Document Directory

16 Jun 00 - GMO - GM trial farm 'had serious crop disease'
16 Jun 00 - GMO - Sainsbury's ticked off for misleading organic food claims
15 Jun 00 - GMO - Iceland makes big switch to organic veg
15 Jun 00 - GMO - Supermarket launches price war on organic food
15 Jun 00 - GMO - Rivals jeer at cut price organic food
09 Jun 00 - GMO - Widespread alert on seeds contaminated with GM
14 Jun 00 - GMO - Ministers order review of distances between crops
11 Jun 00 - GMO - Research backs Charles: GM crops don't deliver
09 Jun 00 - GMO - Meacher admits GM pollen could spread anywhere
09 Jun 00 - GMO - Minister admits GM crop failings
09 Jun 00 - GMO - Widespread alert on seeds contaminated with GM
08 Jun 00 - GMO - Seed firm claims Whitehall said 'not to worry' over GM scare
07 Jun 00 - GMO - Duke challenges sceptics over GM food
07 Jun 00 - GMO - GM crops have adverse effect on Royal Family
07 Jun 00 - GMO - Britain 'must not reject experiments on crops'
07 Jun 00 - GMO - Conflict of royal views
07 Jun 00 - GMO - Duke's 'gaffe' was not an accident
07 Jun 00 - GMO - Princess fuels split on GM food
07 Jun 00 - GMO - Robust view on GM crops is both right and wrong
06 Jun 00 - GMO - Royal rift over GM foods
06 Jun 00 - GMO - GM body will voice consumer concerns
06 Jun 00 - GMO - The Royal war on GM foods
06 Jun 00 - GMO - GM crop commission launched
06 Jun 00 - GMO - New gene technique may cure arthritis
06 Jun 00 - GMO - Royal Family in conflict as Duke backs GM foods



16 Jun 00 - GMO - GM trial farm 'had serious crop disease'

James Meikle and John Vidal

Guardian ... Friday 16 June 2000


Government drive to test biotech agriculture suffers further setback

The credibility of the government backed programme of GM trials was at risk last night when it emerged that a farm involved in the programme had suffered a serious crop disease which required special quarantine measures.

Officials defended the decision to use the site by saying different crops were involved.

It piles on problems for ministers who have had a bumpy month ever since it was revealed hundreds of farmers had unwittingly sown conventional oil seed rape contaminated by GM material when the seeds were grown in Canada.

Only this week Michael Meacher, the environment minister, admitted there would be no way of stopping similar occurrences here just weeks after the start of three years of trials designed to reassure consumers and environmentalists that crops grown from the new technology would not damage the countryside.

It also emerged yesterday that the European commission is proposing that member states temporarily allow contamination of conventional seeds by up to 0.5% of GM material , half the tolerance wanted by European seed manufacturers, but five times greater than the limit the Ice land supermarket chain allows on its supplies for non-GM food. This figure would apply until more permanent EU decisions were reached. The Ministry of Agriculture refused to discuss the document last night saying ministers were still considering tolerance levels.

Officials insisted it was safe to use Sunnymead Farm, at Wivenhoe, Essex , as a GM trial site, one of 12 testing GM maize being developed for animal feed. It said the disease problems were restricted to sugar beet. Any decision to remove the site would reduce the number of trials of the maize below the minimum figure said by scientific advisers to be necessary to make the trials robust. They had already reduced the minimum from 25 because of the problem the biotech industry was having in persuading original volunteers to proceed with them.

But the Department of the Environment said it would press on with trials this year, even if numbers dropped further, since they were part of a longer programme. In all, four types of GM crop are being tested - with the number of farm sites announced stand ing at 48 , only four more than minimum total. There were originally at least 66 promised this year, with hopes of up to 80.

Sunnymead Farm was chosen by scientific advisers despite the fact that farmer Jim Dutton had to destroy conventional sugar beet and restrict movements on and off the farm to avoid contamination . Local opponents of the trial called for its immediate end.

Mr Dutton said he had not planted any beet this year and that the trial site was on the other side of the farm.

The Ministry of Agriculture said: "There is no risk of the disease spreading. The usual plant controls are adequate to deal with the situation. We can't see this has anything to do with the farm scale evaluation issue."

The disease concerned is rhizomania , a virus that has become widespread throughout Europe since it appeared in Italy in 1955. More than 133 farms are under restriction in England. It is spread via spores found in water held in the soil. The ministry said it can be carried to other fields and farms by "machinery, vehicles, transplanted crops, wind or any other means".

Among hygiene measures demanded are "washing and disinfecting farm machinery, vehicles and footwear before leaving the infested field and when leaving the premises". Farmers are also recommended to "minimise access to your farm by visiting machinery and vehicles".

The Department of the Environment overseeing the trial programme said it had sought guidance from the Ministry of Agriculture and was content with it.

Aventis, the company trialling the maize, said that rhizomania outbreak was no reason to abandon the site since it was a disease that affected sugar beet. It also condemned the pressure anti-GM groups had put on farmers.

Activists working independently of any groups claim to have have destroyed or interfered with three GM oilseed rape fields in the past week and there unconfirmed reports that another six have been tampered with in five counties.

These were all sites licensed for GM testing although not part of the farm-scale trials. "The majority of winter oil seed rape sites have now been destroyed ," one of the crop-trashers said.

"We believe that there are only five left . Most of the fields were protected and one, at the National Institute for Agricultural Botany, had round the clock security guards and a chain link fence."


16 Jun 00 - GMO - Sainsbury's ticked off for misleading organic food claims

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Correspondent

Independent ... Friday 16 June 2000


Sainsbury's, Britain's second biggest supermarket chain, has been taken to task by the Advertising Standards Authority over its claims for organic food , just a month after the biggest supermarket, Tesco, was similarly criticised.

Sainsbury's has been asked to delete from publicity booklets the claims that no chemical are used to produce organic food , that it costs "a little" more and is "good for you", plus the claim organic livestock farming does not use veterinary medicines.

Tesco was censured as misleading for using similar phrases in publicity material, including the claim that organic food "tastes better". The phrases could not be substantiated, the ASA said, asserting that some chemicals are used, the price differential is considerable and there is no evidence of a difference in taste.

In both cases the authority has upheld complaints from Geoffrey Hollis, a former senior civil servant in charge of pesticides at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food .

Adrian Burns, an ASA official, says in a letter to Mr Hollis about Sainsbury's: "We have asked for their written assurance that the claims about which you complained are deleted."

Sainsbury's said yesterday it was seeking a meeting with the ASA about the complaint. "All our booklets are produced with great care," it said in a statement. "We believe they are correct and do not mislead our customers. All our organic food is produced to certified UK and EC regulations."

Mr Hollis, who has become something of a self-appointed scourge of supermarkets selling organic produce, has now gone on to complain to the authority about a third supermarket chain, Iceland, which yesterday made headlines when it announced it would bring organic frozen food to the mass market by reducing its price to the same as conventional produce. Mr Hollis is alleging the Iceland website makes claims or implications that cannot be substantiated.


15 Jun 00 - GMO - Iceland makes big switch to organic veg

James Meikle

Guardian ... Thursday15 June 2000


The supermarket chain Iceland yesterday raised the stakes in the store wars by announcing it is to switch its entire own brand frozen vegetable range to organic - at no extra cost to the consumer .

The company claimed to have bought up nearly 40% of the world's organic vegetable supplies to meet the growing demand from customers.

It is paying farmers around the world between 10% and 25% more over three-year contracts, and will cut £8m from its profit margins to avoid charging higher prices.

The aggressive marketing move follows the company's non-GM policy and decision to remove artificial colouring and flavouring from own-brand products.

The policy will mean 2lb bags of frozen vegetables will remain under £1.50, and frozen peas at £1.19.

Supermarket competitors reacted coolly, saying Iceland was a late entrant into the organic stakes, and only accounted for 1% of organic sales.

