Prince Charles and Genetically Modified Food
The Prince And The Great Debate. Don't
Turn Your Back on Science
- An open letter from biologist Richard Dawkins to Prince Charles'
Your Royal Highness,
Your Reith lecture saddened me. I have deep sympathy for your aims, and admiration for your sincerity. But your hostility to science will not serve those aims; and your embracing of an ill-assorted jumble of mutually contradictory alternatives will lose you the respect that I think you deserve. I forget who it was who remarked: 'Of course we must be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.'
Let's look at some of the alternative philosophies which you seem to prefer over scientific reason. First, intuition, the heart's wisdom 'rustling like a breeze through the leaves'. Unfortunately, it depends whose intuition you choose. Where aims (if not methods) are concerned, your own intuitions coincide with mine. I wholeheartedly share your aim of long-term stewardship of our planet, with its diverse and complex biosphere.
But what about the instinctive wisdom in Saddam Hussein's black heart? What price the Wagnerian wind that rustled Hitler's twisted leaves? The Yorkshire Ripper heard religious voices in his head urging him to kill. How do we decide which intuitive inner voices to heed?
This, it is important to say, is not a dilemma that science can solve. My own passionate concern for world stewardship is as emotional as yours. But where I allow feelings to influence my aims, when it comes to deciding the best method of achieving them I'd rather think than feel. And thinking, here, means scientific thinking. No more effective method exists. If it did, science would incorporate it.
Next, Sir, I think you may have an exaggerated idea of the naturalness of 'traditional' or 'organic' agriculture. Agriculture has always been unnatural. Our species began to depart from our natural hunter-gatherer lifestyle as recently as 10,000 years ago - too short to measure on the evolutionary timescale.
Wheat, be it ever so wholemeal and stoneground, is not a natural food for Homo sapiens. Nor is milk, except for children. Almost every morsel of our food is genetically modified - admittedly by artificial selection not artificial mutation, but the end result is the same. A wheat grain is a genetically modified grass seed, just as a pekinese is a genetically modified wolf. Playing God? We've been playing God for centuries!
The large, anonymous crowds in which we now teem began with the agricultural revolution, and without agriculture we could survive in only a tiny fraction of our current numbers. Our high population is an agricultural (and technological and medical) artifact. It is far more unnatural than the population-limiting methods condemned as unnatural by the Pope. Like it or not, we are stuck with agriculture, and agriculture - all agriculture is unnatural. We sold that pass 10,000 years ago.
Does that mean there's nothing to choose between different kinds of agriculture when it comes to sustainable planetary welfare? Certainly not. Some are much more damaging than others, but it's no use appealing to 'nature', or to 'instinct' in order to decide which ones. You have to study the evidence, soberly and reasonably - scientifically. Slashing and burning (incidentally, no agricultural system is closer to being 'traditional') destroys our ancient forests. Overgrazing (again, widely practised by 'traditional' cultures) causes soil erosion and turns fertile pasture into desert. Moving to our own modern tribe, monoculture, fed by powdered fertilisers and poisons, is bad for the future; indiscriminate use of antibiotics to promote livestock growth is worse.
Incidentally, one worrying aspect of the hysterical opposition to the possible risks from GM crops is that it diverts attention from definite dangers which are already well understood but largely ignored. The evolution of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria is something that a Darwinian might have foreseen from the day antibiotics were discovered. Unfortunately the warning voices have been rather quiet, and now they are drowned by the baying cacophony: 'GM GM GM GM GM GM!'
Moreover if, as I expect, the dire prophecies of GM doom fail to materialise, the feeling of let-down may spill over into complacency about real risks. Has it occurred to you that our present GM brouhaha may be a terrible case of crying wolf?
Even if agriculture could be natural, and even if we could develop some sort of instinctive rapport with the ways of nature, would nature be a good role model? Here, we must think carefully. There really is a sense in which ecosystems are balanced and harmonious, with some of their constituent species becoming mutually dependent. This is one reason the corporate thuggery that is destroying the rainforests is so criminal.
On the other hand, we must beware of a very common misunderstanding of Darwinism. Tennyson was writing before Darwin but he got it right. Nature really is red in tooth and claw. Much as we might like to believe otherwise, natural selection, working within each species, does not favour long-term stewardship. It favours short-term gain. Loggers, whalers, and other profiteers who squander the future for present greed, are only doing what all wild creatures have done for three billion years.
No wonder T.H. Huxley, Darwin's bulldog, founded his ethics on a repudiation of Darwinism. Not a repudiation of Darwinism as science, of course, for you cannot repudiate truth. But the very fact that Darwinism is true makes it even more important for us to fight against the naturally selfish and exploitative tendencies of nature. We can do it. Probably no other species of animal or plant can. We can do it because our brains (admittedly given to us by natural selection for reasons of short-term Darwinian gain) are big enough to see into the future and plot long-term consequences. Natural selection is like a robot that can only climb uphill, even if this leaves it stuck on top of a measly hillock. There is no mechanism for going downhill, for crossing the valley to the lower slopes of the high mountain on the other side. There is no natural foresight, no mechanism for warning that present selfish gains are leading to species extinction and indeed, 99 per cent of all species that have ever lived are extinct.
The human brain, probably uniquely in the whole of evolutionary history, can see across the valley and can plot a course away from extinction and towards distant uplands. Long-term planning - and hence the very possibility of stewardship - is something utterly new on the planet, even alien. It exists only in human brains. The future is a new invention in evolution. It is precious. And fragile. We must use all our scientific artifice to protect it.
It may sound paradoxical, but if we want to sustain the planet into the future, the first thing we must do is stop taking advice from nature. Nature is a short-term Darwinian profiteer. Darwin himself said it: 'What a book a devil's chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low, and horridly cruel works of nature.'
Of course that's bleak, but there's no law saying the truth has to be cheerful; no point shooting the messenger - science - and no sense in preferring an alternative world view just because it feels more comfortable. In any case, science isn't all bleak. Nor, by the way, is science an arrogant know-all. Any scientist worthy of the name will warm to your quotation from Socrates: 'Wisdom is knowing that you don't know.' What else drives us to find out?
What saddens me most, Sir, is how much you will be missing if you turn
your back on science. I have tried to write about the poetic wonder of
science myself, but may I take the liberty of presenting you with a book
by another author? It is The Demon-Haunted World by the lamented Carl
Sagan. I'd call your attention especially to the subtitle: Science as
a Candle in the Dark .
By Kirk Leech
Chengal Reddy is president of the Andhra Pradesh Farmers' Association. 'The Green Revolution has helped India move from a state of dependence to a stage of independence in terms of food production', he says. 'Nobody starves in India because of lack of food.'
He dismisses the critics of fertilisers and GM crops. 'It is like someone telling me when some disease like malaria or bronchial asthma affects me that I'm not supposed to use modern medicines. In Indian agriculture production has to go up; this cannot be done with traditional farmyard manure, this has to be done with chemical fertilisers and more high-yielding and genetically modified seeds to increase production. What else should we do? Environmentalists say don't use chemical fertilisers. Okay, we will produce one ton, not three or four tons. Once we reduce our productivity levels, how will we meet our food requirements? Will these environmentalists ask us to import food from Canada?
'You should tell Prince Charles who advocates organic farming. Let him travel by bullock cart or horse or small boat driven by wind when he comes to India. Why should he travel by Boeing aircraft?
'Farmers in India are in favour of the best technology and best seeds. Hybrid seeds and genetically modified seeds are demanded by most Indian farmers. Most activists have little to do with agriculture. If a seed produced by "X" company gives me more returns, more income, less expenditure, I will use it. If it doesn't I will reject it. If I use my own seed the productivity is hardly 50 percent of what is expected. If I go in for a high-yielding hybrid variety my production will be 100 percent. So which do I prefer?'
Chengal Reddy is just as scathing about opponents of the Narmada dam project. 'Someone telling us that we should not build dams so that we can't irrigate, it is bloody absurd. Some of us are telling the environmentalists that they should stay in Delhi.
'Everyone tells us that the tribals and the villagers in rural India should remain as they are. But they are not showpieces, animals to be kept in a zoo, so somebody can come and see them. They want to be reformed; they want to be like you and me. You use showers, but you want a tribal to bathe in the river. We want the tribals in India to get out of the wretched situation they are in and live like civilised people.'
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Gilbert Ross MD, http://www.acsh.org
Continuing an almost five-century old British tradition of mixing Church and State, the Prince of Wales has again tried to reverse the tide of scientific inquiry and exploration--a move many will equate with King Harald's futile attempt to hold back the ocean tides 1,000 or so years ago.
In a radio address last week, Prince Charles called for a return to spirituality as a guiding philosophy for human endeavors, with an associated downplaying of technology and science. He warned of the dangers of unrestrained scientific research and the perils of "tampering" with nature. He was inspired to pen these thoughts during a recent pilgrimage to a remote Greek monastery.
Besides calling for a restoration of the "essential unity" between the living and the spiritual world, he attacked old bugaboos of his, biotechnology (genetic modification, GM) and GM food. He decided to ignore the fact that both his own government, as well as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul ll, have come out in support of this technology as a potential means to help alleviate malnutrition and starvation in the developing world. The British population has taken his warnings, as well as those of other environmental extremists, more seriously than scientists or the American public--GM food is shunned throughout the U.K. and many areas of Europe. But they still benefit from drugs produced through the same methods--no one has yet called for the removal of biopharmaceuticals such as insulin, and many other GM-drugs.
