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Monday, 28 August, 2000, 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK
Anti-GM man 'prepared to die'
Edinburgh Sheriff Court
Four men are on trial at Edinburgh Sheriff Court
A man accused of vandalising a field containing GM crops has told a court he would lay down his life in the fight against the farm trials.

Alan Tolmie is one of four men accused of damaging plants at Boghall Farm in Penicuik on 28 March last year without reasonable excuse.

He told Edinburgh Sheriff Court on Monday that he believed the genetically modified crop trials were "evil".

The unemployed and homeless 34-year-old grew up in Loanhead, near where the trials were taking place.

"I would lay down my life to fight against it," he said.

"We had to destroy the field before it destroyed us.

Demonstrators gathered

"They didn't ask permission to grow the crops so we didn't ask permission."

His three co-accused - Mark Ballard and James MacKenzie from Edinburgh and Matthew Herbert from Boarhills, near St Andrews - also deny the charge.

The long-running trial before Sheriff Elizabeth Jarvie, QC, had previously heard that 100 demonstrators had gathered at the Midlothian farm.

A group of activists jumped over the fence into a field where a GM crop trial was growing and some started pulling up oilseed rape plants.

But the trial plants were hidden within a larger commercial crop - and the activists attacked an unmodified, decoy area leaving the test area untouched.

They caused only 1.50 worth of damage.

Once the genie is out of the bottle it cannot be put back in

Mark Ballard, co-accused
The plant trial, co-ordinated by the Government and carried out by the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) as part of a UK-wide operation, involved American company Monsanto.

It was planted only 400 yards from an organic farm.

Mr Ballard, 29, is chairman of the advisory board for the youth wing of Friends of the Earth Europe and a Green Party spokesman.

The charity publications manager said that he took part in the protest in a bid to prevent GM crops from polluting the Scottish countryside.

He admitted pulling up oilseed rape plants, but argued that it was done with a reasonable excuse.

He said the crops were expected to flower the following month and that he wanted to block cross-pollination before it was too late.

The economic and social history graduate from Edinburgh University refuted the argument that GM crops could help to feed poverty stricken countries.

'Potentially dangerous'

Mr Ballard said he believed scientists were unclear about the potentially dangerous effects of GM plants.

He also thought they could be tested in a way that did not threaten the open countryside.

Fiscal depute Duncan MacNeill accused him of inflicting his personal opinion on others and attempting to disrupt a government controlled, scientific experiment.

But he replied: "I felt what I was doing was the only way to allow a full debate and research on the subject.

Mock funeral

"Once the genie is out of the bottle it cannot be put back in."

Mr Herbert, 29, a self employed researcher and business administrator, told the court how the demonstrators marched to the farm carrying a coffin and grave stone in a mock funeral procession.

He claimed the herbicide used to grow modified oilseed rape killed all other plants in the area.

And he alleged that Monsanto had applied to the European Union for an increase in residual herbicide after planting - despite claims that GM crops would reduce the use of weed killer.

The trial continues.

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See also:

28 Aug 00 | Scotland
GM crops farmer in court battle
19 May 00 | Scotland
Campaigners cleared over GM protest
24 Aug 00 | Scotland
Court wrangle over GM crops
23 Aug 00 | Scotland
Final go ahead for GM trials
20 Jul 00 | Scotland
New GM trial proposed
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