The company admits that it is starting its all-organic policy in an area where large-scale industrial production can spread the extra costs of going organic.

Frozen vegetables account for between 5% and 10% of Iceland's £1.9bn annual turnover and nearly all of them are own brand. Iceland accounts for 15% of Britain's frozen vegetable sales

The switch on green vegetables, such as broccoli and peas, should take place in October, with potato products such as chips following early next year.

Other products, such as ice-cream, milk, cheese, yoghurt, bread, fresh fruit and vegetables and some meats, are being considered for "organic only" treatment.

Most of the produce will at first come from Europe, the US and central America, and fears were already being expressed last night that the continuing rise in organic sales, though still only a tiny fraction of the £72.5bn annual food bill, was outstripping government funded initiatives to increase organic agriculture at home.

Iceland's chairman and chief executive, Malcolm Walker, said: "Ethically and morally we are happy to be fighting for better food. Commercially it makes sense as well.

"The market is expected to grow at 40% over the next five years. We are giving the customers a choice of buying natural organic food at affordable prices.

"We don't believe the size of your pay packet should dictate the quality of the food you eat. The problem is that the organic market at the moment is still a cottage industry, in terms of supply , and at the retail end it is quite specialist."

Iceland is giving the National Trust £1m to help pay for new green measures on its 700 farms , including converting more to organic status.

The company is among groups lobbying MPs and the government for more support for organic conversion. State aid in England is to rise from £11.5m to £23m a year by 2004, although ministers have hinted the spending review this summer might yield more funds.

A number of backbenchers want to see an organic target of 30% of farmland (10 times the present level), and 20% of organic food consumed in the UK reached by 2010.

Iceland's announcement follows the government's admission that it cannot prevent cross-contamination of conventional or organic crops by genetically modified crops being given trials in Britain.

The move will raise the political heat on ministers who are perceived as favouring the new technology above organic methods.

Sainsbury's, which sells more than £3m worth of organic food a week , said it already sold 650 organic lines, and was working with farmers in Grenada and St Lucia to develop a market for organic exotic fruits.

But the company was sceptical about Iceland's claim that its 35,000 tonnes of orders for fresh vegetables represented 40% of the organic supply worldwide and said it had difficulty in obtaining any international figures for organic production.

Tesco, which believes it will be selling £200m of organic products this year, said: "Iceland is catching up on organics. They are a long way behind."

But Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, said: "Iceland has made a bold move to make organic products much more available to thousands of consumers who have not had them before."

Market that shows signs of growth

Britons ate an estimated£546m worth of organic food last year. This is expected to nearly treble by April 2003.

About one in three Britons buys some organic food. Germans already eat an estimated £1.5bn of organic food.

70% of organic food in Britain is sold in supermarkets.

70% is imported. The figure rises to over 80% for fruit and vegetables, while nearly all eggs and meat are home grown.

Organic foods can cost up to twice as much as conventionally produced ones, especially meat. But 77% of people would buy organic if it cost the same.

About 3% of British farmland is in organic production or under conversion.


15 Jun 00 - GMO - Supermarket launches price war on organic food

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Correspondent

Independent ... Thursday15 June 2000


The supermarket chain Iceland gave Britain's organic food industry a huge boost yesterday when it announced it was to convert all own-label frozen vegetable lines to organic , and sell them at the same price as conventional produce.

Its initiative, which removes at a stroke the principal consumer objection to organic food - that it costs a lot more - puts the rest of Britain's supermarket chains, many of which sell organics at very high mark-ups, on the defensive and under pressure to follow suit.

The move is likely to give significant further impetus to the booming organic food market, which is growing at 40 per cent a year in Britain and is likely to be worth £1bn annually by 2001. Iceland says it will still pay organic farmers for the higher costs of production incurred in agriculture without pesticides or artificial fertilisers, but will itself absorb the cost of levelling its organic prices, which it estimates will be £8m a year.

In October the company will start replacing its 40-or-so own-label lines of conventional frozen vegetables, such as sweetcorn, cauliflower, peas and green beans, which represent 15 per cent of the total UK frozen vegetable market, with organic equivalents.

The new items will cost no more, it says, than the conventional vegetables that will still be on sale in it supermarkets from brands such as Findus or Birds Eye. Iceland already sells some organic bread, milk, cheese and yoghurt, and is considering switching over other lines, including meat and fresh produce. The rapidly expanding company, which has 760 stores in Britain and a turnover of £1.9bn, has warmly embraced the green philosophy as good for its business. It has introduced a range of environmentally friendly fridges and freezers that have been endorsed by Greenpeace, and made headlines last year when it was the first food group to go GM-free .

Iceland's latest move is an equally shrewd mix of environmental action and aggressive marketing and its significance was recognised at once by both the green movement and the grocery trade. Patrick Holden, the director of the Soil Association, the principal lobby group for organic food and farming, said: "Iceland have made a bold move today to make organic food a realistic price option for millions of consumers who did not have access to it before."

Sandra Bell, real food campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: "Once again, Iceland has grasped the initiative. The public want real food, produced without GMOs and pesticides, at affordable prices. This is what Iceland is now going to do and it's now up to the other supermarkets to do the same."

The company said yesterday that its move was prompted by a survey suggesting that three out of four customers would prefer to buy organic goods if they were cheaper than current prices. Iceland's chairman and chief executive, Malcolm Walker, said that the decision made good sense from a number of standpoints. He said: "Ethically and morally we are happy to be fighting for better food. Commercially it makes sense as well. The market is expected to grow at 40 per cent over the next five years.

"We are giving customers a choice of buying natural organic food at affordable prices."

The company is even thinking about converting the whole of its own-label product range to organic, although that will depend on the ease of sourcing the produce.

Because Britain itself currently produces so little organic food, Iceland says it will have to bring in about 80 per cent of its new requirements from abroad. It claims to have bought up nearly 40 per cent of the world's 100,000-ton organic vegetable crop.

For many years, John Jones has been using organic methods on his farm close to the Welsh border in Herefordshire. He supplies Iceland with organic milk and said yesterday he thought the firm's expansion of its organic lines could help many organic farmers and would be good for Britain's countryside. He said: "We look after the land. We're not killing wildlife with pesticides."


15 Jun 00 - GMO - Rivals jeer at cut price organic food

By Valerie Elliott, Consumer Edito

Times ... Thursday15 June 2000


A supermarket war broke out yesterday after the food chain Iceland said that it had signed contracts to buy 40 per cent of the world's production of organic vegetables.

Tesco and Sainsbury's said that they were "sceptical" over the claims and that it was impossible to estimate the quantities of organic produce grown.

Iceland is switching its entire frozen vegetable produce - 10 per cent of the company's £1.9 billion annual turnover - to organic supplies at a cost of about £8 million. It said that it was the first major effort by a company to provide cheap organic food to a mass market.

Other supermarkets described Iceland's move as "catching up". They also questioned the commercial sense of the Iceland move and claimed the demand for organic vegetables was for fresh produce not frozen.

The National Farmers' Union, however, was also doubtful. One source said: "We shall be watching the situation very carefully to ensure that British farmers are not the ones to lose out."

Bill Wadsworth, Iceland's technical director, said that he accepted that price could become an issue for British farmers but vowed they would not force prices down lower than the cost of production.

But Sandra Bell of Friends of the Earth said: "Iceland has grasped the initiative. The public want real food, produced without GMOs and pesticides at affordable prices."


09 Jun 00 - GMO - Widespread alert on seeds contaminated with GM

By Paul Waugh, Political Correspondent

Independent ... Friday 9 June 2000


British farmers were facing a fresh scare over genetically modified crops last night after the Government admitted seed imports from nine countries should be classed as "contaminated " with GM products.

The Ministry of Agriculture disclosed that its research concluded oilseed rape , maize and soya seeds from the US , Argentina , Canada , Australia , South Africa , Spain , France , Portugal and Romania should be viewed as suspect.

