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Food Safety Wednesday, 15 July, 1998, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
Food minister defends genetic crops
graphic of produce
The Prince refuses to eat genetically-modified foods
The Food Safety Minister Jeff Rooker has acknowledged the Prince of Wales's concerns about genetically-engineered foods, but has insisted there are strict controls in place to ensure consumers' safety.

In an outspoken appeal, Prince Charles said the development of genetically-altered foods "takes mankind into realms that belong to God, and to God alone".

His message, delivered in an interview published in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, drew attention to what he sees as important "ethical and practical considerations" which, he says, have not been tackled.

Prince backs call for moratorium

The Prince supported English Nature's call for a moratorium on the introduction of some pesticide-tolerant genetically-modified crops, which some campaigners fear could harm wildlife.

"The lesson of BSE and other entirely man-made disasters in the cause of 'cheap food' is surely that it is the unforeseen consequences which present the greatest cause for concern," he said.
Prince Charles
The Prince's ecological credentials are well known

Mr Rooker said the Prince was entitled to his opinions, but there were already appropriate safeguards.

"We have very strict and rigorous regulatory controls over genetic modification whether it's in terms of foods or medicines," he said.

"These products are not put on the market without thorough examination and checks and balances by not just the companies but independent assessors. Anyone with concerns is entitled to have them. We all have them in a way."

Food companies defend their actions

The Prince's intervention follows the launch on Saturday of a 1m advertising campaign by an American-based biotechnology company, Monsanto.

It aims to persuade British consumers that genetically-modified crops will help them and the environment. Among the firm's new wave of produce are: soya, maize and tomatoes. All are genetically changed to make them pest-resistant or stay fresh longer.

Monsanto's Technical Manager, Dr Colin Merritt, responded to the prince's comments by saying no-one should be denied the choice of food modified by genetic engineering.

"If you look at the way we have bred crops for thousands of years, we don't see many people using crops we grew 100 or 1,000 years ago.

"It's the same process. The development of new breeds of crops has been going on for many, many years. The old varieties are still available but rarely used because the new crops are better," he said.

He said there were many similarities between historic changing of crops and today's science: "We have been changing the genetic structure through cross-breeding, chemicals, hybridisation, and so on.

"All that's different is that we now understand the chemistry and the genetics far more than we did and we can use a slightly wider range of choice of material."

He rejected as "irresponsible nonsense" claims that his firm was seeking corporate power by selling farmers both seed and its own patented pesticide. Farmers did not have to buy his company's products, he said.

'Don't let the genie out of the bottle'

The Prince's remarks were welcomed by Robin Maynard, a food campaigner for the environmental group, Friends of the Earth.

"His fears are shared by millions of people in the UK who are already being forced to eat genetically altered food against their will," he said.

"The government must listen to the public fears articulated by Prince Charles before this dangerous genie is let out of the bottle."

BBC News
BBC science correspondent James Wilkinson says the Prince's intervention will make life harder for the genetic food industry
BBC News
Monsanto's Dr Colin Merritt clashes with Patrick Holden of the Soil Association over the safety of genetic food
See also:

08 Jun 98 | Food Safety
08 Jun 98 | Europe
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