BSE is an offence against God, says Prince Charles

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The Independent Online
Bovine spongiform encephal-opathy (BSE) could come to be seen as nature's revenge for mankind violating her laws, the Prince of Wales told organic farmers last night.

And the new technologies of genetic engineering were an offence against God - except when used in some medical applications - the Prince said in his most blunt and challenging speech to date on the perils of modern agriculture.

He condemned the cruelty of factory farming and suggested that people's health and fertility could be harmed by eating crops grown with heavy fertiliser and pesticide use.

"If the way in which people farm is grasping, looks only to the short term and is indifferent to the effects of what is being done on the generations that will follow, then that is what their society will be like too," he said in a lecture to the Soil Association in London.

Prince Charles, who has farmed organically on his Highgrove estate in Gloucestershire for 11 years, advocated fundamental reform of the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy so farmers everywhere would be eligible for government grants in return for committing all their land to environment- friendly farming and high animal-welfare standards.

Feeding cattle with protein derived from cattle or other farm animals, which almost certainly caused the BSE outbreak, was "totally inappropriate ... perhaps BSE will come to be seen as one example ... of how nature hits back when we violate her laws".

As for genetic engineering, "I believe we have now reached a moral and ethical watershed beyond which we venture into realms that belong to God, and to God alone," he said. "Apart from certain medical applications, what actual right do we have to experiment, Frankenstein-like, with the very stuff of life? We live in an age of rights. It seems to me that it is about time our Creator had some rights too."

Much of his speech castigated 50 years of industrialised farming, dwelling on the heavy damage done to landscapes and wildlife and the "hidden costs" of agricultural air, soil and water pollution, but giving equal weight to animal welfare.

"Dairy cows ... are now quite literally milking themselves to death by the time they are six or seven, worn out by producing their own body weight in milk every month and suffering from a lethal combination of distended udders, lameness, chronic mastitis or infertility ...

"There is also the terrible irony of the dramatic increase in intensively produced pork and chicken, almost all of which is produced under conditions which cause infinitely more suffering than the beef or lamb it replaces, in the search for 'healthy' meat."

Prince Charles cited a recent report which said that some intensively farmed food crops in developing Asian countries were deficient in crucial trace elements and minerals such as iron and zinc. Some children whose diet was dominated by such crops showed an IQ loss of 10 points, he said.

"There is already a well-documented and, as yet, unexplained decline in male fertility in many European countries which some people believe may be linked to diet. And other research has suggested a significant decline in the trace mineral content of our fruit and vegetables over the last 50 years."

The Ministry of Agriculture gave Britain's small number of organic farmers the lowest incentives in Europe, he said.

Leading article, page 17

Suzanne Moore, page 19

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