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Date:

February 16, 2004

Subject:

GM Food in East; Bioconfinement Baloney; Green Fascism; Prince of Wails

 

Today in AgBioView: February 17, 2004

* EU races to thwart influx of GM food from east
* Bayer extends ban on anti-GM groups
* Changing the 'Risk Averse' Mentality in Western Society
* Green Myth vs. the Green Revolution
* Reaping the Biotech Harvest
* 'Bioconfinement' Baloney
* Why the Public and the Experts Disagree on Environmental Issues
* 'The Threat of Green Fascism'
* Critics take on prince of wails

Guardian, February 14, 2004, By Paul Brown

The EU is racing against time to stop genetically modified foodstuffs entering western Europe from the east after the community's enlargement on May 1, the Guardian has learned. Some of the 10 new member states have been growing GM crops for some time, but recent checks have shown that the testing facilities to monitor their spread to neighbouring crops are either flawed or non-existent.

The biggest agricultural country in eastern Europe, Poland, which has been growing GM crops for several years, has had no testing facilities at all.

Environmental groups accuse biotech companies such as Monsanto and Pioneer of using the former eastern bloc as a "trojan horse" to get GM products into the EU. However, these companies have been legitimately marketing their seed varieties there since 1996.

The problem is not lack of legal regulation. The EU has ensured that all the new members have rules on GM similar to those in the rest of the community. The difficulty is enforcement. Some of the newcomers have no idea whether their crops contain GM organisms since their testing regimes are inadequate. Where tests have been carried out by green groups some samples have been clear but others found to contain GMOs well above the EU legal limit for labelling.

The EU has recognised this as a problem and has been helping those countries without facilities to set up laboratories that can detect genetic modification in crops and foodstuffs.

Iza Kruszewska, a researcher for the Northern Alliance for Sustainability, an environment and development group, believes that by asking countries such as the Czech Republic and Poland to permit the commercialisation of GM maize before May "the biotech industry is trying to use the enlargement process to introduce GM by the back door of EU accession".

Beate Gminder, a spokeswoman for the health and consumer protection directorate of the European commission, disagrees. She says she is sure the problem of detection will be solved by May 1.

Each country will be responsible for certifying its own products.

"According to the law, all products containing GM will have to be labelled," said Ms Gminder. "If countries did not have the testing facilities or expertise to check their products they could contract the work to countries and laboratories that could do the work. I am sure everyone understands that."

She said the rules were clear. Some GM crops had been approved in the EU. If a food product contained more than 0.9% of an approved GM crop then it would have to be clearly labelled. Products containing more than 0.5% of crops - such as GM potatoes - that were not approved in the EU would have to be labelled as containing GM ingredients.

This second provision is an added hurdle for some of the 10 new member states because they have been growing crops not yet approved in the EU. Some of these may never be approved because they have been superseded by other varieties and have fallen out of fashion.

Geert Ritsema, the Friends of the Earth GM campaigner for Europe, said: "These regulations are all about the consumer's right to choose whether to eat GM or not. Poland has allowed growing of GM soya but without any regulations being implemented. People can buy and sell these things and plant contaminated seed with out fear of prosecution or detection because there is no method of doing so.

"After May 1 all edible oils will have to be labelled if they contain GM. Soya and maize oil would require a GM-free certificate. But in an unregulated country who knows whether the certificate means anything? If supermarkets want to be sure what they're selling to consumers they'll have to test the products themselves."

Besides the internal EU rules, he said the bio-safety protocol, which EU countries had ratified, made it illegal to export and import GM seeds without prior informed consent. Because of the history of growing GM in an unregulated fashion seed from eastern Europe needed to be tested to make sure it did not contain some contamination.

A second problem for Europe concerns some of the countries farther east, such as Ukraine, which have been growing GM potatoes since 1997, and candidate countries like Romania and Bulgaria, which wish to join the union in 2007. Romania, anxious to please the US, has grown GM crops on a large scale. Neighbouring Serbia accuses Romania of contaminating its supposedly GM-free crops as a result of grain smuggling across the border.

This is a particularly sensitive issue for countries such as Hungary, which has taken a strong GM-free stance to protect its seed-growing industry. EU states have been increasingly turning to Hungary as a source of GM-free seed. Remaining uncontaminated is a key to this continuing export trade. Hungary, along with the Czech Republic, is fully equipped with laboratories that can certify seed and food as GM-free. Most other new member states, while believing that their grain is GM-free, have no way of being sure.