The Maff study, which was slipped out to Parliament in a written answer, comes weeks after the disclosure that 500 British farms had accidentally planted oilseed crops mixed with GM products. The seeds were imported from Canada by the Advanta company. There was an outcry from green groups, farmers and the Soil Association. Many supermarket chains had guaranteed their "100 per cent GM-free" status to shoppers and refused to take any of the crops grown on the affected farms.

Yesterday Nick Brown, Minister of Agriculture, said farmers who had planted the crops would be allowed to rip them up and still claim EU subsidies.

The Government is now bound to face much greater criticism after its own researchers concluded the Advanta affair was unlikely to be unique . According to the Maff study, commissioned by Mr Brown and published in the House of Commons Library, the contamination is much wider than thought.

It says: "Of the agricultural crops grown in the UK, the imported seed of oilseed rape , maize and soya are most likely to be affected. Those countries where GM versions of these crops are grown commercially and from which seed is imported are identified. In the absence of more precise data, all such imports should be regarded as potentially contaminated ."

The report concludes that the chances of cereals, fodder and beet seed being affected are low, because there is at present no widespread incidence of GM varieties of those crops. But it does say "a further investigation" is required with regard to imported vegetable, fruit and salad crops.

Two weeks ago Mr Brown denied reports that imported maize may be contaminated . "We have no indication any conventional maize seeds imported into the UK do contain modified varieties," he told the Commons.


14 Jun 00 - GMO - Ministers order review of distances between crops

James Meikle

Guardian ... Wednesday 14 June 2000


The environment minister, Michael Meacher, yesterday conceded that there was no way of preventing GM crops contaminating conventionally grown neighbours in an admission that will increase the government's difficulties in trying to prove it can manage the introduction of the new technology.

Ministers have ordered a review of separation distances between crops following the recent fiasco over imported contaminated rape seed but Mr Meacher told the House of Commons yesterday: "It is false to pretend that there is any distance which is going to prevent some contamination ".

"The question is how we can absolutely minimise that to a level which is acceptable to those buying the product, because it is they who buy the product which will have to determine what degree of GM in a non-GM food is acceptable to them ."

Ministers have known this for at least a year , since a government commissioned report from the John Inness centre in Norwich warned them that both easy and reliable methods of quantifying and identy ing GM contamination would be difficult and that there was no system even with traditional seeds that could guarantee absolute genetic purity .

But the political stakes have been raised by the furore over the Advanta seeds episode which saw farmers unwittingly grow two rape seed crops from seed grown in Canada and, according to the company, polluted by GM pollen from at least a kilometre away.

Pete Riley, spokesman for the anti-GM Friends of the Earth, said: "A rambling debate over crop separation distances would be a complete waste of time ."

The Conservative agriculture spokesman, Tim Yeo, said Labour was losing control of GM issues . "This makes a mockery of all the government's previous assurances that the environment can be protected."

Mr Meacher told MPs that traditional farming practices had established separation distances where "99.5% of the pollen would not get beyond those distances"

He added: "The problem is that small and sometimes vanishingly small amounts of pollen may and indeed can get considerable distances and the problem is to know exactly where we draw the line...."

There have been concerns, even on the pro-GM side, that the separation distances agreed with the biotech industry for field trials of GM crops may be too small. All are much smaller than the 800 metre barrier between GM and non-GM seed growing plants in Canada for instance . Organic farmers and many bee farmers want buffer zones of six miles to protect their crops and honey.

There was more trouble for the government last night when it emerged that only 48 sites now remained for this year's trials of maize, rape and sugar beet. Several farmers who originally volunteered have dropped out following pressure from anti-GM groups.

Government scientific advisers have said a minimum of 44 sites were needed this year for trials to be valid, only four fewer than the total. Two crops to be tested are now down to the minimum dozen each.

Mr Meacher has previously said there would be at least 66 sites and up to 80 available. Greenpeace, another anti-GM group, said one did not have to be a rocket scientist to see the trials were on the edge of collapse .


11 Jun 00 - GMO - Research backs Charles: GM crops don't deliver

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Correspondent

Independent ... Sunday 11 June 2000


Startling new research in the heart of the American grain belt seems set to settle the royal row over whether genetic modification is needed to feed the hungry.

The study at the University of Nebraska has found that GM soya actually produces less food than conventional crops , handing a timely weapon to the Prince of Wales in his argument with his sister and father.

And though it predictably denounced the research, Monsanto - which produced the GM soya - added further strength to the Prince's elbow by admitting that its own studies showed that the modified plants produced about the same amount as traditional varieties.

The university's research and Monsanto's admission severely undermine claims by biotechnology firms and pro-GM scientists that genetic engineering is needed to feed the world's growing population.

Prince Charles has long taken issue with these claims and in his Reith lecture last month repeated his conviction that "improving traditional systems of agriculture, which have stood the test of time", offered the best chance of beating hunger.

Princess Anne publicly contradicted him last week and the Duke of Edinburgh also backed GM technology.

As the royals clashed, Dr Roger Elmore, of Nebraska University's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, was looking over the results of his research into how well GM soya - which now makes up most of the US crop - actually performs. He and his team grew five different Monsanto soya plants, together with their closest conventional relatives, and the highest-yielding traditional varieties in four locations around the state using both drylands and irrigated fields.

Dr Elmore found that, on average, the GM varieties - though more expensive - produced 6 per cent less than their non-GM near relatives, and 11 per cent less than the highest yielding conventional crops . "The numbers were so clear," he said. "It was not questionable at all."

He attributed the poor performance of the GM crops to two factors. First, he said, it took time to modify a plant, and while that was being done, better conventional ones were being developed. That partly explained why the highest yielding non-GM plants did so much better. Secondly, Dr Elmore said, the process of inserting new genes into plants reduced yields .

Monsanto last week denounced the research as scientifically invalid. It said that its own studies had shown that GM soya had much the same yields as its conventional sister plants.


09 Jun 00 - GMO - Meacher admits GM pollen could spread anywhere

By Sarah Schaefer, Political Reporter

Independent ... Friday 9 June 2000


The Government admitted for the first time yesterday that genetically modified farm crops could contaminate normal crops no matter how far apart they are .

At question time Michael Meacher, Environment minister, said it would be "false to pretend" there was "any distance which is going to prevent some contamination . The question is how we can absolutely minimise that to a level which is acceptable to those buying the product, because it is they who buy the product which will have to determine what degree of GM in a non-GM food is acceptable to them."

Last week the Government said it was reconsidering the size of buffer zones between GM and organic or conventional crops. Distances of up to 600 metres are used under voluntary guidelines drawn up by the biotech industry but green campaigners say they are not nearly enough , given the potential for GM pollen to be spread by the wind or bees.

Ministers told scientists to review the arrangements and Nick Brown, Minister of Agriculture, said he would consult farmers and all parties involved on whether "more onerous" safeguards were needed. He added that the Government also wanted to know what minimum levels of GM content in non-GM crops can "realistically be aimed for".

Mr Meacher's admission yesterday came after last week's disclosure that farmers could face a fresh scare because seed imports from nine countries should have been classed as "contaminated" with GM products.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said its research concluded oilseed rape , maize and soya seeds from the US , Argentina , Canada , Australia , South Africa , Spain , France , Portugal and Romania should be viewed as suspect. The study came after news that 500 British farms had accidentally planted oilseed crops mixed with GM products. The seeds were imported from Canada by the Advanta company. Last week Mr Brown said farmers who had planted the seed could rip them up and still claim EU subsidies .

Yesterday Mr Meacher said the Maff review included consultation with conventional and organic farmers and would take account of lessons from the Advanta episode.

