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Prince Charles Calls for a GE Free Britain

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Make Britain GM free, says Charles

Prince of Wales tells Farming Editor Steve Dube that EU bid to outlaw Welsh ban is 'ridiculous'

Jul 30 2003

Steve Dube, The Western Mail

GENETICALLY-MODIFIED crops should be banned in Britain, the Prince of Wales told The Western Mail yesterday.

Speaking as he officially opened the Western Mail and Echo's new £18m press in Cardiff Bay, the Prince said, "We need a GM-free Wales - and a GM-free Britain as well, for that matter."

And he dismissed the merits of a claim that moves to ban so-called "Frankenstein foods" in Wales alone were illegal.

The World Trade Organisation is threatening legal action against the European Union over its refusal to allow imports of unlabelled GM produce from America.

But the claims of illegality come from the European Commission, and were repeated by EU Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler at last week's Royal Welsh Show.

The Prince's reaction, as he fuelled the debate on GM crops, was blunt: "It's ridiculous," he said.

Prince Charles took his dislike of GM crops to the ultimate level yesterday as he called for the British ban, although he has frequently expressed strong views on the issue

"I happen to believe that this kind of genetic modification takes mankind into realms that belong to God, and to God alone," he has written.

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

"We simply do not know the long-term consequences for human health and the wider environment, of releasing plants bred in this way.

"We are assured that these new plants are vigorously tested and regulated, but the evaluation procedure seems to presume that, unless a GM crop can be shown to be unsafe, there is no reason to stop its use.

"Once genetic material has been released into the environment it cannot be recalled. The likelihood of a major problem may, as some people suggest, be slight, but if something does go badly wrong we will be faced with the problem of clearing up a kind of pollution which is self-perpetuating.

"I am not convinced that anyone has the first idea of how this could be done, or indeed who would have to pay."

Dr Brian John, a co-ordinator of the GM Free Cymru campaign group, said last night, "Good for Prince Charles, to put this issue in the public spotlight again.

"Franz Fischler is making up the rules as he goes along. He should go away quietly and sit in a dark room for a while.

"The crucial issue is not the claim of GM-free status, but the strength of the scientific argument.

"The European Commission will make a ruling on the legality of GM-free zones in September, after Upper Austria declared itself GM free last month.

Dr John said the case was likely to become another tug-of-war between the EC and its greatest rival, the European Parliament.

Dr John said, "I would have thought that Wales would have a very powerful scientific case for saying that we want to be GM free as a country."

Plaid Cymru's rural affairs spokesman Rhodri Glyn Thomas said, "If the National Assembly of Wales - which has a settled view on the need for Wales to be GM free - can't make such a decision, what is the point of devolution?

"Let's use the powers we have got to the maximum. Let's push at the boundaries and see what we can actually achieve.

"If the Welsh Assembly Government had the political will, they could announce that Wales was GM free and, in terms of a marketing tool for Welsh products, what could be better than clean and green, backed by GM free?

"A spokesman for the National Assembly insisted that Wales could not legally describe itself as GM free.

"We never claimed to be GM free but we take the most restrictive approach possible within the existing legislation," he said.

"The Assembly not only argues for a restrictive approach to the commercialisation of GM crops, but has also taken practical steps to ensure that none are grown in Wales."

But University of Glamorgan bio-technologist Dr Denis Murphy dismissed the bid for a GM-free Wales as a misguided fantasy.

He said the policy was not practically feasible - following the EU's decision earlier this month to approve the sale of GM food as long as it was clearly labelled -- and not legally enforceable.

In addition Dr Murphy, a former government adviser on GM technology, claimed that the policy would not enhance the economic competitiveness of Welsh agriculture.

"A GM-free Wales would be completely irrelevant because the kind of GM crops you can grow in Wales would not affect our farmers.

And he added, "Organic farmers would be 'stuffed' whether Wales was GM free or not."

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