Tony Combes, director of corporate affairs for Monsanto UK, rejected accusations of using eastern Europe as a trojan horse. He said: "Each accession country must comply with all aspects of EU rules and regulations to be full members - this includes the enforcement of product labelling in every industry. Equally, existing EU-approved GM crops may be marketed in accession countries once they have joined."

He added: "It is more a case of the EU being used as the standard to which the accession countries have to comply."
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Bayer extends ban on anti-GM groups

- Financial Times, February 14, 2004, By Nikki Tait

Employees at Bayer, the big chemicals group, have successfully secured a further injunction protecting their homes from protesters opposed to genetically-modified crops.

Thousands of staff had secured a temporary injunction against the protestors under anti-harassment laws late last year. But yesterday, in the High Court, Mr Justice McKinnon agreed to extend this until the issue came to full trial. The order puts severe restrictions on the permitted protest activity by certain named campaigners and anti-GM organisations, and creates special exclusion zones around employees' homes. Bayer, which owns the Aventis CropScience business, is one of the UK's leading GM players.
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The Politics of Changing the 'Risk Averse' Mentality in Western Society -- A case study of the GM debate in Britain and Europe

- Tony Gilland, American Enterprise Institute conference 'Biotechnology, the Media and Public Policy', June 12, 2003 (Tony Gilland is the Science and Society Director, Institute of Ideas, London )

In this article I argue that the rift between the US and the EU over GM crops and food is better understood as a culture war than as a trade war. The GM debate has come to symbolise a broader clash of ideas about how we should view the modern world and seek to shape the future. Unfortunately the critics of biotechnology in Europe have been very successful in interpreting GM technology in a negative way that undermines the value modern societies place upon human rationality and experimentation. Their success though, is largely due to the broader, if less extreme, risk averse and anti-human sentiments that exist within Western societies more generally.

The UK government made the fatal mistake of thinking that an emphasis on tighter and tighter regulatory controls of GM technology would help to win public acceptance. Instead, this approach had the effect of officially endorsing and encouraging exaggerated concerns, and evaded the need to challenge and put into perspective misplaced fears. What is required is a political motivation for why commercial experimentation and development of this technology should be seen as positive symbol of modern society.

Full paper at http://www.instituteofideas.com/people/tony_gilland.html
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http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=50

Green Myth vs. the Green Revolution By Thomas R. DeGregori
**********************************************

Reaping the Biotech Harvest

- The American Enterprise (Special Issue on 'Biotech Bounty'), By Lester Crawford, March 2004

Today's biotechnology includes the use of genetically modified animals in medicine; in the production of special foods, human drugs, and medical devices; in the development of animal and industrial products; and in insect-based pest and disease control. Bioengineered animals are now commonly used for the exploration of medical questions that cannot be readily studied otherwise, such as the mechanisms of both normal physiology and disease in humans and animals. Special pigs, for example, are often used to model human disease, because the size and function of their organs are similar to those of humans. One example is a pig strain bioengineered to test retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive disease that begins with night blindness, and affects between 100,000 and 400,000 people in the U.S. The pig model is intended to help develop drugs to slow the onset and progression of the disease.

Other bioengineered laboratory models include rodents, to study how inborn errors cause disease. Insects and fish are also employed to study disease or population dynamics. Drosophila melanogaster, the common fruit fly some of us remember from our college days, is often bioengineered as a model for developmental studies. Transgenic zebrafish and Amazon mollies are used to study effects of ultraviolet irradiation on melanomas.

More familiar--and controversial--is the use of bioengineered animals to produce certain foods and medical products. Cows can be genetically engineered to make several kinds of specialized milk. They can produce milk with lower levels of a protein that may make the milk more suitable for up to 6 percent of U.S. infants and others allergic to regular cow milk. They can also produce milk that's more digestible for people who are lactose intolerant; milk that has more naturally occurring antimicrobial enzymes, which increase the milk's shelf life; and milk with altered proteins such as caseins, or with lower water content, which facilitates cheese production. Fish can also be modified to make them more nutritious. One example is the modification of rainbow trout to increase the amount of their omega-3 fatty acids, which can help prevent heart attacks. Within the next few years, we're likely to see many more such products.

