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Media Release 17th September 1998

The Genetic Engineering Network received a phone-call yesterday at approximately 4.30pm from Ben Thompson. Following two meetings between Ben and the Deputy Governor, Luke Serjeant, the hunger strike, due to begin this morning, was called off. Yesterday Ben received a breakfast and lunch that were both in keeping with his requests for a healthy and complete vegan diet that is free from GMOs. Ben was also shown a full menu for the next two days and was assured that these meals will also meet his requests. Under these circumstances Ben feels as though a hunger strike at this time would be very inappropriate and unnecessary. However as promises made in the past by the prison did not materialise, the situation will be now be reviewed on a daily basis. A spokesperson for the Genetic Engineering Network said earlier: "GEN will continue to monitor Ben's situation on a daily basis to ensure that suitable meals are available for the rest of his prison term. If for some reason these meals are withdrawn, Ben will begin the hunger strike the following morning without fluids. We hope though that this will not be necessary and we are delighted that for now at least Ben will be eating a healthy vegan diet that is free from GMOs."


The deputy governor has spoken at length with both the caterers as well as the suppliers of some of the main ingredients used in the vegan meals. Items such as the breakfast cereals, flour and cooking oil have all been guaranteed to be GE free. Therefore Ben will be able to eat many meals that he was previously unsure about; in regard to their GMO content. The Genetic Engineering Network and Ben have also been assured that an order of Provamel soya drink, that is free from GMOs, has now arrived in the prison and that this will be available to Ben for breakfast later this morning, along with some cereal and fruit.

GEN went on to say: "This is a very short-term solution to the problem facing all prisoners. In the long term GEN, the prison and the many groups and individuals now supporting Ben's position will push for a policy change at a National level on the issue of a diet free from GMOs being available to all prisoners requesting it. In his phone call to GEN yesterday, Ben Thompson wished to pass on thanks to all those who have worked to highlight his situation."


are they prepared to see genetics hunger striker die?

media release September 16th 1998

report from: Genetic Engineering Network
website: Tel. 0181 374 9516

Ben Thompson, the prisoner at HMP Bullingdon, who two weeks ago ended an eight day hunger strike, is set to begin another. This time he intends to refuse all liquids. This would give him approximately five days to live. After a meeting with Prison Governor, Luke Serjeant on September 3rd, Ben ended the eight day hunger strike on the understanding that, Serjeant would co-operate with the Genetic Engineering Network in securing alternatives to the present vegan diet so that it would be free from Genetically Manipulated Organisms. Despite confirming this in writing, and despite numerous phone calls, neither Mr Serjeant, nor the Prison Governor, Mr Cann have co-operated.

Ben was also assured access to a basic diet that would be free from GMOs, it was to include fresh fruit and vegetables, oatmeal for breakfast and rice and vegetables, but that has seldom been the case. At many mealtimes there has been nothing that Ben could eat. Repeated requests, for lists of the ingredients used in certain meals, have been refused by the kitchen staff. When other prisoners have offered Ben their fruit they have been reprimanded. The basic diet was to be a short-term solution while GEN worked with Mr Serjeant to provide alternatives to the present vegan diet on offer, so that some basic items such as bread, milk, margarine, burger mix, cooking oil etc. would be GE free. When GEN presented an alternative to the GE Tesco soya milk presently on offer, the prison promised that the change would be implemented as soon as possible. This has not yet happened despite having been agreed ten days ago.


A spokesperson from the Genetic Engineering Network said: "Ben is requesting something that is very reasonable. We believe that the prison is witholding information that could end in the loss of life. This is completely unacceptable, as the answer to the problem is a very simple one and one that should and could be implemented."

Ben's concerns have been backed by many scientists Environmental, Consumer and Food Safety groups. Meanwhile many city and county councils, have banned GMOs over the past few months. MPs in the House of Commons do not have to eat GM food, school children and the elderly do not have to eat GM food in many counties now, yet prisoners must. Is this The Government's way of implementing controlled long term testing of GMOs on humans?

It should be a basic right for everyone, to have access to food that has been proven to be safe. Genetically manipulated food has not been, despite what the huge biotechnology companies would have us all believe. We truly hope that the prison authorities and/ or The Home Office moves very quickly to prevent what will be of huge political significance at an international level, if Ben dies rather than knowingly eat Genetically Manipulated Organisms."

For more information please contact the Genetic Engineering Network on: 0181 374 9516.



My name is Ben Thompson and I plan to commence another hunger strike to express my dissatisfaction at the fact that my beliefs and dietary requirements at HMP Bullingdon have been consistently ignored. After exhausting the official channels I have already been on an eight day hunger strike in an attempt to secure a diet that is vegan and free from genetically manipulated organisms. After a meeting with the Deputy Governor, Luke Serjeant on Wednesday, September 2nd in which he assured me that the matter was being taken seriously and all attempts taken to address the issues, I agreed to eat, on the grounds that the offer seemed genuine.


Two weeks later, despite an offer from a vegan company [Plamil foods] to supply free food that would not contain GM ingredients, there has been next to no change in the diet on offer to me. My additional requests are now:
  • That the prison accepts the offer from Plamil foods until a long-term offer is forthcoming.
  • That the prison caterers, [Sutcliffes] offer a list of ingredients used in each meal so that I can identify what may or may not contain GM ingredients.
Until the above requests are met I intend to be go on hunger strike. I will also refuse all liquids. This will begin on Thursday morning, September 18th 1998.



My name is Ben Thompson, and I am currently serving a three month prison sentence for my part in an animal rights demonstration. On 19/8/98 I was convicted of section 4(1), of the public order act, 1986. In real terms this means defending myself, and friends, against attacks from the police.

This is my first time in prison, and it has made me aware of a few injustices, one of which I found myself suffering. I am a vegan, meaning that I avoid all products containing animal based ingredients. My belief is that the exploitation of animals is inhumane and unnecessary, contributing significantly to many environmental and social problems. Also I do not eat genetically manipulated food, as despite propaganda from powerful biotechnology companies, it represents a serious threat both to the environment and human health. No long-term safety tests have been done, or indeed can be done on transgenic food. We are being forced into the role of guinea pigs in a big genetic experiment. Our lives are being placed at risk as our food is contaminated by genetic manipulation. The effects are unpredictable and irreversible, and already 37 people have died and 1,500 remain permanently disabled as a result of a previous [GE] experiment. The only benefits are huge profits for big business.


Along with a growing number of people around the world, I wish to make a stand against irresponsible, short-sighted, "progress", and for ecologically sound, healthy alternatives led by people not profit. Since my arrival at HMP Bullingdon I have constantly attempted to secure a vegan diet free from genetically manipulated organisms. Initially my requests fell on deaf ears, despite concerted efforts. The doctor dismissed my concerns as "nonsense". There appeared to be a total disregard for my dietary requirements and beliefs, and so having exhausted the "proper channels", I started a hunger strike.

I assured the authorities that all my requests could be met easily. I became physically weak, dizzy and was losing weight. The health care staff expressed serious concern for my well being, and predicted that I would soon be seriously ill, and warned of possible long-term damage. Finally, on 3/9/98 I was called to see the deputy governor. He assured me that he will do all that he can to ensure a change of prison service policy regarding GM food, but could not immediately resolve my situation, due to financial constraints and regulations. I took his word that he would attempt to resolve my diet, and agreed to eat what I can in the meantime (fruit, vegetables and rice). Whilst this is obviously not entirely adequate, I am prepared to make this compromise. Hopefully I have succeeded in highlighting an issue of very real concern, and provided some thought which can be transformed into responsible action.

Ben Thompson

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