In his speech, he supported the "precautionary principle," which advocates the elimination of any substance or technique which cannot be proven to be absolutely safe. However, it is well known scientifically that proving something 100% safe is often impossible, and essentially meaningless anyway. Is driving completely safe? Are medications completely safe? Of course not--even crossing the street can be dangerous, yet we go about our daily activities anyway. If hundreds, or thousands, of useful products were banned because proving them "safe" would be impossible, take years, or be too expensive, what would replace them?
By calling "excessive" scientific rationalism an affront to "the creator," and stating that science should be used to "understand how nature works, but not to change what it is," he seemed to be calling for a reversal of all the accomplishments of mankind, dating back....who knows how far? He assumes that there must be an inherent conflict between spirituality and science--never mind that scientific discoveries and technical innovations have made our lives so much better, both in quality and quantity, over the centuries. Thanks to these discoveries, those of us in the developed world are no longer at the whim of a fickle nature, hoping for adequate rain, sun, etc., to eke out a subsistence living.
These benefits are, unfortunately, still not commonplace in the poor areas of Asia and Africa. Yet "environmentalists" in well-off areas, who have never been hungry or coaxed a crop out of an unforgiving field, try to cut off new methods that show great promise for easing their lives. They are against science, and seem to be against humans in favor of forests. Yet their favorite agricultural approach, "organic" farming, is so inefficient it would force much more forest acreage into cultivation than using modern methods.
After reading the text of Prince Charles' speech, Dr. James Watson, Nobel Prize winning co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, stated, "He is one of the people who are worried that the world is moving too fast. But the world is really rather wretched for a lot of people and science and technology can improve their lives....We will be able to improve the quality of food."
These miracle will occur in any event, but they will be here sooner if science is allowed to overcome fear and superstition in high places. It is as foolish to try to turn back the hands of time, as it is to try to reverse the tides.
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HRH Prince Charles' Reith lecture, Respect for the earth - A royal view, has angered and depressed in equal measure the entire science community. His mystical, and at times quite whimsical, views on the sacred status of nature started to make even Vandana Shiva's earlier lecture in the series seem half-way sensible. (See Back to nature in India?) His explicit hostility towards scientific rationalism, which he claimed was smothering 'a sacred trust between mankind and our Creator', baffled not only scientists but also a few theologians. And his predictable attack on genetic engineering as failing to show 'respect for the genius of nature's designs' added further insult to those who believe passionately in the role of such technology in generating self-sustaining agriculture in those parts of the world currently prey to drought, famine and disease.
Prince Charles, of course, has a long history of high-minded pontificating on issues about which he is generally quite ill-informed - not least his campaign against modern architecture. And his profound lack of understanding of the true motivation and role of the scientist in modern society revealed the underlying vacuity of his sentimentalist speech. Professor Steve Jones' comment that he should 'go back to school and do more A-levels' was, in the circumstances, quite a mild rebuke - certainly given the Prince's reference to Bertrand Russell, most commonly regarded as a philosopher and mathematician, as a 'scientist'.
The Prince's unqualified support for the precautionary principle again exposes his failure to appreciate the consequences of what he is proposing. He claims that rather than being an obstacle to progress it is a 'sign of strength and wisdom'. But he is wrong. All of our evolution and cultural development has been achieved through evidence-based assessment of risks and subsequent progressive action. The precautionary principle, however, would have ruled out Columbus discovering the Americas, blood transfusions, open heart surgery and even the steam locomotive. It also now threatens to put a halt to the rich benefits that bio-engineering can bring to feeding an ever-increasing world population and to the eradication of diseases.
It is, perhaps, fitting that Prince Charles' lecture has been welcomed mostly by members of the British aristocracy. The Baron Melchett, Director of Greenpeace, for example, said in The Times: "it is about time somebody pointed out how bereft of humanity and human values it is for people to claim that they can take decisions simply on the basis of what they call 'sound science'." But if we abandon 'sound science' as our guiding principle, then whose principle should we adopt - that of the British monarchy and aristocracy? That of unelected and elitist environmental activist groups? Or that of religious zealots?
The views expressed by our monarch-in-waiting threaten to return us to the dark days of irrationality and bigotry which were characteristic of the times leading up to the reign of his distant predecessor and namesake Charles I - a man who believed, for self-serving reasons, in the Divine Right of Kings and the over-riding authority of the Church. That Charles, of course, had failed to notice the shifting tide of sentiment in English society away from such doctrines towards a new rationalism, and he paid the ultimate price for his lack of judgement when he was beheaded outside Whitehall Palace. Perhaps it is just as well that we now live in rather more tolerant times.
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Prince Charles has been a royal pain in the butt for Europe's agriculture biotechnology community.
Julian Kinderlerer, assistant director of Britain's Sheffield Institute of Biotechnology, said the Prince of Wales was the catalyst that sparked the outcry against genetically modified organisms in the United Kingdom with an article he published on his website in 1998.
In that article he said: "Mixing genetic material from species that cannot breed naturally takes us into areas that should be left to God. We should not be meddling with the building blocks of life in this way." He followed that up with a 1999 article published in the Daily Mail, one of the country's largest tabloid newspapers, in which he said the United Kingdom doesn't need GM food at all.
The prince also said that people who wish to be sure that they are eating or growing "real food" will be denied that choice if conventional or organic crops become contaminated by GM crops grown nearby. His words sparked a media frenzy, said Kinderlerer, in a speech he delivered at the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference 2002, held in Saskatoon last week.
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- Posted to AgBioView discussion group http://www.agbioworld.org/ 05 Aug 2003
By Pretty Bara and Tawanda Zidenga, Crop Science Department, University of Zimbabwe.
We write to challenge the comments Prince Charles continues to make about GMOs and we hope he stops commenting on a subject he clearly knows nothing about. The prince needs a GM-free Wales and a GM-free Britain, and who knows, may be a GM-free world! He believes that this kind of genetic modification takes mankind into realms that belong to God, and to God alone. According to the prince, apart from certain highly beneficial and specific medical applications, we dont have the right to experiment with, and commercialize, the building blocks of life?
We question the good princes understanding of agriculture, and we believe he doesnt quite understand what a GM crop is and how it differs from his organic crops. We know that the prince is a top organic farmer at his Highgrove Estate in Gloucestershire, and therefore fears being pushed off business by the GM revolution.. However, we think its best we take a look at his claims. That any place can and should stay GM-free is nothing short of a dream. We believe that biotechnology is here to stay, and the best we can do is ponder on how best we can use it without harming the environment and our health.
Numerous scientific studies have pointed to the safety and sustainability of this technology, and we believe debate should be based on facts rather than emotion. We are writing from the third world, and we know what it is like to have no food. While we understand the rationale of organic farming, we think it is a luxury for the Princes of this world.
While developed countries can afford to choose food based on the process used to produce it (a ridiculous choice indeed), we in the third world do not have such a choice. The complication comes if we have to be bullied into being GM-free to satisfy European trade standards.
The rejection of GM food aid by some countries in this region was due to the fear of losing European beef markets. If the prince so wishes, he can declare his own plate GM-free, and even then we wish him luck. But to claim that genetic modification takes scientists into the realms of God is to clearly misunderstand both genetic modification and God. Nobody can ever play God, because God plays his part superbly and he doesnt need a stand-in. We hope the prince understands in the long run that scientists are only playing scientists, period.
Perhaps the prince has never taken a moment to think about agriculture, because if he had, then he would know that agriculture itself is a way of experimenting and commercializing the building blocks of life and that is true with and without genetic modification. The claim that agriculture can be natural is misguided, since agriculture itself is driven by mankind.
If the good prince reads the bible, then he may have missed the line that mankind was given dominion over creation, and its a reality that we will always manipulate our environment to our own ends. If the prince does not regard insect resistant crops, nutritionally enhanced crops and stress tolerant crops as highly beneficial then we question his understanding of farming and the whole purpose of crop production. We find the comparison between genetic modification and organic farming very ridiculous. The former is a method of breeding while the latter is a method of production. If it wasnt an issue of commerce, one would expect the two to complement each other.
If the Prince of Wales admits the usefulness of this technology in medicine, why should he reject it in agriculture? The basic principles are still the same. You dont start playing God only because you are now in agriculture when you can do the same thing in medicine and receive a round of applause. We in the third world know better, that a poor diet will reduce our capacity to fight off disease. Biotechnology provides the tools for providing more food of better nutritional value. It is not a magic bullet, but it certainly is an important tool.
If the Prince is worried about playing God, he should join debates about things such as the death sentence where people actually decide that someone has to die. Otherwise somebody close to him had better tell him to please shut up!
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From: Gordon Couger
"What, then, of the widespread gut hostility, amounting to revulsion, against all such "transgenic" imports? This is based on the misconception that it is somehow "unnatural" to splice a fish gene, which was only ever "meant" to work in a fish, into the alien environment of a tomato cell. Surely an antifreeze gene from a fish must come with a fishy "flavour". Surely some of its fishiness must rub off. Yet nobody thinks that a square-root subroutine carries a "financial flavour" with it when you paste it into a rocket guidance system. The very idea of "flavour" in this sense is not just wrong but profoundly and interestingly wrong. It is a cheerful thought, by the way, that most young people today understand computer software far better than their elders, and they should grasp the point instantly. The present Luddism over genetic engineering may die a natural death as the computer-illiterate generation is superseded.