Genetic engineering can also develop animals capable of producing therapeutic proteins. In general, these proteins will be produced in the milk of cows, sheep, or goats; in chicken eggs; in the semen of swine; or in blood of various large farm species. The advantage of producing these proteins in animals--rather than in cell or tissue cultures, plants, or microorganisms--is significant. The proteins are better adapted to human use, and the yields are higher. In addition, the post-development costs are lower, because raising a herd of dairy cows is cheaper than building and maintaining a bioreactor facility.

The production of the protein alpha-1-antitrypsin in sheep's milk is a good example. This is a human blood protein used to treat hereditary emphysema, cystic fibrosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, believed to affect more than 200,000 people in the U.S. and Europe. This product is already in clinical trials in Europe. Bioengineered animals could also be useful as a source of transplant organs and for medical products such as spider silk made from goat's milk for sturdy sutures, as replacement tendons, or even for bulletproof vests. Genetic engineering of animals is also being used to create faster-growing, bigger, nutrition-enhanced, or disease-resistant salmon, shellfish, pigs, and many other animals. Several approaches are being investigated to modify mosquitoes so they can't spread malaria or certain fevers. There are also techniques that enhance the predatory behavior of certain mites against others that infest plants, which could reduce the use of pesticides.

The Food and Drug Administration is familiar with the risks of biotechnology. We are aware that using genetically altered animals for food raises serious safety concerns that must be addressed through rigorous, science-based analysis. Bioactive compounds are a good example. They include growth hormones, proteins that aid in resisting disease, and even proteins of pharmaceutical interest. If these proteins are present in edible tissues of transgenic animals, they might pose a food safety risk.

Allergic reactions are another concern. The risk of adverse reactions is raised whenever foods contain new proteins from genetically modified organisms, regardless of whether their source is an animal, plant, or microorganism such as yeast or bacteria.

When it comes to technologies that use viral sequences to introduce new genes, we must consider the possibility that a viral vector used to create some desired trait could recombine with existing viruses in the animal and create a new pathogen. Yet another hazard may arise when the insertion of a gene produces unintended adverse outcomes, known as "pleiotropic effects." These result from the disruption of a cell's normal function, and may lead to cell death. There is also the possibility that biotech products are mishandled through human negligence or error.

How will the FDA cope with the large-scale introduction of products as technologically advanced, highly beneficial, and yet potentially risky as genetically altered animals? We have over a decade of experience in examining more than 50 edible products made from genetically modified plants. The FDA also has a century long record of determining food safety.

Our goal is to make sure that a new product is as safe as its natural counterpart. The FDA has ample experience, as well as legal authority and guidance, for ensuring the safety and effectiveness of drugs, biological medications, and medical devices, and it would use these same resources to evaluate products manufactured with the help of transgenic animals.

But what about other concerns, including the critical question whether, and to what extent, the safety of the environment would be put at risk by genetically altered animals? And what about risks to the animals themselves? The FDA has yet to answer these questions by approving or disapproving the application for marketing of any transgenic animal.

Not much is known about the FDA's vigorous efforts to help ensure the safety of biotechnology. Two years ago we requested that animal cloners withhold any food products made from clones and their progeny until the FDA evaluates potential safety issues. Just like human twins who share the same genome, animal clones are not exact copies, and we need time to collect data for informed decisions about the potential risks these animals may pose to other animals or, as a source of food, to people. We are now finishing food consumption and animal health risk assessments for animal clones, and plan to make them available for public comment. The FDA has also commissioned the National Academy of Sciences to review potential risks of products of genetically modified animals.

The ultimate success of G.M. products is crucially dependent on transparency and producers' communication with the media and the public. The FDA is committed to ensuring that biotech products are safe and that alarming talk about "Frankenfood" recognized as idle talk that can only do damage.

--- Lester Crawford is deputy commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
***********************************

http://www.fumento.com/biotech/bioconfinement.html

'Bioconfinement' Baloney

- Michael Fumento, Scripps Howard News Service, February 5, 2004

Washington whupped the Hessians, but they left behind a little present - the Norway rat. Call it revenge for The Battle of Trenton. It's believed those nasty rats that ravage inner cities and cost us more than $1 billion annually in damage arrived on Hessian mercenary ships. Indeed, throughout North American history humans have been bringing (accidentally and
intentionally) all manner of destructive microbes, plants, fish and animals. But that's just fine it seems - unless the new organisms are biotechnology.