"The problem is that small and sometimes vanishingly small amounts of pollen may and indeed can get considerable distances and the problem is to know exactly where to draw the line in what is a continuous deposition level over very long periods." Mr Meacher said he was "very concerned" about the issue and the need for "due and adequate" notification before trials. "I am concerned that before the August sowing deadline... we will be able to establish what are fairer cordons sanitaires."

Pete Riley, real food campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: "Friends of the Earth has long argued that GM pollen spreads further than the biotech industry will admit . At last a government minister agrees with us. What we need now is action to prevent the current farm-scale trials and test sites contaminating crops and honey. Mr Meacher has let a large yowling cat out of the bag . A rambling debate about crop separation distances would be a complete waste of time."


09 Jun 00 - GMO - Minister admits GM crop failings

David Hencke, Patrick Wintour and James Meikle

Guardian ... Friday 9 June 2000


Nick Brown, the agriculture minister, last night apologised to MPs for failing to tell Scottish and Welsh ministers about the illegal commercial planting of GM contaminated rape seed, as a row broke out in Parliament over the disclosure that Whitehall tried to cover up the scandal.

The minister was pushed on to the defensive as the Tory agriculture spokesman, Tim Yeo, accused him of "dither, confusion and panic " over the scandal. Advanta Seeds faces having to pay out huge compensation to farmers who sowed the contaminated crops.

The debate was made more dramatic by the announcement of an emergency EU payment package which will allow farmers who rip up the crops still to get subsidies from Brussels.

The deal was being negotiated as Mr Brown was trying to head off allegations from the firm that it had been initially told by officials at the Department of Environment and Ministry of Agriculture "not to worry " about it and was advised not to tell anybody about it until Whitehall had conducted its own tests.

It was also revealed yesterday that Mo Mowlam, the Cabinet Office minister formally responsible for overall government policy on GM issues, was kept in the dark for six weeks by the Ministry of Agriculture over the unlawful spread of GM into crops.

Cabinet office sources said the Ministry of Agriculture had not only failed to inform the agriculture departments in Scotland and Wales, but also failed to keep Ms Mowlam abreast of developments.

One Cabinet Office source said: "It is extraordinary and calls into question whether we really are co-ordinating this policy, or letting agriculture carry on in its old secret ways ."

Opening the debate, Mr Yeo said Advanta had told him that they would have liked to warn their customers about the contaminated oilseed rape.

"The only reason they did not do so is that they were asked by Ministry of Agriculture officials to keep the whole matter secret ," he said.

Mr Yeo said: "When Advanta went to the government to make a clean breast of their blunder, they were asked not to say a word about it to anyone else.

"It was the Ministry of Agriculture's advice to Advanta and nothing else which ensured farmers were kept in the dark ...and allowed farmers to go on planting GM seeds in Britain after April 17." Mr Brown intervened, insisting: "There is a clear obligation on Advanta to tell their customers that they had sold them a defective product as soon as they knew they had done so. They had no advice from government not to tell their customers what had happened."

Mr Yeo accused agriculture ministers of "dither, confusion and panic " as he questioned why it had taken the ministry four weeks to make public news of the contamination of conventional seeds.

It also emerged that the government is reconsidering the size of buffer zones between GM and organic or conventional crops after the contaminated seeds fiasco.

Separation distances of up to 600 metres are at present used under voluntary guidelines drawn up by the biotech industry but critics say these are not nearly enough, given the potential for GM pollen to travel on the wind or bees.

Ministers have ordered scientists to review the current arrangements and are consulting farmers and all parties involved in GM issues whether further "more onerous" safeguards are needed. They also want to know what minimum levels of GM content in non-GM crops can "realistically be aimed for".


09 Jun 00 - GMO - Widespread alert on seeds contaminated with GM

By Paul Waugh, Political Correspondent

Independent ... Friday 9 June 2000


British farmers were facing a fresh scare over genetically modified crops last night after the Government admitted seed imports from nine countries should be classed as "contaminated " with GM products.

The Ministry of Agriculture disclosed that its research concluded oilseed rape , maize and soya seeds from the US , Argentina , Canada , Australia , South Africa , Spain , France , Portugal and Romania should be viewed as suspect.

The Maff study, which was slipped out to Parliament in a written answer, comes weeks after the disclosure that 500 British farms had accidentally planted oilseed crops mixed with GM products. The seeds were imported from Canada by the Advanta company. There was an outcry from green groups, farmers and the Soil Association. Many supermarket chains had guaranteed their "100 per cent GM-free" status to shoppers and refused to take any of the crops grown on the affected farms.

Yesterday Nick Brown, Minister of Agriculture, said farmers who had planted the crops would be allowed to rip them up and still claim EU subsidies.

The Government is now bound to face much greater criticism after its own researchers concluded the Advanta affair was unlikely to be unique . According to the Maff study, commissioned by Mr Brown and published in the House of Commons Library, the contamination is much wider than thought .

It says: "Of the agricultural crops grown in the UK, the imported seed of oilseed rape , maize and soya are most likely to be affected . Those countries where GM versions of these crops are grown commercially and from which seed is imported are identified. In the absence of more precise data, all such imports should be regarded as potentially contaminated ."

The report concludes that the chances of cereals, fodder and beet seed being affected are low, because there is at present no widespread incidence of GM varieties of those crops. But it does say "a further investigation " is required with regard to imported vegetable, fruit and salad crops .

Two weeks ago Mr Brown denied reports that imported maize may be contaminated. "We have no indication any conventional maize seeds imported into the UK do contain modified varieties," he told the Commons.


08 Jun 00 - GMO - Seed firm claims Whitehall said 'not to worry' over GM scare

David Hencke, Westminster correspondent

Guardian ... Thursday 8 June 2000


Senior civil servants from two Whitehall ministries told the company that faces huge compensation payments to farmers for destroying crops contaminated with genetically modified seeds that the initial scare was "not serious" , it was revealed last night.

Mike Ruthven, general manager of Advanta Seeds UK, told the Guardian that officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Department of the Environment sent him away , saying not to worry, after he had presented evidence showing that rape seed sold by the company had been contaminated by GM seeds.

Nick Brown, agriculture minister, faces an attack today in the Commons from his Conservative opponent, Tim Yeo, for "mishandling" the situation and for causing "a collapse in public confidence and unnecessary difficulties for the agricultural industry". Mr Brown is also expected to get a rough ride from Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs when he defends the government's action.

Mr Ruthven said he first alerted Whitehall on April 19, after the company had done tests on its seeds and found low contamination from GM crops. Before he attended the meeting he had stopped supplying seeds to merchants as a precautionary measure.

But he said when he met civil servants in London they told him they did not think it would be "a danger to health or the environment".

"They told me that they would want to make some tests themselves and not to say anything about it until they had sorted that out. I took a lot of comfort from that and as a result did not take any further action to inform farmers or seed merchants.

"Even up to May 17 I did not think it was going to be a problem. The next day the government made a statement which has now led to us having to agree compensation."

Mr Ruthven said civil servants did not even initially consult lawyers to check the law that makes it an offence to grow or supply contaminated seed that could damage the environment.

Mr Yeo said last night that Mr Brown's statements to MPs appeared to contradict the original views of his civil servants.

"Ministers and civil servants appear to be the people who acted negligently ," Mr Yeo said. "I shall be demanding that Mr Brown releases all the documents in this case under John Major's code of access on public information, so we can see what really happened."

Last night the Environment Department said it was confused about the disclosures. A spokeswoman said: "We did take this seriously and can't understand why [Mr Ruthven] got this impression."


07 Jun 00 - GMO - Duke challenges sceptics over GM food

James Meikle

Guardian ... Wednesday 7 June 2000


Debate divides royal family as Prince Philip and Princess Anne rebuff 'nervous' opponents - such as Prince Charles

The Duke of Edinburgh has intervened in the GM debate to bolster supporters of the new biotechnology against doubters such as his son, the Prince of Wales. In a blunt challenge to sceptics, he said that "foreign pests" such as the grey squirrel had done far more damage to the environment than genetically modified crops would ever do.

