Prince Charles opens Labour rift on GM crops : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

From the Electronic Teelgraph (sibscription):

ISSUE 1468, Wednesday 2 June 1999

Prince opens Labour rift on GM crops, By Charles Clover Environment Editor and George Jones Political Editor

DEEP divisions emerged within the Government yesterday over the development of genetically modified crops, following a challenge by the Prince of Wales to claims that they could help to feed the world's growing population in the next century.

Downing Street reacted with thinly disguised irritation to an article by Prince Charles in the Daily Mail raising 10 "unanswered questions" about the safety, ethics and efficacy of GM technology. Although the Prime Minister's spokesman refused to be drawn into a direct clash with the Prince, it was clear there is considerable anger in Whitehall at the way he has reignited the public debate on the issue.

The Prince's intervention has delivered a body blow to the Government's attempts to reassure people that GM crops are safe. But ministers fear an open clash with the Prince would serve only to intensify the controversy, so the Government's damage limitation exercise was designed to play down the impact of his intervention.

Most of the 10 questions the Prince had asked in some form before, notably in an article in The Daily Telegraph last year. But he effectively parachuted a cat into one of the Government's most hotly defended chicken coops by questioning the assertion that GM technology will be important to feed the world when its population doubles in the next century.

Asserting that the argument sounded "suspiciously like emotional blackmail", the Prince said the countries that could be expected to benefit took a different view. Representatives of 20 African countries, including Ethiopia, had published a statement denying that gene technologies would help farmers to produce the food they needed.

"They think it will destroy the diversity, the local knowledge and the sustainable agricultural systems . . . and undermine our capacity to feed ourselves," said the Prince.

Jack Cunningham, the Cabinet Office minister, last week praised a report by the influential Nuffield Council on Bioethics think-tank, which said there was a "compelling moral imperative" to develop GM crops to help to fight hunger in the Third World.

It is also the belief of Sir Robert May, chief scientific adviser to the Prime Minister, who told the Commons environmental audit committee last month that GM crops were essential if the world's population was to be fed in 50 years' time.

Sir Robert mocked the biotechnology company Monsanto for not making more of this argument, which he said was his main reason for endorsing GM crops. If it had not been for the green revolution, he said, bringing higher yielding crops dependent on pesticides and fertilisers, we would not be able to feed the present world population of six billion, let alone one of 10 billion.

However he conceded that most of the current problems of starvation in the world were problems of "distribution, not production".

In contesting these views, the Prince endorsed the "devastating" report by Christian Aid earlier this year which took the view that GM crops were irrelevant to ending hunger as they would be more likely to produce cash crops for export to the West, and criticised them as likely to put too much power over food into too few hands.

Where people were starving, said the Prince, lack of food was rarely the underlying cause. It was more likely to be lack of money, distribution problems - caused, though the Prince merely hinted at this, by corruption - or political difficulties, even wars.

He found an ally within the Government yesterday in Michael Meacher, the Environment Minister, who said the 10 unanswered questions the Prince raised were "perfectly legitimate". He agreed that GM technology would not feed the world.

Mr Meacher said: "Prince Charles refers to the Christian Aid document, which I've read and think is basically correct. While you can engineer plants to withstand soils, which confer some benefits, the idea that this is an answer to feeding the world is preposterous."

Mr Meacher said he took a different view from Sir Robert May and that he saw family planning, poverty alleviation, land reform and water conservation - plus the spread of democratic institutions - as the real keys to feeding the world. But when it came to providing the answer to the Prince's 10 questions, Mr Meacher added: "I don't know that we can do more than we are doing."

The author of the Christian Aid report, Andrew Simms, said yesterday that the biggest growth in Africa was in luxury horticulture - "mange-tout for the Hampstead set, not meeting people's needs". The answer, he said, was neither "old-style green revolution nor gene revolution".

"The seduction of the new technology is that it is crowding out other tried and tested methods of improving yields, often at zero cost," he said. The Prince found support yesterday even among the supporters of biotechnological development.

Prof Chris Payne, chief executive of Horticultural Research International, a public sector research centre, said: "I believe GM technology has the potential to increase yield and increase quality in ways which have not been available to us before. We should not throw out the baby with the bathwater. It may be that, for safety reasons, we are not able to press on with it as fast as some organisations would like.

"But I think it is naive to assume that GM technology by itself is going to feed the world. You have distribution and a wide range of political issues to deal with. It is not going to bring food to starving populations in Africa overnight. There are many more profound issues to be addressed."

Earlier, Mr Blair's spokesman said the Prime Minister, who last week accused the media of whipping up "hysteria" on the issue, was "perfectly content" for the Prince to make a contribution to a debate on GM foods, which the Government was seeking to encourage.

He said Downing Street was informed in advance about the Prince's article and shown a text. "The Prince's views in this area are well known, as is his interest in it."