At least so it would seem from the reaction of both the media and anti-biotech groups to a new report from the National Academy of Science's National Research Council concerning "bioconfinement" of genetically engineered organisms. "Genes Run Wild" read one headline.

But to actually read the study is to find, "It is likely that most of the vast array of proposed genetically engineered organisms will pose little threat to public health or the environment, and they will require minimal confinement if any." The ones already commercialized (since 1985) have done nothing but good.

Anne Kapuscinski, a member of the NRC committee and professor at the University of Minnesota, got herself quoted in the New York Times declaring, "One of our big messages throughout the whole report is that there are very few bioconfinement methods that are well developed." Yet the report emphasizes some are already in use, with a vast number in the pipeline. Further, "Entirely new methods," said the NRC, "were announced by the scientific community while we worked on the report."

Consider the age-old problem in which superior traits bred into plants have escaped to surrounding weeds. This could also happen with genetically engineered plants. Yet the NRC study has a chart listing no fewer than 18 biotech methods (such as keeping the introduced superior trait out of the
pollen) under development to prevent this, while low-tech methods such as buffer zones around crops can also work.

Kapuscinki's personal interpretation aside, the report was unfair in some ways. For example, it beat up on the Canadian-U.S. company Aqua Bounty Technologies. Aqua Bounty is developing a salmon with a gene from another fish that allows it to grow to market size about three times faster. The NRC report repeatedly emphasizes the importance of redundant measures to keep genetically engineered organisms confined, yet Aqua Bounty's system is a textbook example of just that.

The fast-growing fish are secured in cages, and the cages are at sea rather than in rivers where escapees could mate with native salmon. Only females are raised, because they lack the male instinct to find their way to a river to procreate. They also all undergo a sterilization technique and then are tested to ensure it worked. Were all this to fail, "There's a very low risk of mating because wild fish turn up their noses at them," says Aqua Bounty's vice president of business development Joe McConigle.

Biotech opponents aren't too keen on consumers' rights. "I thought the NRC report was fairly good overall," Bruce Chassy of the University of Illinois Center for Biotechnology in Champaign-Urbana told me. "But ultimately the whole biocontainment issue is at least as much philosophical as scientific."

No matter how many layers you add, he says, "there's no perfect way to biocontain anything," GEO or otherwise. Moreover, "Each layer gets more expensive with diminishing returns." Says Chassy, "The number of layers required should depend on how badly we want the technology and the potential consequences of an escape." After all, "We could take planes out of the sky because they crash, but then we couldn't fly."

Time and again we see that with biotech organisms the worst potential consequences of genetic escape pale beside those nasty rats, Kudzu weed or any of the countless non-native but non-engineered animals, plants, fish, shellfish, and microbes.

A 1998 article in Bioscience estimated bio-invader damage plus control at $136 billion a year. (Conversely, 99 percent have been harmless or even
helpful.) "We don't yet have perfect bio-systems that will completely prevent gene escape from plants," Chassy says, "nor do we need them. Gene flow isn't necessarily bad." He adds though, "The regulators don't approve products for which the consequences of gene escape aren't demonstrated to be acceptable. And that should be our standard."

But biotech bashers see it otherwise. "If you take their religious position that no risk is acceptable, if they get to define the standard as zero, then you can't grow any bio-engineered organisms," Chassy observes.

Indeed, they needn't even demand zero. By insisting on piling one control layer atop another like a grotesque wedding cake they can make any biotech organism too expensive to market. But, notes Chassy, just as orthodox Jews don't try to force us all to eat kosher, the anti-biotech lobby has no right to force their religious beliefs on the rest of us.

Not that that will stop them from trying.

--- Michael Fumento is the author of numerous books. His book,
BioEvolution: How Biotechnology Is Changing Our World, was published in October 2003 by Encounter Books.

**********************************************

Dealing With Risk: Why the Public and the Experts Disagree on Environmental Issues

by Howard Margolis, Amazon.com price $17.00, Paperback:, 228 pages; University of Chicago Press; (December 1997); ISBN: 0226505294

For decades, policymakers and analysts have been frustrated by the stubborn and often dramatic disagreement between experts and the public on acceptable levels of environmental risk. Most experts, for instance, see no severe problem in dealing with nuclear waste, given the precautions and safety levels now in place. Yet public opinion vehemently rejects this view, repudiating both the experts' analysis and the evidence.

