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Prince Says GM Crops will Harm not Feed the World - and he May Have a Point
Steve Dube
Western Mail, August 14 2008
IT'S ironic that rising food prices and fears of future shortages should begin to attract attention just as EU farm policy has shifted from maximising production to safeguarding the environment.

Prince Charles waded into the debate on this new scenario yesterday by restating his ardent opposition to genetically modified crops - the very technology that its creators claim will feed the world AND safeguard the environment.

The Prince is a passionate organic farmer, favouring the non-chemical approach to food production that abhors GM technology.

He has spoke out against GM crops before, but this time he has gone further, saying they threaten to bring about the biggest environmental disaster of all time.

These are strong words, and there's no way to find out whether he is right or wrong until it's too late.

But one unanswerable problem is that GM material can "escape" to cross-fertilise conventional plants.

And as we have discovered with other foreign escapees, from the grey squirrel to Japanese Knotweed, once they are out there it's very hard to stop them having a drastic effect on our countryside.

GM technology has been around since February 1996, when Sainsbury and Safeway stores put Europe's first American-grown, and clearly-labelled GM tomatoes on their shelves.

Twelve years on, the scene is very different. Consumers want nothing to do with GM food, and the biotech companies therefore don't want it labelled.

Neither do they want to accept liability for anything that might, at some future stage, go wrong.

They don't want to face possible litigation for polluting the natural environment or adversely affecting public health.

This last issue is largely unresearched but the biotech companies point out that people in North America have been eating GM food for over a decade with no evident effects. GM opponents say you won't find what you don't look for - and no-one is looking.

The issue would be so much easier to agree on if GM technology did increase yields and safeguard the environment.

Unfortunately this is not the case. Multi-national companies aim to make money, not save the world.

GM crops are currently developed with increased tolerance to the pesticides, which are sold by the same companies, enabling farmers to use more of them, not less.

The effects on weeds and the insects that rely on them - and the rest of the food chain from birds upwards - are potentially devastating.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Agriculture itself has stated that there is no evidence of increased yields from GM crops.

On top of this, many GM crops are sterile "terminator" varieties requiring farmers to buy fresh seed every year.

This is why the Prince says they threaten small farmers across the world, who may simply not have the money to buy them.

Proponents argue that these are only the "first generation" of GM crops.

Forthcoming generations will meet the need for crops to feed the world and look after the environment.

But until they do, Prince Charles and the great majority of British consumers will understandably regard GM food with scepticism.