FBI: ‘Economic sabotage’ of GMO beets

In this March 6, 2013 photo, a mature sugar beet is shown, in Tranquility, Calif. Farmers in central California hope to build the nation's first commercial-scale bio-refinery in nearby Mendota, Calif., to turn beets into biofuel. Europe already has more than a dozen such plants, but most ethanol in the United States is made from corn. (AP Photo/Gosia Wozniacka)
In this March 6, 2013 photo, a mature sugar beet is shown, in Tranquility, Calif. Farmers in central California hope to build the nation's first commercial-scale bio-refinery in nearby Mendota, Calif., to turn beets into biofuel. Europe already has more than a dozen such plants, but most ethanol in the United States is made from corn. (AP Photo/Gosia Wozniacka)

(KOIN) – Approximately 6,500 genetically-engineered sugar beet plants were destroyed on farms in Southern Oregon’s Jackson County in what federal investigators are calling economic sabotage.

The FBI reported Thursday that the two damaged plots were located on private farmland leased to the Switzerland-based agribusiness giant Syngenta.

On June 8, about 1,000 plants were destroyed on one property. On June 11, another 5,500 plants were destroyed on another. The sabotage occurred during the night, the FBI said.

“It was done by hand, by one or more people who essentially went through the field under the cover of darkness and left the plants destroyed,” said Paul Minehart, a  Syngenta spokesman.

A financial estimate of the damage was not disclosed, although the FBI described it as a “significant” amount.

“There have been anti-bio groups throughout the state of Oregon, so that’s a consideration for us in terms of who could be responsible,” Minehart said.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time someone has deliberately taken the cowardly step of uprooting high value plants growing in our state,” Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba said in a statement. “Regardless of how one feels about biotechnology, there is no justification for committing these crimes and it is not the kind of behavior we expect to see in Oregon agriculture.”

Oregonians for Food and Shelter is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to an arrest. Anyone with information is asked to call the FBI at 541-773-2942 or 503-224-4181.

Faris Tanyos and Brent Weisberg contributed to this report.

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