Britain's Prince Charles often makes headlines based on his passion for agriculture. Unfortunately, he is misinformed about agricultural biotechnology. Here's a story by reporter Jenny Percival in Sunday's Guardian (London, U.K.) challenging the prince's latest position. Notice the minister's position that science policy should be based on science. A letter follows by BIOTECanada President Peter Brenders about the prince's statements, which were reported in the Vancouver Province.  

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A government minister today challenged the Prince of Wales to prove his claim that firms developing genetically modified crops risked environmental disaster.

"If it has been a disaster then please provide the evidence," said Phil Woolas, the environment minister, in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph.

He accused Prince Charles of ignoring the needs of the world's poorest countries by attacking GM crops, and insisted the government would go ahead with trials unless scientific evidence showed they were harmful.

On Wednesday, after the prince told the Daily Telegraph that GM crops were an experiment "gone seriously wrong," the government said it welcomed all voices in the debate and stressed that safety was its priority.

But in highly critical comments that suggest high-level anger at the prince's intervention, Woolas said the government had a "moral responsibility" to investigate whether GM crops could help alleviate hunger in the developing world. It was easy for people in countries where food was plentiful to ignore the potential of GM to raise agricultural productivity, he said.

"I'm grateful to Prince Charles for raising the issue. He raises some very important doubts that are held by many people. But government ministers have a responsibility to base policy on science and I do strongly believe that we have a moral responsibility to the developing world to ask the question: can GM crops help?

"I don't understand the reasoning behind the assertion that this is dangerous for climate change."

Woolas stressed the government had yet to decide whether it should relax the controls on the cultivation of GM crops.

"Should the UK change our policy on GM to one that is more liberal?" he said. "The government has not got a predetermined decision."

The Sunday Telegraph quoted a Labour source as saying the prince had "overstepped the mark". The newspaper quoted a source close to the prince as saying he did not intend to cause a political row and "simply cares for the future".

Green groups including Friends of the Earth and the Soil Association supported the prince's view that GM crops would not help to solve the food crisis.


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The following is Peter Brenders' letter, dated August 13, 2008: 


I was surprised to read the one-sided coverage of Prince Charles’ attack on biotechnology to

improve crops through genetic-modification (GM). As Canada’s national biotechnology

association, our members are mostly small and medium-sized enterprises who are global leaders

in crop technologies. Contrary to the Prince’s assertion, GM crops are rigorously tested, reduce

pesticide use, increase yields, enhance food security, support small farmers, and are

environmentally-friendly. GM crops are also a part of Canada’s contribution to the world’s

economy and food prosperity.


GM crops are not an experiment: GM crops undergo seven to ten years of rigorous testing and

approvals before being released into the market. Testing includes environmental and safety

assessments by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, to assess the plants’

impact on humans, the environment, on biodiversity, and on other organisms.


GM technologies reduce the environmental impact of agriculture. Crops that do not need to be

sprayed with toxins, or are weather-resistant need fewer natural resources to sustain their growth.


GM crops significantly benefit small farmers, especially in the developing world. In 2007, 10

million of the 12 million farmers growing biotech corps were small subsistence farmers – not

large corporations. To further enhance food nutrition and security, Canadian companies are

creating drought-resistant crops to grow in African arid climates.


Informed debate on new technologies is critical in any society. We need to not lose sight of

Canada’s proven success in using biotechnology for crops.


Peter Brenders


President and CEO,