The duke's off-the-cuff remarks at a function at Windsor Castle on Monday night came just days after the Princess Royal delivered a sideswipe at opponents of GM food in the industry magazine, the Grocer.

But suggestions of a rift over GM issues or family criticism of Prince Charles were strongly denied by sources last night and Buckingham Palace insisted the "different emphases and opinions" within the royal family merely "reflect the diverse opinions of people generally across the board".

Prince Philip was responding to a lecture by Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi, which touched on GM crops while discussing the wider issues of genetics.

Prince Philip said: "Do not let us forget that we have been genetically modifying animals and plants ever since people started selective breeding. People are worried about genetically modified organisms getting into the environment. What people forget is that the introduction of exotic species - like, for instance, the introduction of the grey squirrel into this country - is going to, or has done, far more damage than a genetically modified piece of potato. The real point is, where are the limits to what we do?"

Princess Anne had declared it was an "oversimplification" to say that there should be no GM foods. "Man has been tinkering with food production and plant development for such a long time that it is a bit cheeky to suddenly get nervous about it."

Last month Prince Charles, in a BBC Reith lecture, had warned against creating conditions in which "genetic manipulation seeks to transform the process of biological evolution into something altogether different".

Supporters of all three royals were last night stressing their credentials for the right to voice their opinions. They have all been involved in environmental issues to a lesser or greater extent. Prince Philip was a past president of the World Wide Fund for Nature and has a strong interest on conservation issues. Princess Anne is president of Save the Children, and she has seen conventional crop failures in developing countries. This year she is president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

Meanwhile, Prince Charles has long been a standard bearer for organic farming methods and a champion of less intensive agriculture. All three were keen "hands-on" farmers at their estates, Balmoral and Sandringham, Gatcombe Park, and Highgrove.

Prince Philip's comments were welcomed by pro-GM scientists. Jim Dunwell, a professor at Reading university, said: "It is useful that everybody is getting involved in the debate. Just because they are members of the best known family does not mean they should not have a view."

The Cabinet Office, which is masterminding (UK correspondents note: not too sure this is the right word!) the government's GM policy, said that Prince Philip's remarks were "an interesting contribution to the debate". The food standards agency will be looking at the GM food debate during its next public board meeting in Glasgow on June 22.

Tim Yeo, the Conservatives' agriculture spokesman, while not wanting "to get involved in a family row", suggested that Prince Philip was "slightly confused about this issue ".

He added: "Of course, it is right that the introduction of some exotic animals into an island like Britain has done great damage, but that should make him more cautious, not less cautious, about the consequences of genetic modification. Genetic modification goes much further than selec tive plant breeding or gradually improving horses so they can run faster.

"It does involve taking genes from one species such as a fish which is normally confined to the Arctic and sticking it into something like a tomato to make [that plant] more frost resistant."

A similar criticism was made by Friends of the Earth, although Pete Riley, the campaigns spokesman, said: "I bet there are plenty of arguments going on around the country's dinner tables. It would be entertaining to eavesdrop on the next royal family dinner. We've been calling for a public debate on this for the past three years, perhaps at last we are going to get it."


07 Jun 00 - GMO - GM crops have adverse effect on Royal Family

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Correspondent

Independent ... Wednesday 7 June 2000


The House of Windsor appears to be divided over the issue of genetic modification after the Duke of Edinburgh mounted a strong defence of GM organisms.

His remarks, in response to a lecture by the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, put him directly at odds with the Prince of Wales, whose persistent hostility to GM technology was reinforced last month in his talk at the end of the BBC's Reith Lectures. In his lecture the Prince referred to the consequences of GM food and cloning as "potentially disastrous ".

Prince Philip's speech echoes the words of the Princess Royal, who also took issue with her brother over GM technology in an interview published in the current issue of The Grocer magazine. She said: "Man has been tinkering with food production for such a long time it's a bit cheeky suddenly to get nervous about it. It is a huge oversimplification to say there should be no GM foods. Life isn't that simple."

Her father took a similar tack, in proposing a vote of thanks to Dr Sacks for delivering the annual St George's House lecture at Windsor earlier this week.

Dr Sacks cautioned against the creation of "genetically modified human beings" but Prince Philip said: "Do not let us forget we have genetically modified animals and plants ever since people started selective breeding. That may have taken a bit longer, but it is essentially the same. It is no different from breeding fast horses together to try to produce even faster horses.

"People are worried about genetically modified organisms getting into the natural environment. What people forget is that the introduction of exotic species - like, for instance, the introduction of the grey squirrel into this country - is going to do, or has done, far more damage than a genetically modified piece of potato."

The Duke's words brought urgings of caution from environmentalists yesterday, although his highlighting of the effects of the grey squirrel seemed to have struck a chord.

Charlie Kronick, the head of the GM campaign for Greenpeace, said: "The biotech companies say GM technology is revolutionary and has come just in time to save the world, but at the same time they are saying it is the same as crop breeding, which has been going on for generations. The Duke cannot have it both ways.

"Nature and life are unpredictable . No one expected the grey squirrel's impact and no one can predict the unexpected impacts, either subtle or enormous, of GM technology released into the environment ."

Charles Secrett, director of Friends of the Earth, said the Duke had hit the nail on the head when he talked about the effect the grey squirrel had had on the countryside. He said: "Who would have predicted the damage it would do? If we had stopped to test the effects of this particular genetic import, we would never have allowed it to establish itself.

"The fact remains that GM crops raise concerns about possible damage to the environment and human health. It is therefore essential that we proceed with caution ."


07 Jun 00 - GMO - Britain 'must not reject experiments on crops'

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Wednesday 7 June 2000


Britain must not turn its back on genetically modified crop technology at a time when the farming industry faces economic "meltdown ," the Royal Agricultural Society of England said yesterday.

The society, whose patron is the Queen, said in a report: "GM technology has released considerable benefit for medicine, and were consumers to see tangible benefits in food, their attitudes would be quite different. Britain must not turn its back on GM technology. The possibilities must be properly researched and decisions based on both scientific fact and market relevance, rather than emotion."

Prince Philip who is the society's president, became embroiled in the GM controversy on Monday when he contradicted the anti-GM views of the Prince of Wales. He said: "Do not let us forget we have been genetically modifying animals and plants ever since people started selective breeding.

"People are worried about genetically modified organisms getting into the environment. What people forget is that the introduction of exotic species - like, for instance, the introduction of the grey squirrel into this country - is going to do, or has done, far more damage than a genetically modified piece of potato."

His remarks supported those of the Princess Royal, current president of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, who said in a recent interview in The Grocer magazine: "It is a huge over-simplification to say all farming ought to be organic or there should be no GM foods. Man has been tinkering with food production and plant development for such a long time that it's a bit cheeky to suddenly get nervous about it when, fundamentally, you are doing much the same thing."

The Royal Agricultural Society of England released a detailed report on the current economic slump in agriculture and proposed a number of strategies to restore profitability. The report - Routes to Rural Prosperity - Farmland Management Strategies for the UK - said: "It is argued that conventional plant breeding methods can no longer offer sustained increases in yield. This is not an issue for consumers in developed countries but it is in less fortunate regions."

The report said that the absence of clear policy, coupled with economic problems caused by the strength of the pound and damage to farm incomes due to World Trade Organisation trading rules, had produced the worst crisis in UK agriculture in living memory .

Rural communities and the environment were now under threat, it said. It also blamed "piecemeal" reforms of the inefficient Common Agricultural Policy for much of the problem. Food production would remain a key objective of competitive agriculture and farmers would need to adopt new technologies to survive in an increasingly competitive world.

No genetically modified crops will be displayed at Cereals 2000 , the main national show for cereals and other arable crops at Nocton Estate, Lincs, later this month.

