Prince Charles's food fears find an echo in Whitehall

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THE GOVERNMENT has responded to public concern on genetically engineered crops, heightened last week by the Prince of Wales, by launching a study of their possible harmful effects on the environment.

The study may throw a question mark over Britain's first genetically engineered harvest, of an oilseed rape modified to tolerate weedkiller, likely to be licensed for planting from next spring.

It may also back growing calls for a five-year moratorium on the commercial growing of all genetically engineered crops in Britain.

The moratorium has been requested unanimously by allthe Government's wildlife agencies: English Nature, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Countryside Council for Wales and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

They fear that newly developed herbicide-tolerant crops in particular pose a great threat to wildlife, as the more deadly dose of weedkiller they can sustain wipes out everything else in the field - the other flowers and plants, the insects and the birds that depend on them.

Prince Charles took up these concerns last week when in an impassioned outburst, he said that genetic engineering "takes mankind into realms that belong to God and God alone". We should stop and ask whether this is something we should be doing, he said.