(Ghent, 28th October 2014) The pleadings in the potato trial have taken place today. The 11 field liberators of Wetteren appealed following their wrongful conviction for being members of a criminal gang, which is a dangerous precedent for all forms of social action. Their lawyers showed the complete failure of justice of this previous conviction, which is unworthy of democracy. This morning a small symbolic victory was achieved​​: the judge accepted this time to show the footage of the action in court. These images show the non-violent nature of the big potato swap of May 2011 in Wetteren.


A solidarity celebration with the presence of around 300 supporters, including several farmers, NGOs, environmental organizations, families, musicians, politicians, and field liberators from abroad was organized for de Kouter square. The presence of many farmers, including several potato farmers, shows that a sustainable agricultural system without GMOs is also desired by the farmers.


The lawyers representing the potato activists argued again that the action was a form of civil disobedience, necessary for environmental and democratic reasons. Free speech does not stop where the criminal law begins. The field trial had been declared illegal in 2012 by a court in Ghent, partly because the health and environmental risks had not been adequately assessed. There are also clear links between members of the Biosafety Council and the applicants of the field trial. The conflict of interest is obvious and unworthy of a democracy.


The defense witnesses for the field liberators were not heard during this session. It is important that they are heard so as to be able to debate the reasons for and to demonstrate the necessity of the action.
The three planned witnesses would have raised, from different perspectives, why the action was necessary. An organic potato farmer would have explained how he grows potatoes without the use of pesticides or GMOs, and how the introduction of GMO potatoes in Flanders would make this difficult. A member of the Biosafety Council would address the problems with the functioning of the Belgian Biosafety Council and the shortcomings in the application for the field trial. Angelica Hilberg, an internationally recognized expert, would have explained the scientific grounds that question the adequacy of the European regulations concerning the introduction of genetically modified crops. She would have explained the knowledge gaps regarding the consequences of the insertion of the supposed phytophthora-resistant GMO potatoes.


Meanwhile, 50 organizations and opinion leaders signed a message of support for the field liberators and a call to support agroecological agriculture and food systems.


Furthermore, activists and attendees have warned against the criminalization of actions. Today, in France, a lawsuit commenced against Farmer union activists campaigning against an industrial livestock factory with 1000 cows. In this sense, the bill recently filed by Groen, which would make it impossible to prosecute activists for being members of a criminal gang, would be a step in the right direction.


The call for a sustainable and equitable agricultural and food model sounds ever more loudly and urgently needs to be heard.