The crop destruction took place over the course of two separate nights in early June, when an unknown individual or group destroyed about 6,500 sugar beet plants genetically engineered to stand up to the herbicide Roundup on a pair of privately-owned plots of land leased and managed by Syngenta.
The first act of what the FBI considers "economic sabotage and a violation of federal law involving damage to commercial agricultural enterprises," took place during the night of June 8, when about 1,000 sugar beet plants on one property were destroyed. Three nights later, the destruction continued on another property, where another 5,500 plants were ruined.
"It doesn't look like a vehicle was used. It looks like people entered the field and destroyed the plants by hand," said Paul Minehart, head of corporate communications in North America for Syngenta, a global agriculture corporation based in Basel, Switzerland.
Estimates for the damage were not specified but the financial losses are significant, according to FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele.
A group, Oregonians for Food and Shelter, is offering a reward up to $10,000 for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of the culprits.
Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba issued a statement about the sabotage.
"To my knowledge, this is the first time someone has deliberately taken the cowardly step of uprooting high value plants growing in our state. 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," Coba said.
More than decade ago, environmental saboteurs vandalized experimental crops across the country in a revolt against high-tech agriculture.
Foes of genetic engineering also struck in 2000, when members of the Earth Liberation Front, with roots in Oregon, set fire to agriculture offices at Michigan State University. ELF's position was that genetic engineering was "one of the many threats to the natural world as we know it."
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