Is there nothing, then, absolutely nothing, in the misgivings of Prince Charles, Lord Melchett and their friends? I wouldn't go that far, although they are certainly muddleheaded. The square-root analogy might be unfair in the following respect. What if it isn't a square root that the rocket guidance program needs, but another function which is not literally identical to the financial equivalent? Suppose it is sufficiently similar that the main routine can indeed be borrowed, but it still needs tweaking in detail. In that case, it is possible that the rocket could misfire if we naively import the subroutine raw. Switching back to biology, although genes really are watertight subroutines of digital software, they are not watertight in their effects on the development of the organism, for here they interact with the environment furnished by other genes. The antifreeze gene might depend, for optimal effect, on an interaction with other genes in the fish. Plonk it down in the foreign genetic climate of a tomato, and it might not work unless properly tweaked (which can be done) to mesh with the existing tomato genes. --- Extracted from A Devil's Chaplain and Other Selected Essays by Richard Dawkins, edited by Latha Menon. Published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson, £16.99. Available through the Times Bookshop at £13.59 plus £1.95 P&P (0870 160 8080)
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- Jeff Clothier <firstname.lastname@example.org>
It is unsurprising that Charles, by the Grace of God Prince of Wales continues his backward campaign regarding food production. He, like organic agriculture, are both relics of the feudal system wherein even the most basic foodstuffs were rendered enormously expensive and readily available only to the ruling classes.
Many feudal lords insisted their fields be plowed, planted, tended and harvested entirely by hand even when there were oxen or other beasts of burden and better technology available so as to keep the serfs occupied and busy, and to ensure that the prices for their crops remained as high as possible. Those same serfs benefitted but little from their work and many survived largely on subsistence rations, as would those who could not afford food in a world which allowed only so-called" organic production methods to be used.
Prince Charles continues the tradition of binding the mouths of those who tread the grain.
- Jeff Clothier, Clarity Communications, Altoona, IA 50009
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"Humans revere nature and the natural order. Edward Wilson makes a compelling case that this affinity for nature, biophilia he calls it, is an innate epigenetic program handed down to us by way of natural selection.1 However it got here, the idea that natural things are good for you, certainly better than synthetic ones, and its corollary--don't muck about with nature--is widespread and fiercely held. It accounts for much of the avidity for "organically" grown as opposed to insecticide-laden foods and the preference for herbal supplements and other "natural" remedies over those concocted by the pharmaceutical industry, and it contributes to the intuitive revulsion to GMF. With just a bit of a stretch one can imagine how an innate affinity for natural substances and avoidance of unfamiliar doctored-up ones protected us through much of our history. And any "gut reaction" that has been with us for so long and served us so well deserves respect.
Nonetheless, it can lead to errors in judgement. Natural substances, including plants and the stuff sold in health food stores, can be toxic; and the scientist tinkering with crops--notwithstanding Prince Charles' assertion that such activities should be left to God and "God alone"--is not necessarily creating poison. "
- Walter A Brown, M.D., is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Brown University School of Medicine and at Tufts University School of Medicine.
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One of Britains leading scientists warned yesterday that human cloning could destroy natural instincts that were developed thousands of years ago and make us unique. Professor Lord Robert Winston said he was against the cloning of humans but saw no reason why genetically modified (GM) crops should not be developed to alleviate starvation in the Third World.
Winston, a fertility expert and a BBC presenter of such programmes as Walking with Cavemen, was speaking at the Book Festival. He attacked Prince Charles for his anti-GM foods stance, though he said it was a natural human reaction to be wary of scientific progress.
"As a species, we developed on the savannah where our natural instincts in terms of fear, flight and hunter-gathering developed, but we have developed our society so fast many of them are now redundant," he said. "That is why I have a phobia of spiders, for example, and why obesity is becoming such a problem in Britain and America, because it is a natural human instinct to hoard up fatty food when it was considerably more scarce.
"Our instincts still exert a powerful hold on us when it comes to choosing a mate through pheromones, and our subconscious sense of smell will draw us to the one with the most suitable genetic make-up for us. But in Sardinia we find that inbuilt genetics protect people from malaria, even though they are left vulnerable to other diseases. "I think it would be sad to lose the quirks that make us human and unique," he said, "but, above all, the science is not there to produce perfectly healthy humans."
Professor Winston argued that the case for using science to develop food was very strong. He said: "I find Prince Charless stand disappointing, as he is someone I admire hugely, but it is a natural knee-jerk reaction to fear science in this context. I have little time for those protesters that trample around test fields naked. "If we can develop crops that are more resistant to drought, then we can really tackle starvation in the Third World as well as a host of other diseases, such as HIV, which afflict weak and starving populations. In America, all soya is GM-developed and it has not done anyone any harm."
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PRINCE Charles has been told to keep his nose out of politics - by an unelected billionaire Minister. The Prince was criticised for getting involved in public debates on issues such as genetically-modified foods, organic farming and the development of nanotechnology science.
But the intervention, from 'Tony's Crony' and Science Minister Lord Sainsbury, was attacked as ' breathtaking arrogance'. Lord Sainsbury, who has poured pounds 11.5million into the Labour Party, has championed GM foods in the face of overwhelming public opposition. He criticised Prince Charles for By Jo Butler Home Affairs Correspondent making public his opposition to GM foods on environmental grounds.
The Minister said Charles would do well to follow the Queen's record of staying out of politics. 'It is at least debatable that these issues are political and therefore the Royal Family should not get involved,' he told Saga magazine Critics said it was 'a bit rich' for an unelected Minister to tell the Prince of Wales he had no right to speak up for ordinary people.
It was also pointed out that Lord Sainsbury retains a financial interest in GM foods through a blind trust. Tory MP Michael Fabricant said: 'I do not understand how he feels so well placed to attack the Prince of Wales over remarks which generally have more to do with the safety of the planet than any party political matter.' Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Norman Baker added: 'If Prince Charles should keep his nose out, so should Lord Sainsbury.' The peer has previously criticised the Prince for warning that there was a danger that nanotechnology, the science of the very small, would reduce the world to 'grey goo'.
The Minister said the idea was 'science fiction'.
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The Emperor was much admired by his courtiers when he paraded in his new clothes. They had all been taken in by the scheming tailors who claimed that their clothes were of such fine quality that only those with the most refined taste could appreciate them. Like all good fairy tales, this one tells us much about the frailty of human nature, particularly our readiness to believe the most fantastic claims if the marketing is good enough.
A modern example - which also happens to involve a Royal - is organic food, sales of which are expanding rapidly despite being much more expensive than conventionally produced food. Its success must be partly down to Prince Charles, who is a strong and vocal supporter. Yet organic food appears no different from ordinary food, and tastes no different when put through properly controlled blind trials...
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The intensifying UK debate over genetically modified crops has rekindled a feud between Prince Charles, heir to the throne, and leading evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, as the government prepares to decide if GM crops should be commercialized.
The prince, a strong advocate of organic farming, which is practiced at many of his country estates, is continuing his long-running campaign against GM crops on the basis that they threaten nature's delicate balance. In his speeches, the prince insists that policymakers must listen "to common sense emanating from our hearts, if we are to attain sustainable development."
Dawkins, author of the seminal book The Selfish Gene, and Charles Simonyi, Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, counsels that the message of the heart can be misleading. "I don't want to appear an apologist for GM foods," Dawkins says. "I'm just anti mystical claptrap of the Prince Charles' variety."
The prince's office declined to comment on Dawkins' continuing campaign to demystify GM crops in the scientist's capacity as a promoter of the public's understanding of science. But the prince's office in St. James Palace referred to recent articles and lectures, in which the prince does not completely reject rational science but argues: "We need to restore the balance between the heartfelt reason of instinctive wisdom and the rational insights of scientific analysis."
The prince shows signs of attracting some allies within the government. The UK government's environmental minister, Michael Meacher, declared on Feb. 18 that biotechnology was not necessary to feed the hungry: "We do not believe what is good for Monsanto is good for the world."
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Prof James Watson, one of the Cambridge team which launched the biotechnology revolution, was cited as saying the "irrational superstitions" of the Prince of Wales should not influence the public in the debate over GM foods because it would be a crime, claims. The story says that the Prince will be a notable absentee when Prof Watson addresses a dinner in April to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA.
Although Prof Watson has asked for David and Victoria Beckham to be guests of honour at the London dinner, the Prince does not appear on the invitation list. The reason may be Prof Watson's forthcoming book, DNA: The Secret of Life. This criticises the Prince and says opposition to GM "is largely a socio-political movement whose arguments, though couched in the language of science, are typically unscientific". The Prince has voiced his concerns about how GM crops are unnatural, notably in his Reith lectures in 2000.
But Prof Watson points out: "Virtually no human being, save the very few remaining genuine hunter-gatherers, eats a strictly "natural diet." Prince Charles famously declared in 1998 that "this kind of genetic modification takes mankind into realms that belong to God". Prof Watson says our ancestors "have in fact been fiddling in these realms for eons". The Prince had committed the "naturalistic fallacy" by assuming that what is natural is good.
"It is nothing less than an absurdity to deprive ourselves of the benefits of GM foods by demonising them; and, with the need for them so great in the developing world, it is nothing less than a crime to be governed by the irrational suppositions of Prince Charles and others.
"As our society delays in sanctimonious ignorance, we would do well to remember how much is at stake; the health of hungry people and the preservation of our most precious legacy, the environment."
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TV scientist Robert Winston yesterday launched a scathing attack on Prince Charles over his campaign against GM food. In a thinly veiled dig at the Prince's blue-blooded lineage Professor Winston said: "I suppose it is probably fair to say that Prince Charles is one of the most genetically modified organisms on the planet."
The presenter ridiculed the Prince's stand against GM crops by beaming two photographs of Charles onto a giant screen during a talk to 800 people. One showed him drinking tea. In the other he was receiving a carnation at Chelsea Flower Show.
Prof Winston, 63, said: "Prince Charles, who is a highly intelligent and charming individual, has conducted a campaign from a feeling almost of revulsion for GM. "Yet there he is drinking Assam tea, which is highly genetically modified, and at a flower show receiving a carnation - one of the most genetically modified of flowers."
But Prof Winston, whose new series The Human Mind was launched on BBC1 last night, praised Charles's sister Princess Anne, for her help with relief work in the Third World. He said she had seen the problems of starvation there at first hand. And the celebrity scientist accused people who shared the Prince's views of standing in the way of a possible solution to Third World starvation.
He said: "A third of the population has not eaten a proper meal today, yesterday or the day before. "They are existing on 1,500 calories a day - a starvation diet. "Yet it is just possible that GM crops, being drought and pest resistant, can be used in a sensible way to help the Third World. It is odd that we as a country cannot begin to have a much broader discussion about GM."
Charles - a champion of organic farming - has waged a five-year campaign against GM food which has left him at odds with the Government. The Prince has made it clear he wants a ban on GM food - claiming it will not benefit consumers and risks meddling with nature.
He has said: "Genetically altered food crops take mankind into realms that belong to God, and to God alone. It is wrong that nature has come to be regarded as a system that can be engineered for our own convenience."
In Cardiff three months ago he said: "We need a GM-free Wales - and a GM-free Britain as well for that matter." And last month a government-backed poll showed 90 per cent of shoppers did not want GM food. Prof Winston refused to elaborate yesterday on his royal put-down at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. An aide said: "He doesn't want to add anything to what he said - he thinks there's enough there already."
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The Western Mail
(Prince Charles, heir to the British throne has once more entered the GM crops debate in a new bid to create a GM-free Britain - a legal impossibility according to EU law. See also my recent report highlighting why a GM-free Wales is a "misguided fantasy" - http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech_info/articles/gm-free-wales.htm - Denis Murphy, Biotechnology Unit, University of Glamorgan )
Genetically modified crops should be banned in Britain, the Prince of Wales told The Western Mail yesterday. Speaking as he officially opened the Western Mail and Echo's new £18m press in Cardiff Bay, the Prince said, "We need a GM-free Wales - and a GM-free Britain as well, for that matter." And he dismissed the merits of a claim that moves to ban so-called "Frankenstein foods" in Wales alone were illegal.
The World Trade Organisation is threatening legal action against the European Union over its refusal to allow imports of unlabelled GM produce from America. But the claims of illegality come from the European Commission, and were repeated by EU Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler at last week's Royal Welsh Show.
The Prince's reaction, as he fuelled the debate on GM crops, was blunt: "It's ridiculous," he said. Prince Charles took his dislike of GM crops to the ultimate level yesterday as he called for the British ban, although he has frequently expressed strong views on the issue
"I happen to believe that this kind of genetic modification takes mankind into realms that belong to God, and to God alone," he has written. "Apart from certain highly beneficial and specific medical applications, do we have the right to experiment with, and commercialise, the building blocks of life?
"We simply do not know the long-term consequences for human health and the wider environment, of releasing plants bred in this way. "We are assured that these new plants are vigorously tested and regulated, but the evaluation procedure seems to presume that, unless a GM crop can be shown to be unsafe, there is no reason to stop its use.
"Once genetic material has been released into the environment it cannot be recalled. The likelihood of a major problem may, as some people suggest, be slight, but if something does go badly wrong we will be faced with the problem of clearing up a kind of pollution which is self-perpetuating. "I am not convinced that anyone has the first idea of how this could be done, or indeed who would have to pay."
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Sunday Mail (UK)
'Pennington attacks GM critics and vegetarians'
SCOTLAND'S top food expert revealed yesterday he'd rather eat so- called Frankenstein Food than organic produce. Professor Hugh Pennington launched a scathing attack on critics of genetically modified food.
He claimed organic fruit and vegetables - backed as a healthy option by supporters such as Prince Charles - are as dangerous as mass-produced food. The professor spoke out before publication of a hard-hitting book written to mark his retirement after a career spent policing Britain's food industry.
In the book, he lays into many of his fellow experts for alarming shoppers. He claims:
* Food in our supermarkets is healthier now than 30 years ago. * Organic food is not worth paying extra for. * Obesity is more of a risk to life than food poisoning. * The human version of mad cow disease will claim no more than 200 lives in Britain.
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The Scotsman (UK)
"The Scottish Parliament may well follow its UK counterpart and throw money at it, but it will not work and many will feel, like me, that a country that cannot afford to give malnourished children free school meals cannot afford to subsidise the food fad of a self appointed elite. I harbour no animosity towards the monarchy, but I think Prince Charles is abusing his position in promoting a system which he is not qualified to evaluate and which disadvantages so many.
Subsidising inefficiency, pandering to cranks and propping up privilege have contributed greatly to the mess we are now in and we should not compound it by subsidising the absurdity of organic production." --- John Stewart is not an organic farmer.
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The Guardian (Leader)
It comes as a surprise, in a parliamentary democracy, to find that the one place where the monarchy cannot be discussed is, er, parliament itself. Last Monday, in the House of Lords, Lord Taverne asked if the government agreed with the Prince of Wales's recent views on GM foods. Then, in a supplementary question, Lord Taverne went on to ask if it was "quite wrong" for the prince to make controversial speeches without renouncing his claim to the throne. He was slapped down by Lord Williams of Mostyn, leader of the Lords. What was wrong, Lord Williams said, was "for any aspersion or reflection to be cast on the sovereign or any member of the royal family". Lord Williams's ruling was a strict one, but it accords largely with precedent. It was based on Lords standing orders, which rule such topics to be inadmissible. Erskine May, the procedural bible, confirms that in both houses "reflections must not be cast in debate upon the conduct of the sovereign, the heir to the throne, or other members of the royal family". Elsewhere, it says that "Her Majesty cannot be deemed to have a private opinion, apart from that of her responsible advisers" and that "this rule extends also to other members of the royal family". Any attempt to use the Queen's name (or the prince's) "to influence the judgment of parliament is immediately checked and censured". Lord Taverne now knows these are not idle threats.
This is a preposterous situation but it is not hard to see how it has arisen. Parliament's rules are rooted deep in the tradition that saw the monarch, or even the existence of a "King's party" as a threat to the sovereignty of parliament. As long as the monarch and the heir avoided all controversy, the rules made sense and held firm. But Prince Charles has chosen to be a controversialist, and has left parliament looking silly. Parliament therefore needs to make a choice. It can challenge the prince's attempt to make himself a political figure; or it can accept it. Either way, something has to change. Britain can have a purely formal head of state, in which case the prince should either give up the succession or stop making speeches. Or we can accept that hereditary rulers and their heirs have independent views too, in which case it is ludicrous for parliament to be the one place where those views cannot be mentioned or discussed. What we cannot have, with any dignity or credibility, is the present absurd system.
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The Prince of Wales tonight was cited as launching another attack on genetically modified organisms, saying: "We only have one planet."
Charles, who earlier this month accused governments of ignoring the dangers, was cited as telling a gathering of conservationists, including King Constantine of Greece, at a St James's Palace reception that GMOs upset the harmony of nature, adding,
"We have this one planet. There are lots of people out there busily trying to find other ones. Some people think that when we have finished with this one we can simply start again somewhere else. But I'm not prepared personally to find another one. It's important to care for the one we know exists. They will be re-engineering everything. To me it's absolutely essential that we operate husbandry and stewardship of this piece of Earth. I hope we understand the vital importance of working in harmony with nature and not against it. It seems to me that technology is marvellous as long as it's used appropriately. We don't have to use it if it's doing damage."
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"Opposition to genetically modified crops has been shown in public rallies across Europe, and has been espoused by some high profile dignitaries including the UK's Prince Charles.
In May 2000, the Prince of Wales said on the BBC, "Above all, we should show greater respect for the genius of nature's designs, rigorously tested and defined over millions of years. This means being careful to use science to understand how nature works, not to change what nature is, as we do when genetic manipulation seeks to transform a process of biological evolution into something altogether different." "The idea that the different parts of the natural world are connected through an intricate system of checks and balances which we disturb at our peril is all too easily dismissed as no longer relevant," the Prince said. "
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Prince Charles today launches a devastating attack on the 'potentially disastrous consequences' of GM food and cloning and calls for investment in traditional agriculture instead.
Charles uses the platform of the prestigious Reith Lecture - to be broadcast by the BBC tonight - to claim the relentless rush into genetic engineering means 'literally nothing is held sacred any more' and scientists are treating the world as a giant laboratory.
But his assault, the latest in a personal crusade, provoked an immediate counter-attack. Nobel Prize winner Dr James Watson accused Charles of pandering to superstition and raising irrational fears. Dr Watson, one of the world's most eminent scientists after mapping the 'double helix' structure of DNA, said there was absolutely no evidence that GM food posed a threat to human health and predicted that it would prove hugely beneficial to mankind.
Charles, who first voiced his alarm over genetic manipulation five years ago, wrote the lecture during his retreat in Greece earlier this month. It was recorded for tonight's Radio 4 broadcast at his Highgrove home. He says opposition to the development of 'Frankenstein foods' was wrongly dismissed as 'a sign of weakness - or even a wish to halt progress. On the contrary, I believe it to be a sign of strength and of wisdom.'
The Prince argues that, in the area of 'artificial and uncontained transfer of genes between species of plants and animals, the lack of hard scientific evidence of harmful consequences is regarded, in many quarters, as sufficient reason to allow such developments to proceed.
'The idea of taking a precautionary approach, in this and many other potentially damaging situations, receives overwhelming public support but still faces a degree of official opposition.'
Though Charles does not address cloning directly, his call for 'greater respect for the genius of nature's designs' will be taken as a clear indication that he finds work in the area abhorrent. The Prince says: '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 disasterous long term consequences.'
According to Charles, nature is now regarded 'as a system that can be engineered for our own convenience or as a nuisance to be evaded and manipulated and in which anything that happens can be fixed by technology and human ingenuity. If a fraction of the money currently being invested in developing genetically manipulated crops were applied to understanding and improving traditional systems of agriculture, which have stood the all-important test of time, the results would be remarkable.'
Charles has long been a vocal critic of 'tinkering' with the genetic make-up of food, raising fears about the impact of GM crops on human health and the environment. Last year an article he wrote for the Daily Mail, attacking the GM culture, provoked a row. He has also clashed with the Government on the issue and surveys have shown his views command wide public support.
Many other critics have voiced fears that animal cloning 'breakthroughs' will increase pressure for the cloning of human embryos to produce cells for transplant. They also warn that science is entering uncharted territory and risking unpredictable side effects.
In response, scientists who favour the technology have argued that it can bring innumerable benefits in fighting disease. Some claim organic food actually poses greater risks - earlier this week it was revealed that it can carry far higher levels of potentially dangerous bacteria.
The intensity of the debate was shown yesterday when, even before the royal lecture was broadcast, reports of its 'anti-science' content prompted fierce criticism from experts gathered in London for the annual lunch of the Government's parliamentary and scientific committee.
Dr Watson said of the Prince's approach to new scientific developments: 'It is an emotional response. People are frightened by genes. The Prince of Wales and a lot of other people don't like new buildings - it is the same thing.
'He is one of the many people who are worried about the world moving too fast. But the world is really rather wretched for a lot of people and science and technology can improve their lives rather than make them worse. We will be able to improve the quality of food.' Dr Watson cited a 'golden rice', created by genetic manipulation, that can fight malnutrition. By splicing daffodil and bacteria genes into rice plants, scientists have produced a 'transgenic' variety that is fortified to deliver the total daily vitamin A requirement for people in the Third World.
Dr Watson said: 'The Prince of Wales shouldn't cry wolf until he sees a wolf.' He also accused Charles of harming British interests, explaining: 'British botany is the best in the world and we want the benefits of it.' The rapid rebuttal of the Prince's position reflects growing frustration among scientists who view fears over the safety of GM crops as irrational and unfounded.
Dr Watson added: 'People say we are playing God. In all honesty, if scientists don't play God, who will?' Supporters of the Prince will point to the remark as an example of the very attitude he is seeking to challenge.
In tonight's lecture, Charles calls for a renewed sense of a 'sacred trust between mankind and our Creator' under which we accept a duty of stewardship for the Earth.
Such sentiment has, he claims, been largely eclipsed by 'almost impenetrable layers of scientific rationalism'.
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By Andrew Apel
The Vatican has made amends with Galileo and others and doctrinally made peace with science.
Prince Charles apparently wants to unmake this peace, and make religion and science antagonists once again. As a self-proclaimed champion of God's work, Charles has revived the medieval notion of science as the enemy of faith.
If the guiding hand of Nature falls upon him in the form of a case of
E. coli H:0157 after eating organic lettuce, do you suppose he will praise
Nature and go willingly to the next life, or call upon science to spare
Subj: Prince Charles's principles
- From: J Ralph Blanchfield
I quote below two excellent articles responding to Prince Charles; one by Steve Connor, Science Editor, in The Independent, 18 May; and the other by Minette Marrin, in the Daily Telegraph, 19 May. But first, a few comments of my own.
Prince Charles (or rather his activist ill-advisers who use him as a pawn to advance their own agendas) is/are at it again. This is not new. As long ago as 1996 he famously wrote: ""I believe that we have now reached a moral and ethical watershed beyond which we venture into realms that belong to God, and to God alone. Apart from certain medical applications, what actual right do we have to experiment, Frankenstein-like, with the very stuff of life? We live in an age of rights - it seems to me that it is about time our Creator had some rights too ..."
In the ensuing period he has neither reacted nor responded to two questions that I sent to his Website in response to an open invitation to the public to comment, and have subsequently posed on several occasions. __ Subj: A prince and a queen From: "John W. Cross" <email@example.com> 22 May 2000
As a child, I can remember my father joking that if God had meant people to fly, he'd have given them wings. I suspect that my father heard that from some preacher when he was a kid. I think the general notion that mankind's intellectual efforts are a sacrilege has been around a long time in some (less educated) quarters. It's just surprising to hear it from the likes of Prince Charles. (I shiver to think that when he becomes the Head of the Church of England, he'll decree that the established church should take up this view.) Somehow, I doubt the deep theological underpinnings of that anti-technology viewpoint.
The anti-technology philosophy embraced by Charles is actually more in tune with the sort of romantic, back-to-the basics philosophy promoted by the French philosopher Rousseau and taken up in a stylish way by Queen Marie Antoinette: making a game of pretending to live a simple life, spinning wool and dressing as a shepherdess. I have no doubt at all that Marie Antoinette, were she alive today, would be tending an organic garden, drinking bottled water, and preaching to her Nation about the evils of GMO, "Let them eat organic food!"
So much for the poor, hungry for bread.
1. Do you not recognise that, if you are stating a principle you have immediately compromised it, by saying that you do not accept interfering with God's rights with food but are happy to do so with medicine?
2. If you adopt the theological approach, can you not conceive that mankind's ability to improve the quantity and quality of food by carrying out genetic modification is a God-given talent which should be used wisely, and not be rejected out of hand?
We need to understand, and Prince Charles needs to understand, and to help the public to understand that, in addition to whatever may be achieved by improvements in population control measures, in conventional agriculture and in more rational distribution of food supplies, feeding the world's exponentially-growing population over the next few decades will require a whole array of genetically-modified foods; foods capable of growing in arid conditions, foods capable of growing in salty soils, foods with enhanced nutritional properties, plants and animals capable of resisting diseases that cause enormous wastage of food. Moreover, public understanding and acceptance of genetic modification are equally essential for there to be great beneficial advances in the field of medicine. Yes, there are serious concerns and problems relating to genetic modification, which responsible scientists recognise, and which the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) listed in its Position Statement on Genetic Modification and =46ood www.ifst.org/hottop10.htm.
There are two possible courses --
That taken by some groups and individuals, which is to exaggerate problems, and to play on and amplify public fears, with a view to preventing the acceptance, or even securing the prohibition, of genetically-modified foods. This is essentially the same approach as that was adopted by the Luddites, and those who in the past equally bitterly opposed the legalisation of milk pasteurisation (the public health measure that has saved more lives than any other, with the single exception of a clean water supply).
The alternative approach, and one that responsible scientists commend, is to recognise the real concerns and continue to address them by research plus appropriate organisational and legislative measures. The course of mankind's technical advance from being a cave-dweller has always involved some risk and been fraught with unforeseen problems. The challenge is, by foresight, and with the enhanced scientific tools and knowledge now at our disposal, to predict the problems and solve them before they happen.
HRH has resurrected his "we must not play God" theme. What a curious, indeed indefensible, convenience to make a "moral" distinction between "the stuff of life" (food) and "certain medical applications". Isn't it merely a case that princes (and probably most readers of these words) don't have to wonder where the next meal is coming from, but all (even princes) may at some time be in dire need of "certain medical applications"? It would be salutary for us to remember the 800 million of our fellow humans who today do not get enough to eat, and the extra billions of mouths to feed in a few decades time.
The worst immorality, the worst crime that we could commit for the future of the human race, would be to allow Luddites to make us turn our backs on the only techniques that will enable us to increase the world's food supply on the huge scale that will be required, minimising the use of agricultural chemicals and without vast encroachment on natural reserves.. Of course science ALONE will not solve with the problem of feed the future world. But it will not be solved WITHOUT science.
"Playing God"? Someone wrote recently that when a religious or moral leader stigmatises something as "playing God", it always relates to any new development since the speaker reached early adulthood, never to anything in place or in operation any earlier.
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Andrew Apel asks: Is there a theologian in the house? The notion that biotechnology is "playing God" and therefore forbidden (or at least, wrong in some sense) has constantly puzzled me. Is there scriptural or doctrinal authority which supports such a claim?
Just in case no one else dares attempt an answer, I shall take the risk as an amateur. There are two principles from the Judeo-Christian tradition that strike me as relevant to the discussion:
1. Humanity has a role in the creation to use, enjoy and care for it. This is sometimes referred to as our stewardship of the world.
2. Only men and women are made "in God's image" and we are to imitate God, adopt the family likeness in being loving and good especially toward each other. That image has been flawed but is being restored. Christians say it is being restored through the merits of Christ (his righteousness credited to us and consequently our striving to imitate him). There is a very real sense in which it is proper and encouraged to "play God".
3. John 1:11 "Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God." Leviticus 19:2 " You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy" 1 Peter 1:14-16 "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the HolyOne who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy.""Ephesians 5:1-2 "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." 1 Thessalonians 1:6 Paul encouraged the persecuted Christians in Thessalonika "You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering" I Peter 5:5 "clothe yourselves with humility toward one another", because this is to imitate Jesus Christ as for example in John 13: 3-5 "You call me `Teacher' and `Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
The Judeo-Christian Scriptures call on us to be like God; to imitate him in our dealings with the world; to act in the world in ways which imitate his love, care, goodness and sacrifice.
Of course when people say we must not "play God", they may mean we must not be arrogant. There is a focus in our imitation of God on actions of humble service of others. Philippians 2:5-8 "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!"
The Bible also speaks of believers being adopted into the family of God and being expected to grow in the family likeness. John 3:5 Jesus says "Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother." Ephesians 1:4-5 "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ."
The Christian hope can be expressed as becoming more like God: I John 3:2 "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."
Andrew is right to question Prince Charles' theology. Is it also "playing God" to breed the grasses used on the royal organic farm, fashion the rubber tyres for the royal Rolls Royce, or prepare the slopes for the royal skiing holiday in Austria?
It is perfectly consistent to be innovative with plant genetics to enhance productivity and nutrition for both the developed and developing world, provided the other principle is not broken: to be good stewards of the world. Our innovations are essentially the copying of the best in nature. Many of the genetic improvements on the drawing board are well targeted for meeting production and nutrition needs while at the same time preventing the loss of more land to cultivation and loss of biodiversity and moving us closer to sustainability. This is an endeavour which I am confident most theologians would be happy to endorse as a worthy imitation of God. I suspect most religions, philosophies and world views could endorse these objectives. It may be that there are some modern western world views which see salvation in nature and see mankind as a cancerous aberation. For them a couple of billion people have to go - guess which ones.
Re: Prince Charles and Theology
By Paul Geiger
In a previous letter to this group a writer posited that the ungodly, bereft of faith in our one true creator and his son Jesus have fallen in with the likes of Sartre, Nietzsche, et al. to worship instead, pagan like, mother earth or Gaia -- or, worse, human beings themselves or the human intellect, flawed from the beginning by original sin (to know what this is simply watch a group of two-year-olds playing in a sand box).
Congratulations to Phil Larkin who does a marvelous job as amateur theologian with numerous quotes from old and new testaments. I'd like to add the following quote from G.K. Chesterton:
"Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found wanting where it has not been sincerely tried."
Pray for our colleagues in Australia who have to counter the likes of the Muirs and their wholly mistaken beliefs. And while we're at it pray for Prince Charles too. He can use all the spiritual help he can get.
By Julian Morris <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I thought it was King Canute who was reputed to have commanded the sea to turn back. And my understanding was that he did so in order to show that he did not have divine powers; that he was a mere mortal. What English Kings and Princely pretenders have failed to learn from this is that it does not do to claim to know the mind of God. Charles Windsor makes this very mistake by arguing that we should be more reverent towards nature, rather than attempting to alter it.
Only if one knows the mind of God can one know perfectly to what extent altering nature will be beneficial or harmful. Scientists do not pretend to know the mind of god, but rather attempt to discover the underlying characteristics of nature and to adjust these in ways that are beneficial. Because knowledge of these underlying characteristics is disparate and imperfect scientists proceed by trial and error. In so doing scientists are not deviating significantly from our ancestors; they are merely utilising better techniques that have resulted from the interplay between thought and experiment. If we were to follow Charles Windsor's advice (incoherent as it is) we would have to stop all trials (because any error is unacceptable acording to the precautionary principle). As a result we would stop learning how better to enhance nature for our own ends.
The bible can of course be used to justify many different positions, so I hesitate to invoke it in discussions of this nature. But Charles Windsor is pretender to the English Throne and as such is also pretenter to be the leader of the Church of England. It thus becomes him, I think, to consider the injunction imposed upon man in Genesis, where he is told:
1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. 1:28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. 1:29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
If man has dominion over the earth and is to 'subdue it', it seems logical that he should be permitted to alter it for his own ends.
Prince Charles and Alfred E. Neumann
From: Abigail Salyers <email@example.com>
Re Prince Charles' speech, I can't help noting that we always knew he looked like Alfred E. Neumann (of Mad Magazine's "what me worry"fame), but now we know he thinks like him too.
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LONDON May 31, 2000 - Citing a report recently published by the Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI), that a major disadvantage of organic farming is reduced output and that the United Kingdom is becoming less self-sufficient in food production, the director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University, Dr. C.S. Prakash, expressed the following concern: "Great Britain's continued promotion of lower yielding organic agriculture methods, while shunning safe, high-yielding conventional and biotechnology applications, should be a source of concern for anyone who cares about global food security and the environment."
Dr. Prakash is speaking this Thursday at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies on the topic, "Is Agricultural Biotechnology Relevant for the Developing World?" The debate will be held from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, in the Main Lecture Hall, Phillips Building, Lower Ground floor. For more information about the debate, please contact Professor Philip Stott, Geography Department: (20) 7637-2388.
Dr. Prakash noted that "low-yield agriculture means less food and more ecologically sensitive lands placed under the plow." "Most of the organic food sold in the UK is imported," he said, "so if wealthy nations demand food production choices that reduce yields, they raise the burden of ensuring food security in countries already struggling to feed themselves." Prakash added, "It's bad enough that by shunning biotechnology, the UK is reducing its own food productivity. But it's even worse for the privileged people of Great Britain to impose an organic standard on the rest of the world. The developing world can ill-afford anti-science misinformation campaigns perpetuated by special interest groups against biotechnology."
Earlier this year, Rockefeller Foundation President Gordon Conway expressed similar concerns regarding lower yielding organic agriculture. At that time, Conway chastised HRH Prince Charles and Greenpeace for promoting organic agriculture as an appropriate solution to developing world food production needs. Conway was quoted then as stating, "I get irritated by critics who claim organic farming can feed the developing world."
According to the recently released Scottish Crop Research Institute report, the ecological benefits of organic agriculture may be "more apparent than real," but a "major disadvantage of organic farming is the likelihood of reduced output." Since 1989, as the United Kingdom has increased conversion of conventional farmland to organic production, self-sufficiency in food production has declined by nearly five percentage points, according to the report.
"Biotechnology offers an important tool for people in all countries," said Dr. Prakash. "I know that, in the absence of these aggressive misinformation campaigns by narrow interest groups, the people of Great Britain would be working on ways to support biotechnology and other improved ways of growing more food, on less land with fewer chemicals."
Subj:RE: GREAT BRITAIN'S UNFAIR BURDEN
From: jonathan jones <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Dear Prakash: Here's an article i wrote that I have so far failed to get published in response to Charles Windsor's Reith lecture contribution I have a slight sympathy with some organic agriculture in the UK; there are well documented beneficial effects on biodiversity And in the UK there are essentially no separate wilderness areas; our wildlife has to share the agricultural land with us enjoy your visit
- cheers jonathan jones
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Prince Charles' contribution to the Reith lectures, despite its contradictions, raises a crucial issue. Is there a real conflict between scientific and religious views of our place in nature, and of how we should treat other species and the environment? Are the urgings of head and heart so different? The answer is no; a wise and enlightened self interest mandates that we make rational judgements based on scientific facts for our own good and that of the planet. In the 19th century, "common sense" led many people to reject the idea of the descent of man from other primates. However, the evidence for evolution is incontrovertible, and the mechanism should allay fears of GM.
Darwin summarized his insights into the origin of species in 3 words; "Descent, with modification", and had the word been invented at the time, he might have said genetic (ie heritable) modification, for without GM, none of us would be here. The most remarkable insight from the last 25 years of biology is that we have far more in common with other species, than common sense would lead us to expect. We know that plants and animals shared a common ancestor around 1600 million years ago, and chimps and humans, about 4 million years ago. Chimp and human genes are 98% identical, and we share gene sequences to a lesser degree with all other species. We use essentially the same molecular mechanisms to control the cycles of our cell divisions as do yeasts, plants, worms and flies. Even more remarkably, we use essentially the same mechanisms as the fruitfly to control where cells will differentiate to form eyes or limbs; there are many more such examples.
These scientific insights are beautiful, but it would be negligent not to also use them to help people with diseases like cancer that arise when such mechanisms go awry. To suggest that we should gain knowledge but never use it is absurd. So science tells that we are part of Nature, not apart from it. A cat may indeed look at a king, and discern a close relative. For some, such as the legislators of school curricula in Kansas, this insight goes against the feelings in their hearts, their religion and their common sense. For similar reasons, others rejected the idea that the earth goes around the sun, rather than vice verse. However, on both questions, the scientific facts are clear.
Is the world in natural, harmonious balance? This idea would have amused a dinosaur contemplating the asteroid that was to render it extinct when it hit the earth 65 million years ago. More recently ice ages have come and gone, changing the local environment and biota. The world has never been at equilibrium, and the only time we are is when we are dead. Indeed, it is life itself that treats the world as a "great laboratory of life", not us. Mutations occur, DNA moves within and between species, natural selection is applied, and the world changes, day in, day out.
So life is an (extraordinary) property of matter. Teilhard de Chardin, the French paleontologist and priest, ried to rationalize this by proposing that all matter contains a divine aspect (as if God used the Big Bang to "hide from himself") and this has created a force in evolution that tends towards progressively higher levels of consciousness. In time this leads to the appearance of something like man that has the capacity to reflect on the miraculous nature of matter; our destiny is to become "God's way of looking at himself". This proposition is unfalsifiable, but true or not, life IS miraculous, life IS precious and certainly provokes a sense of reverence. A scientific understanding of how evolution over millennia has led to the diversity of life, including ourselves, elicits from me more wonder than ever could a religious interpretation.
Irrespective of who gave it to us, we as a species now have an awesome responsibility for life on earth. Our numbers have increased nearly 6 fold over the last 100 years. We are causing extinctions at an unprecedented rate, and extinction is for ever, not just for Christmas. It has been suggested that humans are like a disease, raging out of control over the earth. From the standpoint of most other species, that must be how it looks. Religious views, that long predated scientific views, did not save us from destructiveness.
The Old Testament tells us God gave man dominion over the earth and its creatures. I share with HRH the view that we have not exercised this dominion wisely. We did not know what we were doing, but we no longer have that excuse. Biology tells us that we are made of the same stuff as all other species; we have no more God-given right to make them extinct than vice versa. We have to choose what we do more wisely, with a better understanding of the consequences of our actions.
Our new knowledge of biology enables us to work much more "with the grain of Nature" than before. For example, it is much better to reduce insect damage to crop plants by modifying them to express a protein that kills the moth larvae that eat them, than to spray broad spectrum insecticides on fields from aeroplanes. GM has got a bad rap; it will play a crucial role in a less environmentally damaging future agriculture. This fear that technology is bad and we should go back to more traditional practices, threatens to lead us down a blind alley.
There is much uncritical use of words such as "natural" and "organic". It is natural for people to starve to death. Aflatoxin and strychnine are natural, organic molecules, but I don't want to eat them. Organic agriculture leads to lower yields, and there is no proof that organic food is healthier. In rejecting genes to help control disease, organic farmers are shooting themselves in the foot. Nonetheless, I would be delighted to see organic agriculture increase from 1% to 5% of UK agriculture. Why? Because that would probably reverse the decline in our farmland birds; organic may not be good for yields, but it will be good for biodiversity.
My major concern about the organic food business is that it espouses a dangerous fundamentalism, a politics of purity against other forms of agriculture. Their intolerance and narrow-mindedness about growing their crops next to perfectly safe GM crops is unjustified and intolerable; if they cannot police themselves on a rational basis, they need to be policed. Eco-absolutism will get us nowhere. With more "live and let live" from their side, I would be delighted to see more research into low impact agriculture, especially for the tropics, where intercropping and successional management have great potential for more sustainable production.
Gordon Conway of the Rockefeller Foundation, in arguing for a "doubly Green" revolution, has rightly noted that truth will lie in the many shades of grey between the apparently entrenched positions espoused by advocates of head or heart. We all, after all, have both organs. But there are enough real problems to worry about without losing sleep over purely hypothetical ones
A way to focus the efforts of those who care would be start thinking hard now about what we want the world to look like in 200 years time. With Y2K behind us, it's time to think about Y2.2K. What should the population be? How should we conduct forestry and fishing? How much of the biota will we share with other species? Will there still be forests in Africa, Latin America and South East Asia? Are we too selfish to share some land with our closest living relatives, the chimps, the gorilla and the orangutan, or will we drive them to extinction by poaching and by chopping down their habitat? Can we reduce CO2 emissions in time to save the polar bears from global warming? Can we use solar power in the Sahara desert to fuel a new industrial revolution in North Africa? Will we create sustainable lifestyles for Africans, Indians, Chinese and even Americans? Will our agriculture be focused on a few highly productive regions, with more of the planet providing wilderness areas? Can more of our food, fuel and fibre come from living plants than from dead plants (oil, coal and gas)?
We have a huge responsibility; the Prince is right, we should be facing it, and educating our children to face it. This is the biggest question we have to think about. It is a challenge of values as well as technology. And when we agree what we want, we have to figure out what economic and political mechanisms will enable the necessary changes. To cope, we need all the science we can get, but we will also need to get our hearts and heads together.
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- BBC News
Princess Anne: Organic food not the "overall answer"
The Princess Royal has spoken out in favour of genetically modified foods - putting herself at odds with the views of the Prince of Wales. In an interview with The Grocer magazine, she said those who were opposed to all GM foods were guilty of a "huge simplification" and that organic food production is not an "overall answer".
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 doing it
Princess Anne Two weeks ago Prince Charles delivered a fierce attack on the dangers of unrestrained scientific research, arguing that a world which ignores the "essential unity" of the living and spiritual universes is doomed.
The Princess, who is the President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, told the magazine: "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 doing it when fundamentally you are doing much the same thing.
"Of course shoppers feel the speed of change is too fast to understand what the dangers are and where the weak points might be. And that seems to me to be a perfectly valid argument.
'Life's not simple'
"But 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.
"You can add value on the marginal farms through organics. But I feel they're not an overall answer.
"If you consider things in terms of overall production and sheer weight of numbers, of supporting a population which has so hugely increased, then organics is not the whole answer," said Princess Anne.
Prince Charles warns of the dangers of tampering with nature
Her brother is a long-standing advocate of organic farming techniques and, in a Reith lecture broadcast on Radio 4 last month, said 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".
He added: "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?"
He welcomed a "precautionary approach" to scientific advances and mocked those who portray it as a sign of weakness or an attempt to halt progress, saying: "I believe it to be a sign of strength and wisdom."
He said: "In this technology-driven age, it is all too easy for us to forget that mankind is part of nature and not apart from it, and that this is why we should seek to work with the grain of nature in everything we do."
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The Duke of Edinburgh has joined the debate about genetically modified food by appearing to play down fears about the products. He is quoted as saying that we have been genetically modifying animals and plants ever since people started selective breeding.
His comments - reported in the Daily Telegraph - are at odds with the views of the Prince of Wales, who has warned of the dangers of GM foods.
The newspaper quotes the Duke as saying that the introduction to the UK of foreign pests, such as the grey squirrel, had caused more environmental damage than GM crops ever could.
Prince Philip's comments came in response to a lecture made at Windsor Castle by the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks.
The Duke is quoted as saying: "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 or has done far more damage than a genetically modified piece of potato."
Prince Charles is against GM foods
During the annual St George's House Lecture Dr Sacks mentioned GM crops while elaborating on the broader issue of genetics.
Earlier this month, the Princess Royal spoke out in favour of GM foods.
In an interview with The Grocer magazine, she said those who were opposed to all GM foods were guilty of a "huge simplification" and that organic food production is not an "overall answer".
But last month the Prince of Wales used his contribution to the BBC Reith Lectures to restate his long-standing opposition to GM foods.
The prince warned the scientific community that tampering with nature could bring great harm to the world.
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- Anthony Trewavas <email@example.com>, sent to Jean Saunders of the 'Friends of the Earth'
"Perhaps as I have suggested for Prince Charles you should go and work on an African farm for several years where out of necessity, not choice, organic is what is used. You would find that manure is in very short supply, they use it for fuel and for building and the poor yields obtained by subsistence agriculture usually ensure that farmers simply eat what they grow. They need minerals but these are expensive although very much desired by such farmers. I find that concern for the lives of others is primary with me.
Opposition to ways of improving their livelihood and ensuring that all people can develop their full potential is to me not comprehensible. Particularly as so much of the opposition seems to prefer to place the environment, whatever that may be, above the value of human life. Western environmental views are no more than another aspect of western cultural domination and resented by very large numbers abroad.
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The Age (Melbourne)
Opponents of genetically modified crops have long claimed the moral high ground by implying that GM supporters are somehow motivated by immoral impulses. Hence the use of such phrases as "Frankenstein foods", "terminator technology", "playing God" and "corporate greed".
Imagine if those who support GM crops were to lower themselves to the same level. Though I would never dream of suggesting they do so, they could argue that opponents of GM food are in favor of:
Blindness in poor children. Half a million children go blind every year from vitamin A deficiency, and up to two million die from measles, diarrhoea and other problems exacerbated by vitamin A deficiency. GM opponents would have prevented the development last year of rice that is rich in vitamin A. Now, knowing these facts, they still oppose it, as they oppose disease-resistant rice, vitamin E-rich soya and protein-rich sweet potatoes.
The killing of monarch butterflies. Monarch caterpillars die if fed on concentrated GM maize pollen. Recent studies have shown that they never encounter such concentrations of pollen on their food plants, even at the edge of GM maize fields. Meanwhile, organic farmers use the same toxin, Bt, to kill insects, but at doses 100 times greater. Anti-GM campaigners are in favor of such "organic" farming.
Greater use of pesticides. Of 12 regions surveyed by the United States Agriculture Department, seven are now using less pesticide because they are using pest-resistant GM crops. The other five are unchanged. In other words, GM reduces pesticide use: if you are against GM, you are in favor of more pesticides.
