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Food under the microscope Friday, 9 April, 1999, 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK
Prince Charles speaks out against GM food
Priince Charles:
Priince Charles: "Advanced technology brings its own dangers"
The Prince of Wales has, over a number of years, talked about his concerns over genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). He summarised his views in a recent essay on his Website, which is reproduced here:

Food under the microscope
"I believe that genetic modification is much more than just an extension of selective breeding techniques.

Mixing genetic material from species that cannot breed naturally, takes us into areas that should be left to God. We should not be meddling with the building blocks of life in this way.

Advances in medicine

I do acknowledge that genetic manipulation could lead to major advances in medicine, agriculture and the good health of the environment.

There are certain highly beneficial and specific medical applications which have brought massive benefits to mankind. But advanced technology brings its own dangers.

I am not convinced we know enough about the long-term consequences for human health and the environment of releasing plants (or, heaven forbid, animals) bred in this way.

Herbicide resistant crops

I suspect that planting herbicide-resistant crops will lead to more chemicals being used on our fields, not fewer. But this isn't the whole story.

Such sterile fields will offer little or no food or shelter to wildlife, and there is already evidence that the genes for herbicide resistance can spread to wild relatives of crop plants, leaving us with weeds resistant to weedkiller.

Plants producing their own pesticides sound like a wonderful idea, until you find - as the scientists have - that beneficial insects, like lacewings and ladybirds, are also affected. And because the pesticide will be everywhere in the crop, it is predicted that the pests will rapidly acquire resistance to it. What do we do then?

Genetic material does not stay where it is put. Pollen is spread by the wind and by insects. GM crops can contaminate conventional and organic crops growing nearby. This cannot be right.

Major problems may, as we are assured, be very unlikely, but if something does go badly wrong with GM crops we will be faced with a form of pollution that is self-perpetuating.

I don't think anyone knows how to clean up after that sort of incident, or who would have to pay for it. And I expect someone thought it was a good idea - at the time - to introduce the rabbit and the cane toad to Australia!

Feeding a growing population

I wonder about the claims that some GM crops are essential to feed the world's growing populations. Is it really true? Is the problem sometimes lack of money, rather than lack of food? And how will the companies who own this technology make a sufficient profit from selling their products to the world's poorest people?

Wouldn't it be better to concentrate instead on the sustainable techniques which can double or treble the yields from traditional farming systems?

The public discussion so far has concentrated on the risks and capabilities of the technology and the effectiveness of the regulations.

These things are important, as are effective and comprehensive labelling schemes to ensure that those consumers like me who do not want to eat GM foods can avoid them. But there is an important public debate needed also on whether we need GM crops at all."

This article is reproduced with the permission of the Prince of Wales. It was originally published on his Website in 1998

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