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Tuesday, June 1, 1999 Published at 18:09 GMT 19:09 UK


Prince leads fight against GM food

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

Prince Charles has lent his voice to the campaign against genetically-modified products in an impassioned newspaper article.

Food under the microscope
He also plans to meet the controversial scientist whose research ignited the debate over GM foods.

Dr Arpad Pusztai alleged that rats fed with GM potatoes suffered damage to their immune systems. But he 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.

'Unprecedented and unethical'

In an article in Tuesday's Daily Mail, the prince condemned the "unprecedented and unethical situation" in which GM crops could cross-pollinate with normal crops.

[ image:  ]
He also attacked the lack of independent scientific research and rejected the argument that GM crops represent a solution to feeding the world's growing population as "emotional blackmail".

He wrote: "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."

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

Fergus Walsh reports: "This was an impassioned attack against GM foods"
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?"

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

GM tests near Prince's own farm

His article appeared on the day it emerged that GM crops are being tested near His Highness' own organic farm in Highgrove.

[ image: Tests on GM crops continue despite protests]
Tests on GM crops continue despite protests
Friends of the Earth revealed that Prince Charles' farm near Tetbury, Gloucestershire, is 17 miles away from a site run by AgrEvo UK at Lushill Farm, Hannington near Swindon in Wiltshire.

It is one of seven farm-scale test sites in the country and grows GM oilseed rape.

The BBC's Clarence Mitchell: The Prince's outspoken criticisms have grown since the mid 90s
But a spokeswoman for the Duchy of Cornwall said that since the Prince's farm does not grown oilseed rape, here was little risk of cross-pollination.

As public concern over scientifically altered foods takes on a new momentum, Friends of the Earth are allowing people to find out if they live near a GM test site by tapping in their postcode on the FoE Website.

The organisation says the number of test sites has halved to the current 140 because of local opposition and consumer fears.

Blair welcomes new debate

The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who had condemned what he regarded as media hysteria over the issue, welcomed the Prince's remarks.

Robert Pigott reports: "Prince Charles posed ten questions about GM food"
His spokesman said Mr Blair was happy for Prince Charles to make a contribution to a debate which the government was keen to promote.

He also said the prince's contribution was in marked contrast to the "scaremongering" generated by some newspapers.

Prince Charles speaking in 1998: It is not right to tamper with the building blocks of life
The spokesman said that the Prince informed Downing Street in advance about his article in the Daily Mail and the prime minister's office saw the text before it was published.

Earlier, the Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, insisted the government had no intention of "forcing genetically-modified foods down people's throats".

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

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