Militants opposed to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have destroyed a plantation of GM vines at a leading French research centre in Alsace.
Some 60 activists broke into the compound, near Colmar in eastern France, at dawn on Sunday.
The centre was studying potential solutions to the grapevine grapevine fanlife virus (GFLV).
‘These idiots have destroyed seven years of work which has been recognised in the United States, in Britain, in Germany and in Switzerland,’ said Jean Masson, head of the centre belonging to the French National Institute for Agronomic Research (INRA).
Masson described the militants as ‘morons’ and ‘sick’.
There is no known cure for GFLV, which is borne by nematode earth worms and is present in almost all the world’s winemaking regions.
It can reduce yields by 50% before killing the vines and rendering vineyard soil unviable for future plantations,
‘In about half an hour we neutralised, not vandalised, the vines,’ Olivier Florent, one of the group, told French radio station France-Info.
‘Public money is financing GMOs and these tests are being carried out in open fields,’ he added.
The militants were later arrested and released on bail. They face a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a 45,000-euro fine.
However, after a similar attack last September on a separate plantation at the INRA centre, magistrates limited sentences to a symbolic one-euro fine.
France’s environment and research ministries issued a joint statement condemning the attack as ‘a scandalous degradation of exemplary trials’ that were supported by ‘scientists, professional agricultural organisations, local councils and environmental NGOs.’
The militants are part of a movement known as les faucheurs – ‘the reapers’ – that regularly target GM crops.
They are led by French anti-mondialist figurehead José Bové, who notably led an axe attack to demolish a McDonald’s franchise in Millau, in southern France, in 1999.
Written by Graham Tearse