On July 14, Greenpeace activists in Australia illegally entered an experimental farm operated by the country’s national science agency and destroyed a crop of genetically modified (“GM”) wheat. The GM wheat was altered to enhance its nutritional value for addressing obesity and bowel cancer. Because of the incident, scheduled human trials will have to be delayed by as long as a year.
Greenpeace Australia Pacific has trumpeted the actions of the individuals and posted videos and photos of the event on their website. One of the activists, whose name the organization released, has said that Greenpeace will stand beside her throughout any criminal investigation and prosecution.
This could place Greenpeace in unsavory legal territory. According, to one legal scholar interviewed by COSMOS (an Australian science magazine) the activists’ actions could be prosecuted under federal terrorism laws:
“[Ben Saul, a professor of counter-terrorism law at the University of Sydney] says it technically fits the bill of a terrorist act, which under Australian law, is defined as an act of criminal violence intended to coerce the government for an ideological purpose. “This was ideologically motivated, you could argue it was done to coerce the government to change its policy on genetically modified foods, and it was violent in that it destroyed private property,” he said.”
Saul discounts the likelihood that prosecution would occur under any such statute, deeming the action “a protest in a democratic society.”
It is disconcerting to think that an act of vandalism that derails a government-sanctioned research project to further political goals meets Saul’s assessment as simply a protest. Physical assault on scientific research has no place in a civil society and the actors in this case should be held fully responsible for their actions under the law.
Such actions should not be sanctioned or heralded by any organization that seeks to have a legitimate voice in policy discussions and in doing so Greenpeace has further deteriorated any credibility it still had remaining with the public.