Subject: UK: The Prince fights the Govt over GM
Date: 3 Jun 1999 04:45:04 GMT
By Paul Waugh and Michael McCarthy
Independent (London) June 2
GOVERNMENT attempts to reassure the public on genetically modified crops were in chaos yesterday after the Prince of Wales launched a scathing attack on what he described as the "unethical" technology.
Downing Street and ministers were forced on to the defensive as the Prince appeared to single-handedly wreck their efforts to calm fears over GM food and crops.
Just four days after Tony Blair accused the media of whipping up "hysteria" over the issue, the Prince mounted a detailed critique of claims that the biotechnology was safe.
Prince Charles is also to meet Dr Arpad Pusztai, the scientist whose research first sparked a furore over GM crops and who has since been denounced by Jack Cunningham, the minister charged with overseeing the science.
And Mr Blair faces further embarrassment today. A former Labour minister, Joan Ruddock, is due to call for a five-year moratorium on the commercial release of modified crops. She believes the large companies involved in the technology are not acting with public consent.
The Prince's intervention, in an article in yesterday's Daily Mail, warned against the "Orwellian" dangers of the science and criticised the "unprecedented and unethical" situation in which farmers' crops could be cross-pollinated with GM crops "since bees and the wind don't obey any sort of rules - voluntary or statutory".
He also ridiculed as "emotional blackmail" the Government's claim that GM techniques could help prevent Third World food shortages.
Both Downing Street and Michael Meacher, an Environment minister, said they welcomed the article.
"We are perfectly content for the Prince of Wales to make a contribution to a debate which, as you know, we are seeking to encourage," the Prime Minister's official spokesman said.
Mr Meacher insisted there was no intention of "forcing GM foods down people's throats" and rules governing them were "stringent and tight".
Meanwhile, Ms Ruddock's speech, to the Royal Bath and West Show in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, looks likely to open a split within Labour, where many are thought to have serious doubts on the issue.
Why Prince went tabloid on GM food
By Kathy Marks
THERE was an unfamiliar by-line in yesterday's Daily Mail: that of HRH the Prince of Wales. In a forthright article across two pages, Prince Charles listed his fears about genetically modified food and propelled himself straight to the top of the day's news bulletins.
His intervention could not have been made at a more politically sensitive time. Ten days ago, the Government sought to reassure the public that GM food and crops were safe; last week Tony Blair accused the media of whipping up "hysteria" over the issue.
The medium through which the heir to the throne chose to express his views was surprising, too. A tabloid newspaper, one that prides itself on its reactionary instincts and anti-intellectualism. And one that consistently sided with his former wife, Diana, Princess of Wales, during the acrimonious breakdown of their marriage.
Three months ago, Richard Kay, the Mail's royal correspondent, approached Prince Charles's private office to convey a request from his editor, Paul Dacre. The Mail, like several other newspapers, had been campaigning against GM food. The Prince was well known for his concerns on the subject. Would he care to write an article for the Mail?
According to insiders, Prince Charles was initially lukewarm. "He took a lot of persuading," said one source.
It was not the prospect of putting his name to an article that bothered the Prince; he had written for various publications, and last year penned a piece on GM food for The Daily Telegraph.
The Telegraph, though, is his natural home, and it supported him during his marital crisis. Its environment editor, Charles Clover, co-wrote a book with him about his organic estate at Highgrove, Gloucestershire.
The Prince's aides were divided, too. Among those opposed to the project was Commander Richard Aylard, the private secretary who encouraged him to confess to adultery in Jonathan Dimbleby's television documentary. Mr Aylard was sacked from the private office, but is retained as an environmental consultant.
Others, especially Stephen Lamport, who replaced Mr Aylard, and Sandy Henney, the Prince's press secretary, urged him to go ahead. As one veteran royal watcher said yesterday: "Things have changed at St James's Palace. They want to be more inclusive, and they realise that it's pointless to exclude the tabloids. The tabloids can be useful and they have a big audience."
In the end, it was the timing that swung it. "The Prince feels very passionate about this issue," said Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, the body that regulates organic farming, and one of the experts regularly consulted by the Prince on such matters.
"He feels that if we're going to turn the tide on GM food, we've got to do it now. The Mail is the voice of Middle England, and it has got a big readership, more than two million. I suspect that strategically he felt it was the right place for an article."
Once Prince Charles had agreed to the piece, he began the process of consulting a wide range of advisers, both from within his own office and from the environmental movement.
The latter are understood to have included Mr Holden, Jonathan Porritt, former director of Friends of the Earth, and Shaun Woodward, a Tory MP who farms organically at his Oxfordshire estate and has met the Prince on several occasions.
One of Prince Charles's favourite ways of canvassing views is to invite a group of experts to a brainstorming session, either over tea at St James's Palace or over dinner at Highgrove.
Environmentalists, journalists and politicians have all been invited to such soirees. The Prince has also met Robert Shapiro, chairman of Monsanto, the firm behind the push for GM technology.
"They are quite workmanlike affairs," said a journalist who attended one meeting. "There is not much time wasted in frivolity or idle chitchat."
The material for the Mail article was drawn together by Elizabeth Buchanan, the assistant private secretary with responsibility for environmental matters.
The format was devised because the 10 questions reflected the concerns expressed by thousands of visitors to an Internet site set up by the Prince six months ago.
A fortnight ago, the Mail and St James's Palace agreed that yesterday should be publication day. The Prince was given a draft to rewrite. He completed his reworking of it during an official visit to Nigeria last weekend.
Friends say he thought long and hard before issuing what was, in effect, a direct challenge to the Government. Mr Woodward said: "This is arguably the most important thing that he has done, in media terms, because these are the questions that we ignore at our peril."
Yesterday, back in London, the Prince must have allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction as the Environment minister Michael Meacher told a Sky News programme that he had raised "wholly legitimate questions which indeed the Government welcomes and which the Government is systematically trying to answer".