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Tuesday, June 1, 1999 Published at 12:56 GMT 13:56 UK


Prince sparks GM food row

Prince Charles's article will add fuel to to an aready heated debate

Prince Charles has launched a scathing attack on genetically-modified products, but the UK Government has reponded by saying it won't force GM foods "down people's throats".

Food under the microscope
In an article in Tuesday's Daily Mail, Prince Charles poses a series of questions about the safety of GM foods and attacked the lack of independent scientific research.

And he rejects the argument that GM crops represent a solution to feeding the world's growing population as "emotional blackmail".

[ image:  ]
But UK Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, insists that the government has no intention of "forcing genetically-modified foods down people's throats".

Mr Meacher told the BBC that rules governing GM technology were "stringent and tight", but that he understood the public's concern:

In a separate development, Buckingham Palace has confirmed that Prince Charles is to meet the scientist whose research ignited the debate over genetically modified foods.

Dr Arpad Pusztai alleged that rats fed GM potatoes suffered damage to their immune systems and was later forced to abandon his work at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen.

Two weeks ago Dr Pusztai's findings were condemned in an independent report compiled by fellow scientists at the Royal Society.

The BBC's Clarence Mitchell: The Prince's outspoken criticisms have grown since the mid 90s
The palace said the prince's meeting with Dr Pusztai was private and refused to give any further details.

In the Daily Mail article, Prince Charles asks 10 questions to highlight his fears.

Before listing them, he says: "It is very hard for people to know who is right. Few of us are able to interpret all the scientific information which is available - and even the experts don't always agree.

"But what I believe the public's reaction shows is that instinctively we are nervous about tampering with Nature when we can't be sure that we know enough about all the consequences."

[ image:  ]
The article comes four days after Prime Minister Tony Blair accused the media of whipping up "hysteria" over the issue of GM foods.

Last November the Prince set up a discussion forum about GM foods on his Website, which he says has received 10,000 "hits".

The first question Prince Charles asks in his article is whether the country needs GM food.

He says: "On the basis of what we have seen so far, we don't appear to need it at all. The benefits, such as there are, seem to be limited to the people who own the technology and the people who farm on an industrialised scale."

The BBC's Robert Pigott reports on some of the questions raised in the GM debate
He is scathing about the argument used by GM food supporters that GM crops are the only way to feed the world's growing population.

"This argument sounds suspiciously like emotional blackmail to me. Is there any serious academic research to substantiate such a sweeping statement?" he writes.

'Orwellian future'

Prince Charles speaking in 1998: It is not right to tamper with the building blocks of lfie
"How much more could be achieved if all the research funds currently devoted to fashionable GM techniques - which run into billions of dollars a year - were applied to improving methods of agriculture which have stood the test of time?"

He says that if conventional and organic crops can become contaminated by GM crops grown nearby, people wanting to be sure they are eating or growing "absolutely natural" food will be denied that choice.

The Prince ends the article by asking "What sort of world do we want to live in?"

[ image: Tests on GM crops continue despite protests]
Tests on GM crops continue despite protests
He asks: "Are we going to allow the industrialisation of Life itself, redesigning the natural world for the sake of convenience and embarking on an Orwellian future? And, if we do, will there eventually be a price to pay?"

'Who are the trials for?'

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The government has been in the forefront of calls for a sensible, national debate on GM foods rather than the scaremongering we have seen in some parts of the media.

"Prince Charles's article should be seen in that context. This is a complex area and the government is proceeding according to the best science available. GM foods currently on the market in this country are safe."

Greenpeace Executive Director Peter Melchett, commenting on the article, said: "The Prince of Wales is right to say we will be denied the freedom to choose organic and non-GM food grown in this country if GM plantings go ahead.

"The fact is, our right to choose is being jeopardised by the GM crop trials which are already under way. This will contaminate both organic and non-GM crops.

"People don't want to buy GM food. Supermarkets won't be selling it.

"Food manufacturers don't want GM ingredients - so who on earth are the government carrying out the GM field trials for?"

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