MPs attack 'Luddite' Charles for claiming GM food could create the world's worst environmental catastrophe 
'Luddite': MPs have attacked Prince Charles' warning that GM crops could bring environmental disaster

MPs have branded Prince Charles a 'Luddite' after he launched a scathing attack on GM crops.

The Prince of Wales warned that genetically modified food risked causing the world's worst environmental catastrophe.

In a passionate intervention, he accused multinational corporations of conducting an experiment with nature and humanity which had gone 'seriously wrong'.

But Labour MP Des Turner, who sits on the Commons all-party science committee, said: 'Prince Charles has got a way of getting things absolutely wrong. It's an entirely Luddite attitude to simply reject them out of hand.'

Mr Turner, a former biochemist, added: 'The whole point about GM crops is that they are not intrinsically evil and there are circumstances where they can be of great benefit.

'Some developing countries where for instance there is a problem with drought or salinity, if you can develop salt- or drought-resistant crops, there are great benefits.'

Former biology lecturer Ian Gibson, Labour MP for Norwich North, said: 'Prince Charles should stick to his royal role rather than spout off about something which he has clearly got wrong.

'Scientists and others who have seriously looked at the problem have found no solid evidence that GM crops affect people's health.

'Where I agree with him is about big corporations thinking they can walk through people with their products.'

And Liberal Democrat MP Phil Willis, chairman of the all-party Commons science committee, said: 'While I admire Prince Charles's commitment to environmental causes, his lack of scientific understanding and his willingness to condemn millions of people to starvation in areas like sub-Saharan Africa is absolutely bewildering.

'The reality is that without the development of science in farming, we would not be able to feed a tenth of the world population, which will exceed nine billion by 2050.'

Organic: Charles with produce from Home Farm at the Highgrove shop in Tetbury, Gloucestershire

Prince Charles had claimed there was a fear food would eventually run out because of the damage research into such crops is causing to the Earth's soil.

In addition, he said that relying on gigantic corporations for the mass production of food was an 'absolute disaster' which would threaten future food supplies.

Millions of small farms would be killed off, leaving areas of 'unmentionable awfulness'.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, the prince accused large companies of conducting a 'gigantic experiment I think with nature and the whole of humanity which has gone seriously wrong'.

'Why else are we facing all these challenges, climate change and everything?.'

The Prince's comments are his most outspoken on the issue so far and are likely to re-ignite the debate about GM crops.

But they also put him on a collision course with scientists, big supermarkets and also the Government, which has allowed 54 GM crop trials since 2000.

On the subject of big multinationals being largely responsible for food production in the future, Prince Charles declared: 'That would be the absolute destruction of everything... and the classic way of ensuring there is no food in the future.

'What we should be talking about is food security not food production - that is what matters and that is what people will not understand.

'And if they think it's somehow going to work because they are going to have one form of clever genetic engineering after another then again count me out, because that will be guaranteed to cause the biggest disaster environmentally of all time.'

Small farmers, in particular, would be the victims of 'gigantic corporations' taking over the mass production of food.

'I think it's heading for real disaster," he said.

'If they think this is the way to go....we will end up with millions of small farmers all over the world being driven off their land into unsustainable, unmanageable, degraded and dysfunctional conurbations of unmentionable awfulness.'

Charles' intervention comes at a time when soaring food costs and shortages are putting more pressure on the GM debate.

The price of food has been pushed up worldwide by poor harvests, some of which may be due to climate change, rising fuel prices, market speculation and the diversion of land into biofuel production.

The biotech industry says GM technology can be used to tackle hunger and poverty by delivering higher yields and reducing the use and therefore cost of pesticides.

Environment Minister Phil Woolas has suggested opposition to genetically modified crops may have to be rethought in the light of the global food crisis.

But green groups and aid agencies fear claims about the potential benefits are not being borne out in practice. Critics say there is no evidence to show GM crops boost yields.

Charles, who has an organic farm on his Highgrove estate, last year said in a keynote speech he warned that the world faces a series of natural disasters within 18 months unless a 15 billion action plan is agreed to save the world's rain forests.

He has set up his own rain forest project with 15 of the world's largest companies, environmental and economic experts, to try to find ways to stop their destruction.

In 1987 he built his own model village known as Poundbury, near Dorchester in Dorset which is said to be the most ecologically friendly in Britain.

In the latest interview, he said he wanted to see more family run co-operative farms.

He denied he wanted to turn back the clock and said: 'It is actually recognising that we are with nature, not against it. We have gone working against nature for too long.'

The Prince cited the examples of India and western Australia which have rushed to produce mass GM food and seen complications with water and irrigation.

At the end of last month, scientists told the Government field trials of GM crops in the UK need better protection to allow researchers to assess their benefits.

They said the location and details of small-scale trials could be kept from the public to prevent them being vandalised by anti-GM protesters.

Charles said that the scientists were putting too much pressure on nature.

'If you are not working with natural assistance you cause untold problems. which become very expensive and very difficult to undo.

'It places impossible burdens on nature and leads to accumulating problems which become more difficult to sort out.'

Today a Defra spokeswoman said: 'There is an important debate to be had on the role of GM crops in the future, and we welcome all voices in that debate.'

The biotech industry says GM technology can be used to tackle hunger and poverty by delivering higher yields and reducing the use and cost of pesticides.

But green groups and aid agencies fear claims about the potential benefits are not being borne out in practice. (dailymail, 8.13.2008)