GENTECH archive


Prince of Wales Online Forum on GMO

                                 GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD
                                 The Prince of Wales asks: Is it an
                                 innovation we can do without?

     "I have already explained my own concerns about genetically modified
     food, in some detail, in a series of speeches and articles. But I am keen
     to encourage wider public debate about these fundamental issues, which
     concern us all, and have chosen this as the subject of my first Online

     Perhaps I can just summarise the things I have said previously, as

     I believe that genetic modification (GM) 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.

     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.

     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!

     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. You may want to use the response section of this
     Forum to add your views to the discussion. We shall monitor responses
     and publish a selection from both sides of the debate on a regular basis."

     The Prince of Wales 
     St James's Palace, December 1998

     See also The Prince's Speeches and Articles - Agriculture.

     Have your say

     ) Copyright St James's Palace and the Press Association Ltd 1998. All rights reserved.