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Wednesday, June 10, 1998 Published at 06:49 GMT 07:49 UK

Gene scientists earn their crust

Genetic engineering is a growth industry

Scientists have genetically engineered a new type of wheat which they hope will make British bread softer.

But the development is likely to be controversial. Earlier this week the Prince of Wales criticised modified foods while environmentalists have already condemned the new wheat as risky and unnecessary.

BBC correspondent Pallab Ghosh: It may be some time before it reaches the shelves
In Britain, bread-making flour needs to be topped up with American flour containing higher levels of gluten to make loaves soft and springy.

Soon these imports may not be needed, though. Researchers at the Institute of Arable Crop Research in Hertfordshire have developed a springy wheat that can be grown in this country.

It has been genetically engineered by introducing genes from a gluten-rich variety into the traditional British variety.

However, even if the wheat produces better bread, it may be some time before it reaches the shelves, with polls showing concern running high about genetically engineered foods.

[ image: Prince Charles:
Prince Charles: "Leave it to God"
Prince Charles said the development of genetically-altered foods "takes mankind into realms that belong to God, and to God alone".

His message drew attention to what he sees as important "ethical and practical considerations" which, he says, have not been tackled.

The Prince of Wales 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.

Strict controls

But the Food Safety Minister, Jeff 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.

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

Supermarket protest

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.

More than 100 residents, campaigners and academics vented their concerns on Saturday when they demonstrated against a supermarket in Totnes, Devon.

The protesters, claiming that increasing amounts of crops like soya and maize are finding their way into everyday foodstuffs, descended on Safeways superstore.

Protesters let themselves be ushered out before they could finish filling shopping trolleys with products they claim have genetically modified ingredients, but do not carry any labelling.

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Internet Links

The Council for Responsible Genetics

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