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Tuesday, June 1, 1999 Published at 11:37 GMT 12:37 UK


Government 'not embarrassed' by GM comments

GM food research continues to be the focal point for fierce debate

The government says it welcomes Prince Charles' intervention in the genetically modified food debate and denied it had been caused embarrassment after he raised concerns in a national newspaper article.

Dr Sandy Thomas: We should continue in trying to develop the technology
Sceptics and supporters have responded to the Prince' comments and list of questions, published in Tuesday's Daily Mail.

In the article, Prince Charles calls for greater scientific research into GM products and expresses concerns over regulations governing their use.

Environment Minister Michael Meacher said the government welcomed the Prince's contribution to the debate, and agreed he was reflecting concerns held by many.

Food under the microscope
He also agreed with the Prince that it was wrong to label GM sceptics as "scaremongers".

Mr Meacher told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "(The Prince) has undoubtedly got a deep and passionate interest in the subject and I think he is accurately reflecting the concerns of a lot of people.

[ image:  ]
"I don't think he is embarrassing the government, I think he is raising issues that deserve to be raised.

"There are 10 questions in the article, all of them entirely fair questions, and the government is trying to give answers to them."

He said the government wanted a debate that was "fair and balanced" and wanted to see questions raised.

Monsanto, one of the companies at the forefront of GM crop development, rejected the Prince's assertion that there was a lack of research and too few regulations.

Patrick Holden of the Soil Association: Prince's intervention is extremely timely
Corporate affairs director Tony Combes said: "Dozens of worldwide regulatory agencies have decided that biotechnology crops are safe for the environment and for people to eat.

"These decisions are backed up by over 20 years of scientific and environmental research, and more than 20,000 field trials.

"The Royal Society and the Nuffield Foundation reports begged to differ with the Prince."

The Nuffield council of Bioethics - a scientific think tank on genetic and biological science - said there was no proof that GM crops were harmful.

[ image:  ]
The council's Dr Sandy Thomson said: "The working party of the Nuffield council looked very carefully at all evidence of the risks and benefits and concluded that the risks that may exist are sufficiently low that, with careful regulation and strengthened policy frameworks, that we should continue in trying to develop the technology."

But Patrick Holden, of the Soil Association, said he agreed with the Prince that serious concerns still needed to be addressed.

Mr Holden said: "We are treating the environment as an open air laboratory and we will find out what goes wrong when it is too late.

"I think this intervention by the Prince is extremely timely.

"Perhaps it will jolt Downing Street into realising that they are completely out of step with public opinon.

"Now we need to think about the precautionary principle, rather than waiting for something to go wrong we act, as we did with BSE."

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