When pressed by journalists at a Downing Street briefing, the spokesman accused newspapers of seeking a headline "Blair at war with Charles over GM foods". His aim was to frustrate attempts to place that interpretation on the Government's reaction to the Prince's article.

So why was the Government highly critical of other environmental activists, such as Friends of the Earth, who made similar points? The spokesman said the Prime Minister and Mr Cunningham had been criticising "one-sided scaremongering in the media".

"People are perfectly entitled to put questions. The Government is responsible for Government policy, and GM foods on the market in this country are safe. The Prince of Wales is making an important contribution to an important public debate."

-- Old Git (, June 02, 1999


So what's Prince Charles' position?

-- KoFE (your@town.USA), June 02, 1999.

From what I can gather, it seems Prince Charles has bought into the urban legend about genetically modified foods being bad for your health.

-- Rick (, June 02, 1999.

We've had fifty years of eroded, depleted, polluted, and saltified soils, falling aquifers; shrinking margins for farmers the world over, destruction of the rural lifestyle. The system we have developed depends on cheap gasoline and continuing pollution and poverty. It is terminal and the only response by the agro-giants is another band-aide, biotech. They promised fity years ago that the green revolution would "feed the world." All it has done has provided rich americans with cheap peanut butter, cotton, and various luxary crops.

The "green revolution," is really a trick to turn the planet into the final commodity.

I dream that Y2K will bring this evil machine to its knees.


-- Peter Starr (, June 02, 1999.

KofE - HRH's position is second in line to the throne :) For more on his position re GM foods (which is also a US/UK trade issue):

-- Old Git (, June 02, 1999.

Rick -

You didn't read the article as closely as you ought:

Where people were starving, said the Prince, lack of food was rarely the underlying cause. It was more likely to be lack of money, distribution problems - caused, though the Prince merely hinted at this, by corruption - or political difficulties, even wars.

Prince Charles is raising questions that even the government's own Environment Minister states are "perfectly legitimate", not "urban legends", as you characterize them.

This whole "GM crops will feed the world" tack by Blair's people reminds me of the US gov't's use of "it's for the children" as an emotional appeal for certain programs. The California state lottery was supposed to increase school funding "for our kids". LOL!

-- Mac (sneak@lurk.hid), June 02, 1999.

Although I have previously commented on the benefits of increased yields and disease resistence from hybridization and other genetic innovations (see old threads,) the myth that we can feed the world if we just go back to the old ways persists. The stark reality is that without technology, chemical use and genetics, we could not support our current population.

FEEDING THE WORLD: Based on studies from the World Watch Institute, it is a fact that grain production has been lagging behind the world population since 1984. In addition, the world's population is expected to double in the decade between 1994-2004, requiring a 50 to 70 percent increase over current grain levels just to meet the demand for food.

According to a the Alan Shawn Feistein World Hunger Program, Research Report, The Hunger Report: Update 1993, 1994, the support potential for the world's agricultural land supply in relation to its population in 1992 reveals the following:

(1) If we were to feed everyone in the world a strict vegetarian diet - losing nothing to insect loss or crop damage, and feeding nothing to livestock - the world could have fed no more than 115% of its population (this provided a 15% margin of famine safety.)

(2) If we to upgrade that diet to include a minimal animal source caloric content of 15%, the world could have fed no more than 77% of its population; and

(3) If we were to upgrade that diet to the accepted "full but healthy" (lean) nutritional standard, the world could have fed no more than 59% of its population.

The foundation also reports in Poor People and Threatened Environments: Global Overviews, Country Comparisons, and Local Studies that there is little untapped agricultural land to call upon in the hungry Third World to make up the caloric deficit. At least 1/4 of the world's population inhabits "threatened" environments: highlands which are undergoing rapid deforestation and erosion; semi-arid lands, of which by one 1984 estimate at least 60% were already desertified (had lost more than 25% or more of their productive capacity); and tropical forests with transient fertility which are being cleared at a rate of somewhere between 1/2 to 1 1/2% per year. Altogether, these threatened lands make up approximately 55% of the earth's land area.

AG PRODUCTIVITY: From "Farming in the United States," Stucture Issues of American Agriculture, USDA ERS Agricultural Economics Report 438, Nov. 1979, pg. 24-26:

There has been a substantial increase in tractor horsepower on farms subsequent to WWII. Currently the ratio of buildings and machinery per worker in agriculture is twice as much as that of business in general. Fertilizer use has increased more than five-fold during the same period.

Labor accounted for almost 40% of all resources used in farming in 1950, but fell below 15% by the end of the 1970s (USDA) Most of the farms today rely solely on the farm operator family as a source of labor.

Pg 26 In the early 1980s, farmers who comprise only 3% of the nations total civilian labor force were producing enough output to feed our nation's population and still have enough left over to account for 20% of the nation's total export revenue.