Biotechnology companies have made "a commercial decision " not to exhibit. Protesters destroyed demonstration plots of GM sugar beet at last year's show in Royston, Herts.


07 Jun 00 - GMO - Conflict of royal views

Staff Reporter

Times ... Wednesday 7 June 2000


Prince of Wales:

"Genetically altered food crops take mankind into realms that belong to God, and to God alone"

"Humankind should be careful to use science to understand how nature works not to change what nature is"

"The scientific manipulation of crops could have potentially disastrous consequences"

"It is wrong that nature has come to be regarded as a system that can be engineered for our own convenience and in which anything that happens can be fixed by technology and human ingenuity"

PRINCESS ROYAL

"It is a huge oversimplification to say all farming ought to be organic, or that there should be no GM foods. Man has been tinkering with food production for such a long time that it's a bit cheeky to suddenly get nervous about it when, fundamentally, you are doing much the same thing"

"I think they [organic farms] have their place. You can add value on the marginal farms through organics. But I fear they're not the overall answer"

DUKE OF EDINBURGH

"The introduction of exotic species like the grey squirrel into this country has done far more damage than a genetically modified potato. Do not let us forget that we have been genetically modifying animals and plants since people started selective breeding. That might have taken a bit longer but was essentially the same"


07 Jun 00 - GMO - Duke's 'gaffe' was not an accident

By Andrew Pierce

Times ... Wednesday 7 June 2000


When the gaffe-prone Duke of Edinburgh makes headlines it is usually because he has opened his mouth and put his foot in it .

Prince Philip's comments on genetically modified food, however, were not the impetuous remarks of an irascible patriarch a year short of his 80th birthday. They were part of a careful intervention from a father who thinks that his son - whom he has never really understood - has got his facts badly wrong.

Not only was it a considered intervention, it was a concerted one for it came only 24 hours after the Princess Royal, in an interview with The Grocer magazine , scorned the increasing calls for a ban on GM foods led by her brother.

Both father and daughter knew that their remarks would be seized upon as the latest division between the warring Windsors , but they still went ahead. Prince Philip, who is fully aware of the impact of his off-the-cuff remarks, even had the chance to withdraw from the controversy.

The Prince used an invitation-only lecture by the Chief Rabbi at Windsor Castle to speak out. When asked if he objected to being quoted, he smiled and said: "See what you can make of them."

The result succeeded, at a stroke, in knocking Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, who were basking in the glow of approving publicity, off all the front pages. Having so blatantly disagreed with his son, and allowed the publication of his comments, Prince Philip cannot have been surprised by the resulting impression of a family at war. Nor would he have been gravely unsettled.

Relations have never been easy with his eldest son. Prince Philip was horrified by Prince Charles's admission of adultery in a television interview, and he was conspicuous by his absence from the lunch at Highgrove on Saturday at which the Queen finally met Mrs Parker Bowles. It was one of the most important royal developments since Diana, Princess of Wales, died. The Duke was at a pre-arranged carriage driving event .

The Prince of Wales has learnt not to be unduly provoked by his father and a dignified silence was maintained at St James's Palace yesterday. There were, however, signs of exasperation as no one could recall that his father had shown even the slightest interest in GM foods before even when he had benn given a tailor-made opportunity.

A small crop of GM grain was on display when Prince Philip opened the Royal Show at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire in 1998. In a speech about agricultural production, he pointedly did not refer to GM crops, which his eldest son argued had taken mankind into the decision-making realms that properly belong to God.

If Prince Philip's intervention was unexpected, Princess Anne's might have been anticipated. She is known in royal circles to take a different line from her brother on the capacity of GM foods to feed the starving - a consequence of her work with Save the Children - but the timing of her remarks set the trowels rattling in the Highgrove garden.

Anne's motive to speak as forcefully as she did had as much to do with her amour-propre as concern for the starving. The Princess Royal's interview with The Grocer was conducted about two weeks ago when the Prince of Wales was being feted for spending a week on official duties in Scotland for the first time. The Princess Royal, who spends at least three days each month on official engagements north of the border but without such public acknowledgement, was irritated by the press coverage of her brother's rare Scottish sojourn . She was tempted to pull the tartan rug out from under the Pretender to her Scottish credentials.

Anne's expression of surprise yesterday that she had inadvertently triggered "a storm" over GM food, was also met by diplomatic silence at St James's Palace.

No one said it, but the suspicion was left hanging in the air that having primed the bomb at the weekend Princess Anne was attempting to wipe her fingerprints from the detonator.

Few royal observers are surprised that the Duke of Edinburgh is on the same side as his daughter. When he surveys his family he sees an eldest son whom he regards as an incurable romantic who talks to plants, a second who lives happily with his dreaded former wife, and a third who could not stand the pace of military life and dropped out of the Royal Marines to surround himself with theatre luvvies. But in the hard-working, no-nonsense Princess Anne he sees another of the stoical Windsor women who have given backbone to the men over the years. In some ways, he sees Princess Anne as the son he never had.


07 Jun 00 - GMO - Princess fuels split on GM food

By David Charter And Valerie Elliott

Times ... Wednesday 7 June 2000


The princess royal rowed back on her controversial support for genetically modified food last night, creating a three-way split within the Royal Family over the technology.

Princess Anne argued that "the jury was still out " on GM foods, a pronounced qualification of the views she expressed in an interview with The Grocer at the weekend. Her retreat leaves the Duke of Edinburgh as the royal champion of genetic modification and the Prince of Wales its dedicated opponent.

The Duke brought open the conflict of views within his family when he said that genetic modification of food was no different from selective breeding of animals and plants, and that the introduction of foreign pests such as the grey squirrel had done far more harm to the environment than would ever be caused by GM crops.

He appeared to have his daughter on his side, when she was reported as saying: "Man has been tinkering with food production and plant development for such a long time that it's a bit cheeky suddenly to get nervous about it when fundamentally you are doing much the same thing. It is a huge oversimplification to say all farming ought to be organic or there should be no GM foods."

But yesterday the Princess told nutritionists that her open mind should not be confused with an endorsement, and she was clearly irritated that she had been seen as a GM zealot .

"I was away at the weekend at sea - no television, no newspapers - so I was intrigued to find I had caused a bit of a storm when I came back," she told the Institute of Child Health in London. "I never endorse anything, I have never done that.

"As far as GM anything is concerned, it seems to me there's a spirit about which is if you don't condemn it, you must condone it. That seems to me to be a wholly unreasonable attitude.

"It is a subject of great interest and the jury is still out. I, for one, won't be making any statements or making up my mind unless the British Nutrition Foundation tells me. They haven't told me anything yet."

The Princess is also known to be interested in organic farming and is planning to convert part of her Gatcombe Park estate to organic crops.

Buckingham Palace denied that the interventions from the Duke and Princess Anne over recent days were "deliberately orchestrated" to counter Prince Charles's anti-GM stance, articulated most recently in his Reith Lecture when he said: "If a fraction of the money being invested in developing genetically manipulated crops were applied to understanding and improving traditional systems of agriculture which have stood the test of time, the results would be remarkable."

It was clear, however, that the Duke was fully aware of the interest his pro-GM salvo had generated, though Palace sources emphasised that he did not wish to elaborate "for the moment".

Supporters of the Duke, who is also this year's president of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, say that he has heard first-hand of the frustration felt by many farmers and landowners who wish to test the new technology and reduce the use of pesticides.

The Duke is keen to spearhead proper debate and is to accompany the Queen to the Royal Cornwall Agricultural Show at Wadebridge tomorrow, providing another occasion when he could be questioned about his views.

Ministers were clearly delighted with the Duke's remarks, though no one was prepared to go on the record to say so, as they struggle to find farmers willing to participate in the official trials of GM crops .

The Ministry of Defence is now having to ask its tenant farmers to take part and one in West Raynham, Norfolk, has already planted fields of GM sugar beet. Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, is to confirm the new policy today in a statement on the future blueprint for the defence estates.

