetically engineered. I think it’s safe to say the standard objections are really just lame excuses for common thugs to break something. Must make them feel real big. They’re probably laughing it up and patting themselves on the back for the great blow they think they struck to Monsanto (the fact that this was not Monsanto’s research is likely lost on them).

  4. Concerning this “research”, one row of potatoes was from BASF.
    The “traditional’ arguments against GM are still functioning in this case : those potatoes are “pesticide patented clones”.
    The industrialized “pesticide” system is responsible of an enormous part of today’s environmental disaster (more than half of GHG emissions due to our food and agri system, according to Olivier De Schutter, UN Rapporteur on the Right to Food + Soil erosion, oil-dependent unsustainable system), and those plants keep on pushing in this direction.
    Patenting the living brings to corporate takeover on seeds, the most important thing on the food chain (more infos Our economic system hates what’s free, like nature’s work on plants. If privatizing life is a synonymous of “progress”, then we’re going forward at high speed.
    Clones in the fields means biodiversity loss, more diseases, threats on health.
    The “usual” arguments of pro-GM people imply to continue in the system responsible for today’s economic (farmers situation in developed countries), social (one billion persons starving) and environmental (agri and food system responsible for more than 50% of GHG emissions) disasters, claiming that it will bring solutions. We may have a small problem of coherency…
    Whereas solutions exist. Sustainable small scale family farming can feed the world – even with 10 billion persons. Actually, it already does… The main problem is repartition of food produced (70% of world agricultural land directly or indirectly for feeding cattle), eating habits (too much meat in developed countries), and production system.

  5. Oh no – one row of potatoes was from BASF? Then they must all be ripped out! Seriously, that is a bad reason. If BASF has a blight-resistant potato then it is entirely appropriate to evaluate it alongside other varieties.
    The rest of your comment demonstrates that you don’t know how potatoes are grown – potato varieties are all clones of one good plant, produced through tubers. Even your favorite old varieties grown on organic farms are clones.

  6. Where to start, so much misinformation. The genes for resistance came from wild relatives of potato. These genes have been introduced via cross-breeding in other strains of potato.
    The idea behind using these natural resistance genes is so that the use of synthetic fungicides is reduced or even eliminated. Isn’t the reduction of use of synthetic pesticides a good thing?
    You can’t just stop using fungicides on potatoes if they are not resistant because the entire crop can be destroyed. This fungus is what caused the Irish potato famine which killed over a million people from starvation because it destroyed the potato crop.
    Commercially grown potatoes are always clonal.
    Growth of potato strains other than these clonal potatoes will not be affected. They may even benefit because these potatoes are resistant to the fungus, if they are planted they will not increase the growth, spread and persistence of the fungus which could affect non-resistant potatoes.

  7. daedalus2u,
    I agree: misinformation, catastrophization, emotional language and outright lies are all too common. People LIKE to be excited, but don’t like to grind through research. They LIKE to play the White Knight, but may need to invent a dragon to do so. It’s more exciting and feels more Noble to fight a Vast International Conspiracy than to address sewage treatment and drinking water contamination.
    I think a lot of the problem is related to the game of “Telephone”: Person 1 hears that there may be a possibility of a slight risk of a minor side-effect, and passes that information on. Person 342 hears that there is a virtual certainty of a global catastrophe, and communicates this to Person 1, and the cycle continues.
    Credulity, poor understanding of statistics, science, and risk-assessment and the excitement of being a member of a Just Cause combine to generate a population resistant to reassessing their positions and who are sometimes effectively manipulated, and not in a good way.

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