In Dealing with Risk, Howard Margolis moves beyond the usual "rival rationalities" explanation proffered by risk analysts for the rift between expert and lay opinion. He reveals the conflicts of intuition that undergird those concerns, and proposes a new approach to the psychology of persuasion and belief. Examining the role of intuition, mental habits, and cognitive frameworks in the construction of public opinion, this compelling account bridges the public policy impasse that has plagued controversial environmental issues.

"Margolis (public policy studies, U. of Chicago) explains why risk analysts and lay people disagree so often and vehemently about the dangers of such environmental factors as nuclear waste, the medicine bendictin, and irradiated food. Because lay people are called to balance costs and benefits on complex matters beyond their normal experience, he reasons, they frequently discount nuance and respond more viscerally with all-purpose intuitions such as better to be safe than sorry."

**********************************************

Blast from the Past...

'The Threat of Green Fascism'

- Times of India, By Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar, July 1, 2001

Humans love horror stories, which is why R.L. Stine is a best-selling author. So I am not surprised by the popularity of horror stories being invented about genetically modified (GM) foods and cotton.

A recent news item says, in apocalyptic tones, that unknowing Indians may already have consumed some GM foods. Surprise surprise, no Indians have suddenly sprouted horns or 11 toes. Nor have Americans who have eaten GM foods for a decade.

But horror stories attract large audiences, and R.L. Stine today has rivals in Greenpeace, various Indian organisations, and green fundamentalists in general. They have succeeded in blocking the release of bio-engineered cotton in India.

Many Indian scientists and farmers have pointed out that biotechnology holds the key to greater agricultural prosperity, freedom from hunger, and reduced pollution from pesticides and fertilisers. Yet green horror books say that genetically modified (GM) foods and cotton are potential monsters. Don't be impressed by the long list of technical arguments they put forward. These are based on fundamentalist notions of genetic correctness which are almost fascist.

Nothing is commoner in agriculture than cross breeding. The green revolution was created by genetic engineering. Ah, say the fundamentalists, but that is cross-breeding within certain racial limits, which is okay. But GM foods represent the mixing of genes across different genomes akin to different races--and we must oppose that since it could create monsters.

The argument is eerily Hitlerian. Green fundamentalists are whipping up public hysteria against a particular set of plants just as Hitler whipped up hysteria against Jews. Hitler approved of the crossing of genes between white races, but was absolutely horrified at the prospect of Aryan genes being polluted by Jewish or negroid genes.

Similarly, the green fascists approve of conventional cross-breeding within a genome, but are horrified by crosses across genomes. Hitler demonised breeding across races as a genetic threat to pure Aryans, whom he regarded as obviously superior and so ordained by god. Green fundamentalists demonise GM foods as genetic threats to what they claim to be superior, God-given varieties.

Prince Charles of England, a prominent green fundamentalist, says genetic engineering amounts to disturbing Gods rules. I am not aware that Prince Charles has special access to God, any more than Hitler did. Scientists who are atheists must find hilarious the accusation that they want to play God. Price Charles does not inform us whether he is in touch with a Christian, Muslim, Hindu or some other God. As a scion of an empire on which, in colonial times, the sun never set, he possibly believes that he can claim sovereignty over all Gods.

Fundamentalists protest that crosses across genomes are very different from crosses between human races. Some liken GM foods to crossing a human being with a pig to produce a monster. Really? Does genetically engineered corn or cotton look like a donkey-human cross?

Hitler looked on a cross with Jews as no better than a cross with pigs. Hindu fundamentalists regard miscegenation with Muslims with the same horror. Green genetic prejudice is simply a new form of such age-old prejudices.

The fundamentalist argument, that plants created by God are distinct from plants created by man, is bogus. If God did not want humans to make crosses across genomes, he would have arranged accordingly. The very fact that he made it possible surely proves that it part of his Great Plan. If indeed there is a God, and if indeed there is a Great Plan.

As for those who swear by nature rather than God, the fact is that man is part and parcel of nature, not an alien from outer space. Anything animals, bacteria or birds do is part of nature. So is anything done by man.

In any case, crosses across genomes are part and parcel of nature. The whole history of evolution is full of crosses across genomes. The horror of fundamentalists that genetic engineering will create unprecedented crosses is rather like the horror some dinosaurs might have felt a million years ago if told that they would evolve into human beings.

Beware of notions of genetic correctness. All are fundamentalist. Bal Thackerays gut horror of Muslims is not dissimilar. During the Babri Masjid agitation, Hindu fundamentalists sneered that Muslims were Babar ke aulad (children of Babar). For green fundamentalists, GM foods and cotton are the aulad of another Babar. Its genetic communalism in another guise.

What then should we call the struggle of green fundamentalists against bio-engineering? Mein Kampf? Towards a Green Ram mandir?

It is with some reluctance that I find myself using the expression green fascism. Greenpeace and various Indian organisations have done lots of good work in improving environmental awareness. But their attitude to biotechnology is too Hitlerian for comfort.

They will protest that they are not asking for gas chambers, they are merely asking for extensive testing of GM varieties to ensure that there are no dangers. This is mendacity. Most of them simply do not want GM foods, and so have hit on the ploy of demanding ever-new tests about ever-new dangers. They will be happy to keep enunciating new possible dangers and keep demanding additional tests forever. One of the tests they have demanded for bio-engineered cotton could take 20 years. This amounts to ensuring genetic purity through never-ending tests rather than gas chambers. An improvement in procedure, no doubt, but not in philosophy.

I once read a piece by David Melchett of Greenpeace protesting about even field tests of GM varieties. Do you realise, he said, that winds could carry pollen from the GM test sites to others, polluting ordinary plants? It did not bother him that the winds could equally well carry pollen from ordinary plants to GM ones, polluting them.

He implicitly believed his preferred varieties to be genetically superior, and so worried only about the pollution of what he considered superior by what he considered inferior.

This reminded me of the British Raj, when whites were horrified at the prospect of any white woman bearing a black child, but had no qualms about fathering children by fornicating with Indian women. Some actually believed that they were infusing Indian women with superior genes.

The Raj is dead but Greenpeace lives on.
*********************************

Critics take on prince of wails

- The Australian, By Peter Wilson, February 18, 2004

PRINCE Charles's penchant for privately dabbling in political lobbying has again hit the headlines in Britain, prompting his staff to defend his actions and insist that part of his role as Prince of Wales is to "represent views which are in danger of not being heard".

The retiring president of the National Farmers Union, Ben Gill, revealed on Monday that the future monarch lobbied vigorously behind the scenes against the Blair Government's policy response to the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

Eighteen months ago, the prince was embarrassed and angered by a newspaper leak that showed he had written an average of one private letter every two weeks to government ministers, using his privileged access to rail against political correctness and express his views on many policy issues.

As head of state, the Queen meets the Prime Minister every week but she is believed to steer away from pushing her own views on contentious policy issues in order not to interfere in politics and has always been careful to keep her views out of the public domain.

Until Sir Ben's comments this week it had not been publicly known that Charles tried to reverse the Government's controversial decision to slaughter more than 6 million farm animals to stop the disease outbreak and restore overseas confidence in British meat.

Like many other wealthy landowners who lobbied the Government, the prince instead wanted to see the animals vaccinated, which might have saved herds worth millions of pounds.

"Prince Charles was behind the biggest push for vaccination," Sir Ben told The Times.

The prince's office responded yesterday by releasing a statement saying the royal family had a legitimate role in pursuing such issues.

"Part of the royal family's role is to draw attention to issues on behalf of us all," the statement said.

"The Prince of Wales was very concerned about the countryside and spent a lot of time talking to farmers and trying to find out what could be done to help them."

The then minister for agriculture, Nick Brown, said yesterday he was confident the Government had made the correct decision in not following the prince's advice.

But Mr Brown defended the prince's right to lobby ministers directly, although he said it would not be right for him to repeat what Charles had said in those conversations.

"I enjoyed the interest the prince took in these matters and his involvement was entirely constructive and very well informed," he said.

But other Labour MPs have angrily insisted that the prince had no special role in political issues and did not represent ordinary voters.

In his letters to ministers, Charles has railed against genetically modified food, bureaucracy, increasing litigation and the Government's campaign to ban fox hunting. A strong supporter of the Tibetan people, he stayed away from a 1999 banquet for then Chinese president Jiang Zemin during a state visit to Britain.

The left-wing former Labour minister Tony Benn has urged Charles to keep expressing his views, saying that was one way to bring down the monarchy.

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