A group of more than 60 protesters descended on the gates of the John Innes Centre in Norwich today as part of a campaign against genetically modified potatoes.

To send a link to this page to a friend, you must be logged in.

Carrying banners saying ‘stop gambling with our chips’, the group met at The Forum before travelling down The Sainsbury Laboratory, near the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, by bike or marching in a group.

At the heart of the protest was a tractor pulling 20kg of organic potatoes that were left at the centre.

People had travelled from London, Yorkshire, Scotland, Wales and even France to be a part of demonstration against scientists’ work to trial blight-resistant GM potatoes.

They said that there are six natural varieties that are already blight-resistant, making this publically-funded work ‘absurd’.

The group claim that researchers at the laboratory have spent £1.7m trying to develop a potato resistant to the fungal disease, but the centre said this money has been spent across five project, with much of it on fundamental research not related to this trial.

Farmer Gerald Miles, of Pembrokeshire, drove a tractor to the front of the centre’s gates, before the 40 boxes of organic potatoes were left at there and under the entrance sign.

Mr Miles, 63, said that the blight-resistant organic Sarpo Mira variety from Hungary he had with him were “really wonderful”.

He said: “In the past I have grown 50-60 acres of potatoes for 40 years. I think this is absolutely a big stepping stone in farming and am appalled we are wasting money and research in trying to create a genetically modified blight resistant potato when we already have six varieties.”

At the protest was former organic farmer Peter Reeve, of Robertson Close, Sheringham, who said he was very interested in Mr Miles’ farming of these varieties.

Mr Reeve, 80, said that serious questions had to be asked about the long time potential impacts of genetic modification.

He said: “I accept there is good science going into this but very valid questions have to be asked and they can’t be brushed off. The science and research need to be better.”

Professor Jonathan Jones, of the centre, said that the idea of replacing the current industrial agriculture with the organic potatoes was “never going to happen”.

He said that these organic variety of potatoes were not popular with consumers but said he was closer to the protesters way of thinking than they thought. He said that the GM potatoes would help the environment as they would reduce CO2 emissions as they would not need to be sprayed with pesticide so often.

“We all want to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture,” he said.

The centre says that UK farmers spend an average of £60m a year controlling blight, with worldwide losses of approximately £3.5bn.

The protest was watched by a significant police presence, with groups of officers at every gate and a police helicopter.

Mr Jones said: “It is unfortunate that there is a big cost of police time and the reason is that we tried to engage with the protesters and find what they wanted, but weren’t able to get them on the phone, only emails, so we didn’t know many people would show up and did not have reassurances there wouldn’t be vandalism.”

A spokesman for the police said the protest passed peacefully.

8 comments

  • Are you taking it upon yourself to speak for the people of Norwich? Actually, there is nothing inaccurate in what Ingo said about GM. I feel sorry for the Police, as they have to work with ridiculous laws, not intended to help the population of this country.

    Report this comment

    JaniceC

    Sunday, July 24, 2011

  • Professor Jones says the varieties of potatoes promoted by the protesters were not popular with the public. He really means with the manufacturers of potato products who have been rather conservative in their choice of potato. They really need to take another look at the varieties on offer. The non-GM blight resistant potatoes highlighted by the protesters have been developed by the Savari Trust. Sarpo mira (the oldest of the Sarvari varieties in the UK) has been around for about a decade and so far shows no sign of the blight resistance breaking down. The Trust are the first to admit that their varieties are not Maris Piper. This remains the most popular commercial variety because it fits the production requirements for crisp and chip manufacturers and supermarkets. It has high dry matter (needed for frying) , and uniform shape and size for ease of processing and maximum yield after grading. Has the John Innes Centre produced any evidence that such qualities in Desirees ( the GM variety they are trialing) are retained in their GM blight resistant potatoes. Previous research on GM potatoes has produced unexpected results eg changed starch composition in GM potatoes produced at Oxford by Chris Leaver's research team in the 1990s. However, several Sarvari varieties are good for chipping – Axona, Sarpo Mira and Blue Danube. What is more the JIC persistently ignore is their other qualities which make them very attractive for the future when costs of fossil-fuel based inputs carry on rising. I am told for instance that Sarpo mira, in addition to very good resistance to foliage and tuber blight, is resistant to common viruses and black leg (another fungal disease). Its vigorous top growth means that weeds are shaded out cutting out the need for herbicides and its deep roots mean it can withstand drought periods and access nutrients from deep saving water and feritisers. Another positive is that it can be stored at ambient temperature because it does not sprout until late in store – this saves fuel. Would the JIC be able to genetically modify all this into Maris Piper and end up with something that they could still call Maris Piper. I think not. The variety can be harvested at any stage depending on the market aimed for - eg early harvest for salad size tubers. It will carry on growing until the first frost. The agronomy of growing Sarvari potatoes needs further study but they obviously have massive potential for the future when resource prices and water could be limiting factors