Environmentalists were enraged that the ministry was becoming the first institutional landowner - it has 555 tenants farming more than 100,000 acres - to take part in the GM trials and the decision is certain to be raised in the Commons tomorrow when the Conservatives launch an attack on the Government's handling of the recent GM-contaminated seed fiasco and the year-long delay in appointing a new GM advisory body.

George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers' Association, advised farmers to think very carefully about taking part in the GM trials before signing a contract. He said that there was a loophole in the law which could allow a landlord to seek compensation for a drop in land value .

"I am advising that tenants should ask for specific permission from landlords. It is possible that supermarkets will not take crops from land that has been planted with GM crops , for example."

The Crown Estates allows farmers to choose their own crops, but so far no farmer has come forward to take part in the GM trials.

It has also stipulated in new tenancy agreements that farmers must ask permission of the landlord.

The Duchy of Cornwall and the National Trust have informed their tenant farmers, however, that they must be told about any such plan as it could have serious consequences for the value of the land.


07 Jun 00 - GMO - Robust view on GM crops is both right and wrong

By Nigel Hawkes

Times ... Wednesday 7 June 2000


The surprise is not that the Duke of Edinburgh offered a robust opinion on genetically modified crops, but that it took him so long .

Of all members of the Royal Family he has taken the best-informed interest in science and technology - and is the one most likely to let a controversial opinion slip . Is he right? Yes and no.

He said: "Do not let us forget we have been genetically modifying animals and plants ever since people started selective breeding." He added that the introduction of foreign pests such as the grey squirrel had done more damage to the environment than genetically modified crops would ever cause.

The general point he made, that species are more dangerous than genes, is very probably correct. Species such as the grey squirrel or the giant hogweed have millions of years of evolution behind them, which has made them fit for their purpose. Given a chance, they will fill a niche in the ecosystem and multiply. An isolated gene chosen by man for its usefulness in the artificial environment of agriculture is much less likely to cause a problem.

Comparing the risks of traditional breeding with that of genetic engineering is less straightforward. In traditional breeding, crop plants are crossed with closely related plants in the hope of producing better ones. The genes combine unpredictably, so the progeny have to be tested in the field to see which is best. No one knows which genes or how many are transferred in such experiments - so there is a risk of introducing a gene from a wild relation which could be damaging. Genetic engineering, which introduces only a single known gene, can claim in some ways to be safer. Some GM plants do not even involve introducing foreign genes, but simply silencing some of the plant's own genes. The non-rotting FlavrSavr tomato is an example.

Critics say there are differences that make the Duke's comparison invalid . GM en-ables genes to be transferred between species which would not, in nature, cross - even between animals and plants.

Yesterday on Radio 4's Today programme, Tim Yeo, the Shadow Environment Minister, said: "I do not think Prince Philip fully understands what is really involved with GM . It means taking genes from arctic fish and sticking them into tomatoes." This was a laboratory experiment, not a product anybody proposes to plant. It would not pass the approval process, so in a sense, Mr Yeo was raising fears rather than addressing the issue. Nor is it clear that it would in fact raise any practical problems.

Critics such as Dr Mae-Wan Ho of the Open University argue that the methods used in GM cannot specify where the introduced gene will go in the genome. The "vectors" used to carry it into the plant cells may themselves have undesirable qualities .

Only large-scale experiments will show if GM plants really do have unexpected and serious consequences. For the moment, it appears not.


06 Jun 00 - GMO - Royal rift over GM foods

Staff and agencies

Times ... Tuesday 6 June 2000


A royal rift developed today over the issue of GM crops , with the Duke of Edinburgh reportedly joining the Princess Royal in playing down concerns in remarks which appear to contradict the views of the Prince of Wales.

The duke's comments came just days after his daughter was criticised by environmental campaigners when she also spoke out in favour of genetically modified foods in the industry magazine, The Grocer.

Philip said: "Do not let us forget we have been genetically modifying animals and plants ever since people started selective breeding." The introduction of foreign pests, such as the grey squirrel, had done more damage to the environment than genetically modified crops would ever cause, he added.

"People are worried about genetically modified organisms getting into the environment.

"What people forget is that the introduction of exotic species - like, for instance, the introduction of the grey squirrel into this country - is going to or has done far more damage than a genetically modified piece of potato."

The duke's remarks, in response to a lecture at Windsor Castle by the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, were reported in The Times today.

Shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo said he did not want to "get involved in a family row" but added: "I think he (the Duke) is slightly confused about this issue .

"Of course it is right that the introduction of some exotic animals into an island like Britain has done great damage, but that should make him more cautious, not less cautious , about the consequences of genetic modification.

"Genetic modification goes much further than selective plant breeding or gradually improving horses so that they can run faster. It does involve taking genes from one species such as a fish which is normally confined to the Arctic and sticking it in something like a tomato to make it more frost-resistant," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

At the weekend, environmental campaigners said the Princess Royal was "absolutely wrong " in some of the views she expressed - which opposed those frequently expressed by her brother, Charles.

But some food safety experts backed her view, saying that GM produce was just as safe as food produced by traditional farming methods.

The Princess said: "It is a huge over-simplification to say all farming ought to be organic or there should be no GM foods. I'm sorry, but life isn't that simple.

"Man has been tinkering with food production and plant development for such a long time that it's a bit cheeky to suddenly get nervous about it when, fundamentally, you are doing much the same thing."


06 Jun 00 - GMO - GM body will voice consumer concerns

By Paul Waugh, Political Correspondent

Independent ... Tuesday 6 June 2000


The Government made a fresh attempt to calm public fears over GM crops and foods yesterday when it unveiled a new independent body that will give advice to ministers on the technology.

Mo Mowlam, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, said the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission would be a "powerful body with strong consumer representation". However, the Tories claimed the move was "too little, too late " in the aftermath of the recent scandal of up to 600 farms being accidentally planted with GM crops .

The commission, which will be made up of environmentalists, consumer groups, scientists and farmers, will give ministers strategic advice.

Ms Mowlam, who launched the group during a visit to a farm in Hertfordshire, said the independent group would examine the ethical issues surrounding the new technology as well as its impact on health and the environment.

"I and my colleagues at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food recognise that people have concerns and fears about GM crops," she said. "This new commission will help us to meet and address these."

Ms Mowlam admitted that the body's diverse membership could lead it to offer conflicting advice , but claimed that such an outcome could still be helpful.

However, Tim Yeo, the shadow Minister of Agriculture, said the commission would not help hundreds of British farmers who are ripping up crops worth thousands of pounds at the moment .


06 Jun 00 - GMO - The Royal war on GM foods

Editorial Comment

Evening Standard ... Tuesday 6 June 2000


It is debatable whether the Prince of Wales and his father could reach accord about whether today is Tuesday or Wednesday. It is unsurprising, then, that they have fallen into public disagreement about an issue close to the Prince's heart, that of genetically modified crops.

Only a few days ago, the Prince delivered yet another of his armageddonistic warnings about the perils of GM crops. On Sunday, his sister the Princess Royal expressed her own dissent, scorning calls for a ban on GM foods.

Then last night the Duke of Edinburgh weighed in, speaking after a lecture at Windsor Castle by the Chief Rabbi. The Duke cautioned against getting the GM threat out of proportion. He reminded his audience that animals and plants have been genetically modified ever since selective breeding started.

The Duke is characteristically impatient of emotional doom merchants, and spoke the language of common sense. Given that his son is foremost among the doomsters, this difference of opinion is unlikely to enhance their relationship. Our own sympathies incline towards the Duke's view.

He is right to assert that mankind has been conducting plant mutations for centuries, albeit that genetic modification takes the process a stage further. He could have added that whether we like it or not, GM crops are going to come, because there is overwhelming demand in the developing world for the benefits they can bring in feeding hungry people.

