The farm leader, GM crops and Nazi book-burners

Was NFU president leader Peter Kendall right to liken vandals who attack GM crops to Nazi book-burners?

Mr Kendall drew the comparison during a speech to MPs at the House of Commons on Monday (21 May). Trashing crop trials was unacceptable, he said.

“This is criminal, and must be dealt with as such. It’s worse than that. It is the wilful imposition of ignorance, directly comparable to Nazi book-burning in the 1930s.”

Mr Kendall has a track record of using colourful language – in the past referring to various government policies as “absolutely bonkers” or a “dog’s breakfast.”

But so far as I know, it is the first time he has accused anti-GM activists of adopting Third Reich tactics to get their message across.

And making the remark has got Mr Kendall’s message across too.

This wasn’t an off-the-cuff comment made during a heated speech. It was carefully pre-planned – so much so that the NFU press-released it beforehand.

A Google news search shows the comment was reported by at least 31 media outlets, including Reuters, the Press Association and the Financial Times.

The Nazis weren’t the first to ceremonially burn books that didn’t correspond with their ideology. Book-burning stretches back as far as the 3rd century BC.

And Mr Kendall isn’t the first person to liken GM trashers to Nazi book-burners.

The last person to do so – Leeds University scientist Professor Howard Atkinson in 2008 – faced calls to apologise.

Book-burning continues to be a controversial act. And suggesting someone is a Nazi book-burner remains a nuclear option in any argument.

But Mr Kendall’s comment reflects the strength of feeling among many farmers when experimental GM crops are trashed.

Farmers face a wealth of challenges over the coming years and decades – not least how to feed a world population set to reach 9 billion people by 2050.

It’s not that far away. And time is running out.

GM crops might not be the answer to feeding the world but without experiments involving them, we’ll never know the contribution they might make.

Britain’s first GM wheat trial at Rothamsted – attached just last weekend – isn’t a commercial experiment, it is funded with public money.

And the fact that trials to explore the use of GM crops face being destroyed by opponents is as frustrating to many farmers as it is to scientists.


  1. If ‘Peter’ is the person I think it is then he has just told me off for comparing his tendency for inflammatory language to that of Mr Kendall. Sorry about that but it’s a time for cool heads.

    I’ve just signed the ‘Don’t Destroy Research’ petition saying while there are potentially huge risks to GM it needs taking on a case-by-case basis. The threat to the wider environment posed by this experiment is minimal and I trust the scientists at Rothamsted will be held liable for any damage they cause.

  2. A good summary of the issues, Mr Tasker. But while you may be right that many farmers (and members of the public I would guess) are unhappy about the illegal trashing of experimental GM crops, I wonder if most NFU members would be happy with his comparison of GM activists with Nazis? I am already aware of several farmers/NFU members who feel that Kendall has stepped well over the line of acceptability.

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