“This is a scientific disaster,” said Jo Bury of the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology (VIB), which was overseeing the project together with the University of Ghent and the Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research (ILVO). “We have to conclude that the democratic process is not working and that even the police could not hold back the vandals. We may be taking legal steps.” The damage could cause the project to be set back a year, he added.
The demonstrators ripped potato plants from the ground and scattered a white powder over the field. Researchers are trying to determine if it was pesticide, which would completely destroy the experiment. Flemish minister-president Kris Peeters, whose portfolio includes agriculture, said he was “angry and disappointed”. N-VA, meanwhile, attacked the Wetteren mayor and police for their “weak performance”. The demonstration had been announced in advance, and the municipality had surrounded the field with barbed wire. About 65 police in riot gear were at the scene.
The FLM called the action “a peaceful success”. “The longterm consequences of genetically modified organisms are absolutely unknown, their introduction is irreversible, and, for the time being, they do no more than tackle the symptoms of the problems in our agriculture and food production,” the group stated in a press release.
Although green party Groen! condemned the action, its member of parliament Bart Staes called the action an example of “civil disobedience” and “a form of democratic struggle”.