    Report this comment

    Roger Mainwood

    Saturday, July 23, 2011

  • Dear Stevjo, Ok - firstly, over-enthusiastic or heavy-handed policing of campaigners should not be blamed on the campaigners themselves. I can only assume you are going to be presenting the Royal couple with a very large bill in the near future if that is the case. I was one of the campaigners there on Saturday. I booked time from work in order to spend over £100 coming with my family on the train from Devon for this event, because I feel so passionately that GM agriculture is an unsafe experiment being tested in open-air trials, that neither the consumers, nor many farmers want. I spoke to well over 100 members of the public at the Forum, of which I did not meet one that was pro-GM, and in fact the huge majority were strongly against. Indeed, there were numerous farmers at the centre with us, talking to the research representatives about their serious concerns and their rejection of a technology that is trying to push its way its way into this country, due to the powerful lobbying of biotech corporations. If you aren't personally passionate about one of the most important and potentially devastating technologies to threaten food production in this country in modern times - see 'Farmer to Farmer' film on youtube - there is little more to be said other than please pipe down and inform yourself about the issues. Please look at a couple of websites: Stop GM, Genewatch UK - and try not to find really obvious and trite reasons such as policing costs for putting down people's genuine beliefs and right to be heard. There are very few civil liberties that have not not involved the initiators being decried and disrespected, from the common vote, to divorce being legalised, or women having the vote. Dissenters are rarely embraced by the communities they fight for. That I want to protect our communities and future generations, in this country and abroad, from the misery that GM agriculture is wreaking across the world is something you should be supporting, not sniping at.

    Report this comment

    Mr E White

    Tuesday, July 26, 2011

  • the public of Norwich, do not care for your views or opinion on the police, it is apparent from 'googling' your profile you have been 'anti police' for many years, perhaps bringing the green party into disrepute? Once again, they are there to protect the public, including the vulnerable children 'protesting'.

    Report this comment

    stevejo

    Saturday, July 23, 2011

  • the public of Norwich, do not care for your views or opinion on the police, it is apparent from 'googling' your profile you have been 'anti police' for many years, perhaps bringing the green party into disrepute? Once again, they are there to protect the public, including the vulnerable children 'protesting'.

    Report this comment

    stevejo

    Saturday, July 23, 2011

  • We mess around with Stem Cell Research,Cloning,and other un-natural experimentation,and hardly a peep.but when it comes to G.M food research ,an outcry ensues,in this "cafeterior".."mix & Match" society !

    Report this comment

    Albert Cooper

    Sunday, July 24, 2011

  • I agree that Ingo is slightly mad, but did Norfolk plod really need their helicopter following the protest .....big brother, big spud mentality for CO2 emissions scientists .....madness.

    Report this comment

    nrg

    Sunday, July 24, 2011

  • I personally am getting bored with ingo wagenknecht constantly dictating their views on others on this forum, the police did exactly what was expected of them, maintaining public safety, once too often 'peaceful' protests turn to vandalism and disorder. I also hope these 'protesters' were charged by the police for wasting their time, and also invoiced for clearing up the potatoes 'fly-tipped' on public property, as it shouldn't be the tax-paying public who should foot the bill for people with too much time on their hands!

    Report this comment

    stevejo

    Saturday, July 23, 2011

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Norfolk Weather

Sunshine and Showers

Sunshine and Showers

max temp: 22°C

min temp: 16°C

Five-day forecast

loading...

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT