GENTECH archive


brit scientific establishment v, the price.

Just came across this material on my (rare) visit to a newsgroup. I might
have found some of it sooner by visiting the ELECTRONIC TELEGRAPH, but I
was never able to stomach the parent paper's brand ofof politix,
I havn't been able to make sense of some of the syntax errors, so you take
it as you find it -

   Subject: Prof Burke answers Prince Charles's 10 questions
   Date: 1999/06/14
   Author: J Ralph Blanchfield <>
     Posting History Post Reply

Hello Everyone,

As Prince Charles's views and 10 questions have been widely reported, the
following will be of interest.


   Electronic Telegraph                        ISSUE 1480
                                                         Monday 14 June

Prince attacked over GM hostility

By David Brown Agriculture Editor

The 10 questions posed by the Prince of Wales

THE Prince of Wales has come under attack from a leading scientist and
former senior Government adviser for depriving his tenant farmers of the
right to grow genetically modified crops if theywant to.
In a scathing attack on the Prince's opposition to GM food, Prof Derek
Burke said: "It seems perverse, even criminal, to walk away from an
increased source of food when we need it desperately."

Prof Burke, an expert on biotechnology and former chairman of the
Government's Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes, criticised
the decision by Prince Charles last week to ban farmers entering into new
tenancy agreements on  Duchy of Cornwall land from growing GM crops.

 He said the Prince was depriving farmers of choice. "Why don't the
farmers have choice like  American farmers do? There is absolutely no
evidence of risk."

 Prof Burke said he did not want to see either Prince Charles's "organic
world" or his Orwellian fears for the future coming to reality. "I want a
world where  we use new technology safelyand constructively and we can do
that if we keep our heads, which at the moment we are failing to do."

 The professor, a staunch supporter of the new food technology, is the
first  member of the scientific community to challenge the Prince so
strongly about his anti-GM views, which refuelled the controversy over
biotechnology when  publicised two weeks ago.

 In an article to be published in Feedback Magazine, the official journal
of the  Food and Drink Federation, Prof Burke questions the Prince's
credentials and  answers all 10 key questions posed by the Prince about GM

  In his article Prof Burke says: "It is not often that a member of the
Royal Family, and the heir to the throne to boot, deliberately takes sides
in a current debate - a debate that requires a wide technical knowledge as
well as an understanding of current public attitudes. But since he has got
involved, I take it that anyone else can get involved too."

 He argues that there is no reason to "run away" from GM crops. Prof
Burke, who takes part in a debate on genetically modified food at the
Oxford Union  tonight, said: "I wrote the article because I felt there had
been an avalanche of emotion and no real debateon the GM issue."
   Here, in the same issue of the Electronic Telegraph, are Professor
Burke's answers to Prince Charles 10 questions.

  The 10 questions posed by the Prince of  Wales, and answered point by
point by  Prof Burke, are:

1. Do we need GM food in this country?

Not now you may say; we have enough. But food has become cheaper, and
better throughout my life - I grew up in afamily where chicken was an
annual  treat - because farmers have used every new technology to our
benefit. We can do the same with GM and use the higher yields to stop
using marginal land and to restore the hills and coastal strips to their
natural state. And when have we British turned our backson a new
technology? New technologies are not all good or all bad: they change
things and they pose new questions. So  why should we run away from GM?

 2. Is GM food safe for us to eat?

Just what is the basis for treating GM foods as so intrinsically dangerous
that they should be regarded as the Devil's concoction? Why so black and

Of course it would be possible to make GM "food" that was dangerous, but I
contend that the three GM foods approved for sale in the UK - cheese,
tomato paste and soya - are as safe to eat as any other, and I have no
hesitation in doing so. Why not treat food on its merits?

3. Why are the rules for approving GM foods so much less stringent  than
those for new medicines produced using the same technology?

This is a 'when did you stop beating your wife' question. The answer has
already been given in the question. The answeris clear: the rules are less
stringent, they are different and the same as used elsewhere in the world.

