Prince of Wales Speaks Out on Frankenfoods

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
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
and ladybirds, are also affected. And because the pesticide will be
everywhere in the crop it is predicted that the pests will rapidly
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

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