|GM controversy explodes in the Algarve (28/8/2007)|
EXTRACTS: This year the first GMO field ever has been planted in the Algarve Region in Portugal.
...there has been strong opposition from civil society against the cultivation of GMOs in the Algarve. This includes social and environmental organisations, farmers and a public opinion (which) is in general against the cultivation and consumption of GM crops.
...As a result the Algarve was the first GMO free zone in Portugal... Despite the strong opposition within layers of civil society and from local authorities against GMOs, the policies of the Portuguese Government and the European Commission constantly disrespect the moral and democratic right of those opposing actors to ban GMOs from their fields and their plates.
Movimento Verde Eufemia mows first GM Field in South Portugal
On the 17th of August the Movimento Verde Eufemia went into action of civil disobedience, targeting the first transgenic field in the Algarve GMO Free Zone in South Portugal. 65 mowers entered the field and were able to mow a hectare of GM corn in less than 20 minutes. The action received support from a parade of an extra 60 people.
This year the first GMO field ever has been planted in the Algarve Region in Portugal. Already years before the planting of his GM corn there has been strong opposition from civil society against the cultivation of GMOs in the Algarve. This includes social and environmental organisations, farmers and a public opinion (which) is in general against the cultivation and consumption of GM crops. Also from the political field opposition was made. As a result the Algarve was the first GMO free zone in Portugal declared by the Junta Metropolitana do Algarve already in 2004. On the level of the municipalities over time motions have been passed rejecting the cultivation of GM crops on their territory.
Despite the strong opposition within layers of civil society and from local authorities against GMOs, the policies of the Portuguese Government and the European Commission constantly disrespect the moral and democratic right of those opposing actors to ban GMOs from their fields and their plates.
MOVIMENTO VERDE EUFEMIA
For reasons described in the previous paragraph, an informal group of peasants, ecologists and concerned citizens have gathered to take direct action with the aim to re-establish the democratic, moral and ecological order. The movement that we are now starting will go under the name Movimento Verde Eufemia, in homage to the peasant struggle against the former portuguese fascist regime.
The struggle of Caterina Eufemia and the peasant movement of which she was part aimed at defending the rights and the well-being of peasant communities. Our movement will continue this struggle in the context of new appearing threats, namely the agro-biotechnology sector and their powerful lobby.
The direct action involved 65 mowers, destroying 1 hectare of the 50 hectare GM corn field in less than 20 minutes around midday. The activists took the well considered risk to announce the action beforehand in the media. This was done for reasons of receiving the highest media coverage for the largest direct action since the post revolutionary period in Portugal. However, the activists were aware of risks of compromise that this decision would bring along.
After 10 minutes, the owner and his colleagues noticed the action. About 8 farmers attacked the group of mowers using physical violence. The mowers took a defensive stand by using their higher number but did not use violence in return. One farmer fired shots from an alarm pistol and the activists were threatened with poison sprayers. One police patrol arrived shortly after. All mowers aborted the action after 20 minutes and moved on the public road to mix up in the parade. The 10 police officers that were in the area could not do anything else but regulating the traffic for the parade then counting more than 120 people, moving towards the nearest village of Poco Barreto. 3 identifications were made by the police, this involved the police speakers and the media spokesperson. The whole group was picked up by busses and the action ended in all order.
Knowing that the activist were hitting the property of a farmer, even though it was a big one they announced that they would provide compensation for the damage inflicted. In the end the activists intended no harm towards the farmer himself who for one or another reason choose to cultivate GM crops. The activists proposed that they would provide the farmer with organic seeds for the surface (50 hectares) which is currently being planted with GM corn.
Now, five days after the action, the name Movimento Verde Eufemia is still frontpage news. All television stations and radio stations give continuous updates on the case. Major political party leaders are now involved in the debate. The Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Internal Administration are main actors in the debate while the President has commented on the issue as well on television.
The discourse from the Minister of Agriculture is one that mainly evolves around statements confirming support towards the farmer in the legal prosecution of the activists and pointing out that the activists hit a 'poor farmer' and they should be punished for trespassing and destruction of private property. An estimation from the Ministry after the minister visited the field under huge media attention, he came to the conclusion that the damage counts up to around 4000 euros. However the Order of Lawyers issued a press release yesterday stating that that delivery of legal financial support to from the ministry would be an illegal act as it would mean governmental interference in a civil court case. As a reply to that the ministry back off stating that "obviously" they meant to support the farmer win the paper work and in the development of his legal discourse in the court. Next to that, the minister of agriculture takes a completely outbalanced pro-GMO position, saying that: "There is no problem, this is scientifically proven". This can be considered as a complete invalid statement since the scientific world is at least very divided on the matter of GMOs.
The discourse of the Ministry of Internal Adminstration, being the head of police, develops mainly around the goal to criminalize Movimento Verde Eufemia and its last action. On one of the main television stations in a news studio interview he labelled the action as "softâÃÃ´ eco terrorism. The discourse of the minister receives additionally a lot of support from the President.
However it is not all bad news. Now that the media have almost exhausted all variations on head titles stretching over two pages, they also start to go more in detail, covering the different opinions and position on GMOs and explain for example the status of GMO Free Zones. Through their press releases, MVE has invited all associations in Portugal to use the media space created to voice their arguments against GMOs. In a reaction to that, some main actors in the GMO debate, who initially distanced themselves from the action, and still do, they have now taken up the opportunity to voice their concerns on GMOs. For that reason and other reactions that the action has provoked from the political field the MVE has expressed their content seeing that their action has resulted in an opening of the debate on GMOs.
Now, for the activists involved in the action it is clear that they should be very careful in their current steps. The minister of Internal Administration himself is, as announced in the media, involved in the coordination of the investigation carried out by the Information and Security Service (SIS) and the Police Justice Department (PJ). Their aim is to uncover the networks of activists that were involved in the action in order to run legal prosecution.
MVE has currently a blog where you can follow up on the development of the case. The link is http://eufemia.ecobytes.net/