Such GM seed producers as Monsanto have done terrible damage to their own case by equivocation, incompetence and lamentable public relations. But the Prince of Wales's public anguishings on the GM issue, as on other matters, reflect his own deeply-felt instincts, without making many concessions to perspective and intellectual rigour.

There is no doubt that the public is uneasy about GM foods and GM crops. Both regulatory reassurance and education will be necessary, before exponents of the new technology start to win the argument in Britain.

But we would confidently assert that the Duke of Edinburgh's words reflect a realistic view of where we are going, and the Prince's line echoes his visceral yearning to stop the clock


06 Jun 00 - GMO - GM crop commission launched

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Tuesday 6 June 2000


The head of a new advisory body on genetically modified crops launched by the Government yesterday promised that it would be the "voice of the people" (UK Correspondents note: the voice of MAFF more likely) on the issue.

Prof Malcolm Grant, the chairman of the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission which will advise the government on any GM matters affecting agriculture and the environment, said that the new body would be "open, inclusive and as transparent as possible".

Prof Grant, professor of land economy at Cambridge and chairman of the Local Government Association of England, said: "I am looking forward to meeting the challenge of providing the Government with the best possible strategic advice. I want people to see the commission as their voice on the issue."

The commission was unveiled by Mo Mowlam, Tony Blair's Cabinet "enforcer" and head of the Government's GM Unit in Downing Street, after three weeks of political controversy surrounding the accidental planting of genetically modified crops on up to 600 British farms.

It will consist of 20 members representing producers, consumers, environmentalists and scientists and will work alongside the Food Standards Agency and the Human Genetics Commission (UK Correspondents note: lots of quango jobs for the boys here!). Speaking during a visit to an environmentally friendly demonstration farm at Royston, Hertfordshire, Dr Mowlam said ministers recognised that people had "concerns and fears" about GM crops.

She said: "The broad membership will ensure that the commission looks beyond the science and beyond the regulatory framework. They need to be able to explore the issues that matter to people most." (UK Correspondents note: Anyone understand what that means?),


06 Jun 00 - GMO - New gene technique may cure arthritis

By David Derbyshire, Science Correspondent

Telegraph ... Tuesday 6 June 2000


Gene therapy , the use of DNA to treat disease, could one day help patients with rheumatoid arthritis , a conference was told yesterday.

A team of American scientists has successfully tested the innovative technique on rats with inflammation of the paws and ankles. When the gene for a protein known to ease the swelling of joints was injected into the creatures' legs, inflammation lessened, the American Society for Gene Therapy conference in Denver was told.

The rats were treated with a sequence of DNA that encodes a protein called TNFR:Fc. The protein eases the swelling in joints found in rheumatoid arthritis. The gene was administered to the rats with a harmless genetically modified virus. Once injected into an affected part of the body, the virus multiplies and makes many copies of the gene.

In the rats, a single injection of the virus led to a reduction in inflammation. After 33 days, higher than normal levels of the TNFR:Fc virus were detected in the joints.

Dr Barrie Carter, the director of research and development at Targeted Genetics, said: "Local delivery to arthritic joints may allow patients to be dosed every few months while maintaining therapuetic levels of the protein between treatments.

"We are moving forward with the preclinical development of the human version of this construct." Much of the research into gene therapy has concentrated on treating cancer or diseases caused by the defect of a single gene. But Targeted Genetics believes that it will have a far wider use in other diseases.

In studies of mice, scientists have repaired damage caused by multiple sclerosis, which strikes when the body mistakenly attacks the protective sheath of myelin that insulates nerve cells, causing progressively debilitating symptoms, such as weakness, numbness and difficulty performing mental tasks.

The scientists identified two human antibodies that, when given to the mice, caused the regrowth and repair of the myelin sheath. Today a team led by Dr Moses Rodriguez at the May Clinic in Minnesota reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences a potential treatment after the studies.

However, he stresses that these are early days . There is no new treatment or therapy for patients as yet and it is not known how long the development of the clinical trials will take or when the clinical trials would begin.


06 Jun 00 - GMO - Royal Family in conflict as Duke backs GM foods

By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

Times ... Tuesday 6 June 2000


The Duke of Edinburgh leapt into the GM debate last night with a wholehearted endorsement of genetically modified foods.

He said the introduction of pests from abroad, such as the grey squirrel, had done far more harm to the environment than would ever be caused by GM crops. The only difference between the selective breeding of animals and creating GM food, he added, was that genetic modification was faster.

His comments, in response to a lecture at Windsor Castle by the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, put him directly at odds with his son, the Prince of Wales, who is a bitter opponent of GM experimentation. Prince Charles has repeatedly issued warnings about what he once called "Frankenstein foods", and insists that traditional and organic farming methods are by far the best and the safest .

The Duke's decision to join the debate - two days after the Princess Royal had also scorned calls for a ban on GM foods - came in response to a 45-minute talk by the Chief Rabbi, who cautioned against the creation, not merely of GM crops, but of "genetically modified human beings ".

Prince Philip was effusive in his praise for Dr Sacks, but said he wished he had not mentioned the GM debate.

"Do not let us forget we have been genetically modifying animals and plants ever since people started selective breeding," he said. That might have taken a bit longer, but was essentially the same. It was no different from breeding fast racehorses together to try to produce even faster racehorses.

"People are worried about genetically modified organisms getting into the natural environment. What people forget is that the introduction of exotic species - like, for instance, the introduction of the grey squirrel into this country - is going to or has done far more damage than a genetically modified piece of potato. The real point is, where are the limits to what we do?"

Delivering the annual St George's House Lecture, Dr Sacks had said: "We have had enormous debate recently on genetically modified food. I want to talk about genetically modified human beings ."

He welcomed the prospect that the decoding of the human genome could ultimately lead to cures for Huntingdon's and other hereditary diseases. "But the question is: Will we know when to stop? Will we be able to draw the line between therapeutic and eugenic surgery ?"

The sanctity of human life was rooted in the uniqueness of every human person and one life could not be substituted for another. Outlining a scenario in 50 years' time when a mother whose child died tragically could go to a doctor and ask for another, identical child to be cloned. "What would then happen in a culture where such things become possible and even routine? What would become of love, loss and the sanctity of human life? If persons are no longer individual but genetic types that can be replicated at will, what then will become of our central ethical values?"

The divisions within the Royal Family on the issue was highlighted on Sunday when the Princess Royal took issue with her brother in an interview published in The Grocer magazine.

Speaking in her capacity as president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, she said: "Man has been tinkering with food production and plant development for such a long time that it's a bit cheeky suddenly to get nervous about it when fundamentally you are doing much the same thing. It is a huge oversimplification to say all farming ought to be organic or there should be no GM foods. I'm sorry - but life isn't that simple."

The article followed her brother's Reith Lecture last month in which he said: "If literally nothing is held sacred any more, because it is considered synonymous with superstition or in some other way irrational, what is there to prevent us treating our entire world as some great laboratory of life with potentially disastrous long-term consequences?

"If a fraction of the money being invested in developing genetically manipulated crops were applied to understanding and improving traditional systems of agriculture which have stood the test of time, the results would be remarkable."

The Duke's contribution to the debate also brought him into conflict with MPs. Tim Yeo the Shadow Agriculture Minister, dismissed his remarks as "complete nonsense ".

He said: "I do not think Prince Philip fully understands what is really involved with GM, it means taking genes from Arctic fish and sticking them into tomatoes .

"I'm sorry to say that I'm on the side of the Prince of Wales rather than his dad on this occasion and in the light of Princess Anne's remarks at the weekend there seems to be a bit of a family row breaking out over this."

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, said: "I don't trust this man's judgment at all. What does Prince Philip know about this? What is his scientific background?

"Prince Philip goes around making inaccurate comments and he is as wrong about this as he is wrong about the various racial qualities of people around the planet be they Indian or Chinese people."