Large corporations. Anti-GM campaigners are in favor of tougher regulation so that the safety of GM crops is exhaustively tested. But tougher regulations require bigger companies to afford the investment in trials and compliance. The anti-GM campaigns could almost have been designed to ensure that this technology remains the preserve of multinationals.
Neo-imperialism. Try this exchange, witnessed at the Seattle World Trade Organisation conference last year. British woman protester to Indian man, Barun Mitra, who is in favor of GM crops: "I've lived in India, and I know what it's like." Mitra: "But I am Indian, and I've lived there all my life."
Playing God. C.S. Prakash of Tuskegee University in Alabama points out that the greens are "playing God, not with genes but with the lives of poor and hungry people". Says Florence Wambugu, of Egerton University in Kenya: "The biggest risk in Africa is doing nothing ... Anything that doesn't help feed our children is unethical."
Toxins. Organic crops have higher concentrations of (natural) toxins than GM or conventional crops. They also have higher risks of E.coli and fungal contamination. One outbreak of E.coli poisoning that killed 250 people in 1996 was linked directly to organic manure. In 10 years of consumption, GM crops have caused not a single example of an identifiable medical condition.
Destruction of rainforests. The green revolution expanded food production beyond the wildest dreams of optimists without increasing land under cultivation - largely by primitive genetic modification. Organic food production in the developing world would require one-third again more land, which means one-third less rainforest.
Who's on the moral high ground now?
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By Richard Tyler,
Last week the BBC took the unprecedented decision of inviting Prince Charles to deliver one of its prestigious Reith lectures. These annual lectures were inaugurated in 1948 to honour John Reith, the BBC's first director general, who maintained that broadcasting should be a "public service enriching the cultural and intellectual life of the nation". The BBC World Service transmits these lectures to an international audience.
The overarching theme of the lectures was "Respect for the Earth, Can Sustainable Development be Made to Work in the Real World?" Apart from Charles, the five other lecturers included such figures as Chris Patten (European Union commissioner for external relations), Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland (director general of the World Health Organisation) and Dr. Tom Lovejoy (chief biodiversity adviser for the World Bank).
In the wake of a plethora of food scandals-such as BSE ("mad cow" disease), e.coli, dioxin and salmonella-Charles has sought to utilise genuine concerns about food safety to advance socially regressive ideas. In his lecture he argued that "sustainable development" meant abandoning science in favour of mysticism.
"It is only recently that this [religious] guiding principle has become smothered by almost impenetrable layers of scientific rationalism," he declared. "I believe that if we are to achieve genuinely sustainable development, we will first have to rediscover, or re-acknowledge a sense of the sacred in our dealings with the natural world, and with each other."
His particular ire was aimed at genetics. He argued that it was all right to use science to "understand how nature works", but "not to change what nature is, as we do when genetic manipulation seeks to transform a process of biological evolution into something altogether different."
He continued: "It is hard not to feel a sense of humility, wonder and awe about our place in the natural order." He concluded his lecture by virtually advocating the abandonment of industrialised agriculture and modern medical science: "Only by rediscovering the essential unity and order of the living and spiritual world-as in the case of organic agriculture or integrated medicine or in the way we build ... will we avoid the disintegration of our overall environment."
The views expressed by Charles in his talk are not new. In 1996 he accused science of trying to establish a "tyranny over our understanding". In a speech at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies in 1993 he attacked progressive thinkers such as Copernicus and Descartes and the "coming scientific revolution" for undermining the "sanctity of the world". In 1982 he criticised the British Medical Association for modern medicine's obsession with "cells and molecules" at the expense of "traditional" holistic medicine.
Charles has no qualifications whatsoever to speak on scientific or developmental issues, but he is understandably keen on preserving the so-called "natural order". In the past his ancestors were usually ready to employ imprisonment in the Tower, or beheading, should any subject question the "natural order", and particularly the monarch's pre-eminent place within it.
Charles is heir to what remains one of the greatest fortunes in the world (conservatively estimated at £250 million, excluding Royal palaces and treasures). He owns and controls the Duchy of Cornwall, established in the fourteenth century to provide an income for the heir apparent. The Duchy's total area is some 126,000 acres (51,000 hectares) spread over 22 counties.
Much was made of the fact that the troubled Prince had prepared his remarks while on a recent pilgrimage to a remote Greek monastery, where in humble dormitory surrounding, he read and prepared his talk by the light of an oil lamp. However, his journey there was in stark contrast to the ascetic surrounds of his retreat and his "environmentally friendly" message. As one newspaper reported, he came "on board the third biggest luxury yacht in the world, the Alexander, plaything of his friend, the elderly Greek shipping tycoon John Latsis. The Alexander comes equipped with ballroom, two speedboats and a helicopter."
It is absurd that, on the opening of the new Millennium, political debate in Britain on a topic of vital importance-the production of safe food and the fate of the environment-has been dominated by the pantheist ramblings of a feudal relic. That the BBC provided him with such a prominent public platform to do so is extraordinary. Nor will it end there. The Prince has now been invited to address the all-party parliamentary science and technology committee, unprecedented for a member of the Royal Family.
It has long been a convention that the Monarchy should avoid making political statements not written for them by the government of the day, and that they should not become involved in controversy on any question. Like the adage that children should be seen and not heard, Britain's ruling class is generally happier when the Royal House of Windsor provides a public spectacle in all their dynastic finery and do not presume to expound on questions they usually know little about.
For this reason the Prince of Wales' remarks were generally greeted with disapproval in the press, for fear that his display of ignorance, arrogance and hypocrisy would highlight the fundamentally undemocratic nature of the Monarchy as an institution. The Times described his appeal to "instinctive wisdom" as "dangerous nonsense". The Independent wrote, "If every farmer was to till the land in the same organic fashion as the Duchy of Cornwall there would only be enough food to feed about 4 billion people in the world-about 2 billion short of the current total."
The sharpest criticism of Prince Charles came from scientists such as the eminent zoologist and professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, Dr. Richard Dawkins. He attacked the notion that society should return to small-scale "sustainable" forms of agriculture: "The large anonymous crowds in which we now teem began with the agricultural revolution, and without agriculture we could survive in only a tiny fraction of our current numbers. Our high population is an agricultural (and technological and medical) artefact." He criticised the Prince's "hostility to science.... Far from being demeaning to human spiritual values, scientific rationalism is the crowning glory of the human spirit."
Scientists active in the field of genetics were especially disparaging about the lecture. Professor Steve Jones, author of The Language of Genes: Solving the Mysteries of Our Genetic Past, Present and Future, said, "I have no time for ... people who prefer ignorance to knowledge." Pointing out the essentially retrogressive implications of the policies advocated in the lecture, food science expert Professor Hugh Pennington said, "If we went down the scientific route Prince Charles is proposing the health of the nation would suffer and life expectancy might decrease."
John Sulston, director of the Sanger Centre, part of the project to sequence the human genome, said it is "commerce not science" that is the problem.
However, Charles' remarks had a specific purpose and were directed at a target audience. At 52 years of age, he sees his hopes of becoming King receding. If his mother, the Queen, lives as long as his grandmother, who celebrates her 100th birthday this year, he could well die before her. Since his public standing hit an all-time low following his divorce from Princess Diana, he has been thrashing around for some means to enhance his popularity and justify his right to succeed to the throne.
His denigration of science and appeal to the irrational and mystical are directed towards layers of the middle class whose reaction to the economic and social upheavals produced by new technologies and globalisation expresses a mistrust of science and a fear of the future.
Among the few voices raised in support of Charles in the press was that of Andrew Marr, a former radical, editor of the Independent and soon to be the BBC's new chief political editor.
Writing in the Observer, Marr described his shared "private passion" with Charles for the author Wendell Berry. The Kentucky farmer Berry, says Marr, is "against big corporations, free trade, computers and industrial farming". His espousal of small-scale, low-tech local production is combined with a mystical evocation of petty agriculture and "community". His anger is primarily directed at the urban working class, which he calls the "industrial eater".
The toleration of Charles' ignorant and backward-looking comments forms a low point in intellectual life in Britain. Even many of those who dismiss his arguments still regard them as part of a "legitimate" discussion on science and the environment. They are not. Berry and his Royal disciple advocate policies that would mean the ending of modern production methods, throwing millions into unemployment, and reducing the world's population to isolated "communities" based on a barter/subsistence economy. Applying such principles would only be possible on the basis of returning to almost feudal levels of production and population.
Following the rapid developments in computers and telecommunications, today's groundbreaking discoveries in the field of biotechnology hold the potential to abolish the scourges of disease and starvation that afflict millions of the world's poor. Unlocking the human genome could provide the basis to cure diseases such as AIDS, presently decimating Africa. The use of genetic modification to enhance the pest-resistance and yield of vital food crops holds out the prospect of abolishing malnutrition.
It is the domination of agriculture (and science itself) by transnational corporations, engaged in a global competition for profits, that is antithetical to the safe and socially responsible development of new techniques and applications. Organising production along fundamentally different lines, on the basis of social equality and under the democratic control of working people, would harness the potential benefits of new scientific discoveries for the good of all, and the protection of the environment.
Transcripts of the Reith Lecture series are available on the BBC web site: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/events/reith_2000/BACK TO TOP
Acclaimed author Matt Ridley on why it's high time we cheered up about the new technologies