The 5 defendants, Teresa Anderson, James Brown, Natalie Chow, Natasha Machin and Elizabeth Snook, are accused of Aggravated Trespass. They carried out a blockade in February of Sainsbury’s South West depot, based in Bristol, in order to prevent the supermarket from distributing their milk, which is from cows fed on GMOs. The protesters maintain that there is a health threat to the public, particularly children, from the milk, and that Sainsbury’s have been irresponsible in distributing it while claiming that their products are GM-Free.
“We have carried out surveys and questionnaires on Sainsbury’s customers, and the vast majority of them are not aware that their milk is from animals given GM feed.” Said Natalie Chow, while giving evidence. “Of those surveyed, 99% said that that this practice should be stopped, or said that GM-fed milk should at least be labelled.”
The defendants put forward a strong scientific and moral case on the necessity and urgency of protecting the public from GM-fed milk. They described the random nature of genetic engineering and its unintended consequences; the possibility that allergens, toxins and GM DNA can pass into milk; the likelihood of genes transferring into other organisms such as stomach bacteria through Horizontal Gene Transfer, and how this can have serious implications with GM Bt genes that produce a pesticide, as well as GM genes with resistance to antibiotics. They outlined the disturbing results of GM feeding studies, where rats and other animals have suffered a variety of ill effects to their blood, kidneys, brains, stomachs, testicles, and immune systems. They referred to the only test ever carried out on humans, where GM genes were shown to transfer into stomach bacteria after just one meal of GM soya.
“There is ample evidence of the risks from GM, and because of this we have a precautionary approach to GM foods in this country.” Said Teresa Anderson. “But we are being asked to assume that none of these risks also apply to GM-fed milk.” The defendants referred to scientific data that suggested that the risks from GM foods do apply to GM-fed milk, and demonstrated that Sainsbury’s had been explicitly advised of these risks by a respected scientist.
The defendants emphasised that the urgency of this issue applied particularly to children. “Children depend on milk for a large part of their nutrition. They are smaller, and have weaker immune systems. They are using this nutrition from milk for their development as they grow. Any harmful effects from GM-fed milk are going to be much greater for them. But GM-fed milk is being fed to children right now, and their mothers do not realise that they could be exposing them to long-term health problems.” Miss Anderson added.
The prosecutor, Miss Poots asked “Do you not trust the UK’s regulatory and advisory bodies to protect the public from any risks?”
But the defendants pointed out that Sainsbury’s position on GM-fed milk had been advised by the UK Food Standards Agency. The FSA’s own review, led by Baroness Dean, had found the agency to be extremely biased in favour of GMOs, and in fact the head of the agency, Sir John Krebs, was later removed from his position because of that bias. They also reminded the court of a scandal earlier this year when it was discovered that Bt-10, an illegal, unapproved variety of GM maize, had been entering the country in GM animal feed for the last 2 years.
“Everybody seems to be secretly hoping that the matter is somebody else’s responsibility.” Said Liz Snook to the judge in her closing speech. “We are here before you today because we believed someone needed to start trying to take responsibility for this problem, and if we didn’t do it, we didn’t know who else would.”
The case is scientifically, morally and legally complex, and the judge expressed the need for time to give the case proper thought and a written judgement. The defendants will therefore return to Avon Magistrate’s Court, Yate, Bristol, to hear the verdict on Tuesday the 1st November at 2pm.