Drugs are tested on animals at hundreds of times their clinical doses;
that is  not possible with food, so different ways have been devised. But
if you really  want to start trials in humans, 300 million Americans have
been eating GM soya for several years now without any ill effects.

4. How much do we really know about the environmental consequences of GM

A huge area - one and a half times the size of Britain - is now sown with
GM in North America and, although the environment is not the same, there
have  been no big problems. The well publicised experiments with the
Monarch  butterfly show that under laboratory conditions caterpillars
force-fed corn pollen are damaged, but it is unlikely that in the wild the
caterpillars would eat corn pollen at all. The effect is small and needs
to be guarded against but it is notthe catastrophe that some claim.

5. Is it sensible to plant test crops without test regulations in place?

We already have EU regulations which have the force of law. Now we are
using a voluntary code of practice that goes beyond EU rules, is voluntary
because we don't want to wait for the EU, and which is overseen by an
independent body recently appointed by the minister. We need these trials
so that real choices can be made about appropriate regulation, and so it
is  important that vandals do notdestroy them and that farmers are not put
under pressure by green groups to abandon them.

6. How will consumers be able to exercise genuine choice?

Consumers had choice over the first two products, and only when GM soya
was introduced was choice lost. Now the emotional campaign against GM
foods has removed choice for those of uswho want to eat GM soya. So who
is being autocratic now? I notice too thatthe Prince has removed choice
from those farmers who farm on his land. Why don't the farmers have choice
like US farmers do? There is absolutely no evidence of risk.

7. If something goes wrong with a GM crop who would be held responsible?

Exactly the same bodies as before; for we have been introducing new crops
for years - [oilseed] rape and short-stalked wheat, for example - and
there have always been mechanisms for dealingwith any damage. To pretend
otherwise is misleading.

8. Are GM crops really the only way to feed the world's growing

No one has ever said it was, but it seems perverse, even criminal, to walk
away from an increased source of food when we need it desperately. And it
can help; a new rice with increased vitamin A and iron content is almost
ready  to meet a huge need in South-East Asia.

9. What effect will GM crops have on people of the world's poorest

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics in its recent report points out that,
with care, this new technology can help the poorest; a challenge that it
is unwise, I suggest even immoral, to walk away from.

 10. What sort of world do we want to live in?

I do not want either of the Prince's worlds; neither the Orwellian future
nor his organic world, and fortunately for nearly everyone there are many
other  choices. I want a world where weuse technology safely and
constructively  and we can do that if we keep our heads, which at the
moment we are signally failing to do.
   End of Professor Burke's answers to Prince Charles's 10 questions
Actually, David Brown, Agricultural Editor of the Daily Telegraph is not
quite correct in stating that Professor Burke "is the first member ofthe
scientific community to challenge the Prince so strongly about his anti-GM
views". While not as eminent as Professor Burke (who is also former
Vice-Chancellor of University of East Anglia) I have done so previouslyon
radio, on my Web Editor's page on the IFST Web site, and in a message
posted to the Prince's Web site.

I also raised an additional point. Prince Charles's opposition to GM is
basically ideological. He expressed it in the article he wrote in the
Daily Telegraph, and repeated it on his Web site. Part of my response
posted to his Web site was as follows:-
   Prince Charles and the "belongs to God alone" thesis

 The media have just discovered Prince Charles's Web site and have
highlighted the repetition there of his famous article that appeared inthe
Daily Telegraph on 8 June 1998, in which he wrote

"I happen to believe that this kind (trans-species - JRB) of genetic
modification belongs to God and to God alone"

. But his next sentence was

"Apart from certain highly beneficial and specific medical applications,
do we have the right to  experiment with and commercialise the building
blocks of life?"

Does this mean that what starts as the expression of a fundamental
principle is also elastic - that
we can eclectically apply it except when it suits us to ignore it?

46rom the God-related approach, has he also considered that the ability to
carry out what I call newGM
(i.e. by modern techniques, whether within-species or trans-species) could
be viewed as a God-given
talent to mankind, not to be rejected by mankind but to be used wisely?

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