Pg 27 The total output of raw agricultural products per unit of input in 1982 represented an 88% increase over the level of output achieved in 1950.

According to researchers at Washington State University, cereal plants have reached a plateau where applying more water or fertilizer will no longer increase production. Bioengineered plants are the direction in which agriculture is now moving to increase output.

ON THE BENEFITS OF GENETIC INNOVATIONS: Ag Alert, ISSUE DATE: June 4, 1997, Basic research conferees seek ways to solve plant problems, By Robyn Rutger Evans Assistant Editor

Basic research and its potential application to solve various agricultural problems was discussed at the Plant Gene Expression Center's 10th anniversary symposium recently in Albany.

The PGEC is a cooperative effort of the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service and the University of California, Berkeley.

Scientists from PGEC and elsewhere are trying to determine the exact mechanisms that provide plants with disease resistance, cold-tolerance, drought-tolerance and other desired traits in food crops. Biochemists, geneticists, molecular biologists and plant pathologists are working on a wide range of projects.

David Mackill, a USDA rice geneticist based at UC Davis, is trying to develop cold-tolerant rice germplasm. In California, low temperatures during the night can prevent the rice plants from developing grain. Mackill said this is a major problem in rice.

He noted that there are opportunities for application of biotechnology to help rice endure both drought and flooding. Drought-resistance traits include roots that are able to penetrate hard soil.

Flooding tolerance can be accomplished through rice seedling elongation and vigor. The problem is that these characteristics are not readily available in rice germplasm. If scientists could isolate the genes that control these characteristics--perhaps in different plant species--then researchers could use them to develop new rice varieties for flood-prone areas around the world.

Mackill also discussed submergence-tolerance. This happens in California rice fields when growers hold water on their fields for several weeks in order to suppress weed growth, as well as to break down herbicides. "Under that system, we start to have problems with seedling death because of prolonged flooding, so we are interested in submergence tolerance," said Mackill. "A major gene controlling this trait has been identified."

USDA scientist Ron Phillips, based at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, has crossed oats and corn, an accomplishment that researchers believed was impossible. One of the progeny looked like an oat plant, but it had purple stems, a trait that was inherited from a purple-stemmed corn variety. This research opens the door for crossing other plant species, in order to breed desirable characteristics from one plant species into another.

USDA researcher Jim Cook, based at Washington State University in Pullman, has identified a root-associated bacterium which kills the fungus that causes take-all disease in wheat. Take-all disease is one of the worst problems in wheat around the world. Cook's research objective is to create a bacterial seed treatment for wheat and other crops that suppresses soil-borne pathogens. His ultimate goal is to find something that works as well as methyl bromide, a soil fumigant that is being phased out of use.

PGEC researcher Barbara Baker is trying to understand what mechanism signals a plant's disease-resistance response. She is studying this process using tobacco mosaic virus, and she has transferred a disease-resistant gene from tobacco into tomatoes. As a result, the tomato plants became resistant to tobacco mosaic virus.

PGEC scientist Athanasios Theologis is investigating the fundamental principles that govern plant growth and senescence in order to be able to increase global food production. To accomplish this, he and researchers in other labs worldwide are working on sequencing the entire genome of a model plant called Arabidopsis. This, in turn, will enable researchers to identify all the genes of agronomically important plants such as rice, corn and soybean.

Other scientists discussed their work in gene mapping and other basic research that may lead to practical applications in agriculture in the future.

****************************************** COMMENT: It is obvious that ag productivity must increase as population increases. There is not enough land, knowledge, skill or time for each of us to grow our own food and maintain the current population or modern level of economy with its high degree of specialization. Everytime a technological or chemical solution is removed from use, ag must look elsewhere to maintain productivity.

*************************************** An additional note - Most urbanites discount the importance of rural areas in the question of assuring priority to continued electrical service and fuel:

Pg 26 of the USDA report: In the early 1980s, approximately 50 million acres of cropland (and some pastureland) in the US were irrigated (USDA). Almost 1/2 of the acreage irrigated with on-farm-pumped water was pumped using electricity. The rest with natural gas and diesel fuel.

Pg 26-27 Farm uses of energy accounted for approximately 2.5% of all energy used in the US in 1980. (D.L. Van Dyne, R.D. Reinsel, T.J. Lutton and J.A. Barton "Energy Use and Energy Policy" (1979) About 37% of this energy was in the form of petrochemicals and fertilizers. Another 22% in farm machinery operations.

-- marsh (, June 03, 1999.

well, old git, it's nice to see that prince charles thinks with his head, for a change, instead of another part of his anatomy.

-- jocelyne slough (, June 03, 1999.

I'm sure that Mr Blair has been genetically modified, of course Prince Charles hasn't.

This Govt is the most arrogant administration to date, why should 10 Downing Street have veto on press releases, yes they did sack Hoddle for his beliefs.

-- dick of the dale (, June 03, 1999.

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