Charles urges total boycott of GM foods

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The Independent Online
THE PRINCE of Wales suggested consumers should boycott genetically- modified food imported into Britain in a renewed attack yesterday on bioengineered produce.

Following his public assault in June on genetically-modified food, which he said he would neither eat nor give to his family or guests, Prince Charles called on British consumers to take action themselves.

"We have to recognise that genetically-modified food is already coming into this country in large quantities from elsewhere. The only effective restraint will be strong and sustained pressure from consumers demanding choice in the matter," he said, presenting the 1998 Organic Food Awards at London's Savoy Hotel.

"Many will be asking, as I continue to do, whether we need genetically modified food at all." The Prince said he did not think it was right to "tamper with the building blocks of life".

"I also regard the technology as unproven, with the potential to cause serious and possibly irreversible damage to wildlife and the environment. And I know from a very large number of letters that I am not alone in not wanting to eat any genetically modified produce," he said.

As Britain's best-known organic farmer on his Highgrove Estate in Gloucestershire, the Prince set his seal of approval yesterday on the current boom in organic food, demand for which has soared in the last year. Big supermarkets now stock more than 300 lines.

The Prince listed the perceived advantages of organic food compared with its genetically-modified rival. "While the demand for organic food outstrips supply, we know that 77 per cent of consumers don't want genetically- engineered crops grown in this country," he said.

"Consumers can choose whether or not to buy organic produce. Genetically- modified ingredients will deny us choice in the long run.

"Organic farming has been shown to provide major benefits for wildlife and the wider environment. The best that can be said about genetically- engineered crops is that they will now be monitored to see how much damage they cause.

The Prince said that organic farming helped to sustain rural communities, increasing full-time employment by 80 per cent after conversion. "In the US, one farmer growing genetically-modified crops now needs less than a dozen staff to farm 8,000 acres," he added.

It was hardly surprising that "our large supermarket chains with their extraordinary ability to monitor and respond to the views of their customers are devoting ever-increasing shelf space to organic produce.

"I am told that sales of meat, vegetables and milk are expected to double in the next year, and other sectors won't be far behind. Indeed, the current rate of growth of the market appears to be limited only by the availability of supply."

The Prince lamented that while Austria, Sweden and Denmark were all well on the way to having 10 per cent of their farming organic by 2000, on current progress Britain might just achieve one per cent.

"This must be a wasted opportunity at a time when it is also being forecast that 15 per cent of farmers will cease farming this year," he said. Organic farming might be a very attractive option, he said.

Waitrose was awarded the prize as Organic Supermarket of the Year. The Producer of The Year award went to Tim and Jo Budden of Higher Hacknell Farm, Umberleigh, Devon, and the Organic Trophy went to The Village Bakery at Melmerby near Penrith, Cumbria.

o Monsanto, the American biotechnology giant, has come under fire from members of its own industry for its controversial plans to promote the introduction of genetically- modified food into Europe, writes Our Science Editor.

A number of leading biotechnology firms have criticised the way Monsanto has handled the campaign to inform the public about the US shipment of herbicide-resistant soyabeans.

Monsanto's genetically-modified soya was mixed with ordinary soya and ended up in food without any labels to show the modification. This caused a backlash among consumers who felt they were being tricked into eating a novel food.

The company then organised a high-profile campaign earlier this year which attempted to justify genetically-modified food, citing that it could help to feed starving people.

One industry insider said Monsanto had misjudged the public's perception of genetically-modified food and this error had been largely responsible for the crisis in confidence in the industry.

Zeneca, a British biotechnology company, is also concerned about the bad publicity over modified food since Monsanto introduced its soya.