Marie Mason, a radical activist who helped set fire to protest research on biotech crops was sentenced February 6th to nearly 22 years in prison. Mason was deemed responsible for the explosion and fire that caused more than $1 million in damage to Michigan State University’s Agriculture Hall on New Year’s Eve 1999.
U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney said Mason decided to “elevate her grievances beyond the norms of civilized society” through fire and destruction. The case, which was prosecuted as domestic terrorism, was “about an abandonment of the marketplace of ideas,” he added.
Mason targeted a MSU campus office that held records on research related to moth-resistant potatoes for poor parts of Africa. The 47-year-old Mason, of Cincinnati, had acted on behalf of the radical group Earth Liberation Front, or ELF, which has been implicated in a spate of similar crimes, mostly in the West.
As biotechnology moves more into mainstream agriculture as a means to produce heartier and healthier plants, anti-biotech activists are becoming more extreme in their efforts to obstruct research and testing. An increasing number of activist groups are publicly opposing the science of biotechnology, and many are resorting to extreme – even violent – tactics. In Britain, for example, more than 50 trials have been conducted since 2000, but all have been affected by vandalism.
Many governments are implementing policies that require biotech crop trials to be conducted in secret, often government-controlled locations. And we’re seeing more severe penalties being handed down for such actions. In the Michigan State case, prosecutors had recommended 20 years in prison for Marie Mason, a term that would have been the most onerous sentence imposed in a case of this sort.
A recent column in The Economist examines past and present incidences of biotech crop vandalism. Despite the obvious benefits of, and arguments for, biotech crops, activists groups such as Greenpeace remain firm in their opposition. Greenpeace says that many of the scientific studies touting the benefits of biotechnology lack scientific evidence to support claims that biotech crops are safe and effective.
“Oh, what an irony,” says The Economist. “Greenpeace wants more scientific evidence, while activists that may have been inspired by its crop-trashing efforts ten years ago are busy destroying trials that would provide it.”