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The BBC's Jennie Bond
"Prince Philip says the grey squirrel has done more damage to the environment"
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Tim Yeo, shadow agriculture secretary
"I think the Prince of Wales is right to take a much more cautious stance"
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Tuesday, 6 June, 2000, 11:44 GMT 12:44 UK
Duke criticised for GM stance
Duke of Edinburgh
The Duke does not share his son's fears about GM foods
The Duke of Edinburgh has provoked criticism and put himself at odds with his son by playing down fears of genetically modified foods.

The Duke is quoted as saying that the introduction of foreign species, such as the grey squirrel, has already caused more damage to the UK's environment than could be caused by GM crops.

The introduction of the grey squirrel into this country is going to or has done far more damage than a genetically modified piece of potato

The Duke of Edinburgh
Ever since people started selective breeding animals and plants have been genetically modified, he said.

His comments - reported in The Times newspaper - are at odds with the views of the Prince of Wales, who has warned of the dangers of GM foods.

The Conservative Party's agriculture spokesman Tim Yeo said the Duke appeared to be "slightly confused" about the issue.

And environmental campaigners, Friends of the Earth said his argument did not hold water.

Prince Philip's comments came in response to a lecture made at Windsor Castle by the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks.

The Duke said: "Do not let us forget we have been genetically modifying animals and plants ever since people started selective breeding.

"People are worried about genetically modified organisms getting into the environment.

"What people forget is that the introduction of exotic species - like, for instance, the introduction of the grey squirrel into this country - is going to or has done far more damage than a genetically modified piece of potato."

Prince Charles
Prince Charles is against GM foods
The director of Friends of the Earth, Charles Secrett, said the Duke had undermined himself in the example he chose.

"The Duke has hit the nail on the head when he talks about the effect the grey squirrel had on the countryside. Who would have predicted the damage it would do?

"If we had stopped to test the effects of this particular genetic import we would never have allowed it to establish itself.

"If we continue to charge down the road to commercial development of GM crops before any proper testing has been completed, the Duke and all the rest of us may live to regret it," he said.

Rapeseed crop
The Duke played down fears of GM crops
Earlier this month, the Princess Royal spoke out in favour of GM foods.

In an interview with The Grocer magazine, she said those who were opposed to all GM foods were guilty of a "huge simplification" and that organic food production is not an "overall answer".

But last month the Prince of Wales used his contribution to the BBC Reith Lectures to restate his long-standing opposition to GM foods.

The prince warned the scientific community that tampering with nature could bring great harm to the world.

Duke should be 'cautious'

Saying he did not want to "get involved in a family row", Tory spokesman Tim Yeo said: "I think he [the Duke] is slightly confused about this issue.

"Of course it is right that the introduction of some exotic animals into an island like Britain has done great damage, but that should make him more cautious, not less cautious, about the consequences of genetic modification.

"Genetic modification goes much further than selective plant breeding or gradually improving horses so that they can run faster.

Highlighting the radical nature of genetic modification compared to selective breeding, he said: "It does involve taking genes from one species such as a fish which is normally confined to the Arctic and sticking it in something like a tomato to make it more frost-resistant."

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See also:

06 Jun 00 | UK
GM: The Royal debate
03 Jun 00 | UK
Princess defends GM foods
01 Jun 99 | UK
Prince sparks GM food row
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