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February 3, 2005


NGO Scaremongering; Transgenics and cultural sacredness; Sonoma County and the anti-biotech crowd; Organic myth cracked


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: February 3, 2005

* NGO Scaremongering
* Transgenics and the violation of cultural sacredness
* Sonoma County next up for anti-biotech crowd
* New maize seeds lauched
* EU to consider allowing imports of more GMO maize
* Health value of organic fruits and veggies up for debate
* Organic myth cracked
* Why I'm an 'aristo-ganic' snob
* comment about stem cell research

From: "Dave Wood"
Date: Wed, 02 Feb 2005 13:23:36 -0600
Subject: NGO Scaremongering

Tom DeGregori (February 1st) draws attention to NGO scaremongering over the future of wheat in Iraq, specifically, a review by Jeremy Smith for The Ecologist of 21/01/05.

It is difficult to find more NGO myths in a single article. Just three for now: firstly, Smith claims of Iraqi farmers that:

"Each year they have saved seeds from crops that prosper under certain conditions and replanted and cross-pollinated them with others with different strengths the following year, so that the crop continually improves."

NGO MYTH NUMBER ONE: Farmers themselves cross-pollinating wheat varieties with `different strengths'? I'd like to see it. for one thing, wheat is predominantly self-pollinating. Also, most farmers in developing countries scrupulously avoid pollen contamination between different varieties of any crop (tried any farmer cross-pollinated bananas lately - mind your teeth!). And even modern breeders have a tough time with controlled cross pollination of wind-pollinated cereals (and then there is a need to manage selection pressure and back-crossing.)

NGO MYTH NUMBER TWO: That local varieties are both locally adapted and also continually improve. Smith quotes Shiva as the technical expert on this: "Indigenous varieties are resistant to local pests and diseases. Even if certain diseases occur, some of the strains may be susceptible, but others will have resistance to survive." However, it is far more probable that indigenous varieties are in fact co-evolved with local pests and disease and therefore at least partly susceptible: this susceptibility reduces yields. This explains farmers' urgent efforts to get their hands on varieties from elsewhere, which are not co-evolved and have a chance of being fully resistant. It also explains why most crops are grown away from their continent of origin, to escape their co-evolved pests and disease. Lucky USA and Australia, with few indigenous crops and few crop co-evolved problems; unlucky Iraq, with all those wild wheats and dozens of strains of wheat rust blowing around. So Smith's claim that "It would be more than reasonable to assume that ... there are samples of strong, indigenous wheat varieties that could be developed and distributed around the country in order to bolster production once more" is, in fact certainly not "more than reasonable". Iraq might be better off with sunflower or maize.

NGO MYTH NUMBER THREE: That farmers in developing countries are stupid and need NGOs to make decisions for them. Wrong: farmers I came across almost daily over four years collecting traditional genetic resources in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are fine, smart people, who can make their own decisions on which varieties they wish to grow. The NGO anti-development drivel comes from Canada, Spain and other developed countries who a) want to export their subsidized wheat; and b) want poor Iraqi farmers to maintain living museums of genetic diversity in an outdoor disease laboratory: we may eventually benefit but local farmers will see their crops go down regularly.

There is further posturing from the Spanish NGO GRAIN. International Agricultural Centres such as ICARDA in Syria habitually conserve seed samples from dozens of countries - for example Iraqi varieties which were lost during the war. GRAIN claims that: "These comprise the agricultural heritage of Iraq belonging to the Iraqi farmers that ought now to be repatriated." Quite so, and this has been the working norm for decades, when CGIAR centres prided themselves on returning samples to countries of origin whenever asked. My crew returned thousands of such samples when I was in change of the global bean collection at CIAT.

However, this is set to change. Thanks to NGO meddling and the FAO International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, this free return of samples will no longer be possible. ICARDA will soon be forced to place Iraqi samples in the Treaty. Then, if Iraq wants duplicates of its own samples from ICARDA, then Iraq - even following the disaster of war - will have to sign a restrictive MTA. If Monsanto or any other US-based multinational then want to use these samples and place them under intellectual property rights they will have to pay the Treaty - not Iraq - a tax. Iraq, as a non-member of the Treaty, will both lose control of its samples and also will get nothing at all in return. Spanish breeders (in contrast to US breeders), under the small print of the Treaty, will pay nothing to use Iraqi varieties from ICARDA. Even worse, if Iraq itself wants to access new varieties bred in ICARDA from Iraqi varieties, Iraq will soon be required to sign another restrictive MTA: hitherto access to these new varieties has been totally free. This free service was what ICARDA was set up and funded under aid and development budgets to do. These new restrictions out-Monsantos Monsanto: but don't hold your breath waiting for the Spain-based NGO GRAIN to complain - such NGOs are now part of the problem for developing countries.

Dave Wood

Date: Wed, 02 Feb 2005 14:37:24 -0600
From: "Dr. Tom DeGregori"
Subject: transgenics and the violation of cultural sacredness


In a small agricultural newsgroup in which I participate, there was a very cogent and intelligent posting on why scientist have to interact with the media on vital issues of science and public policy. Included were some guidelines on for scientists who wish to participate in public policy dialogs which I hope will be posted. One issue that came up is the fact that peoples around the world have been led to believe that planting transgenic crops was a form of cultural pollution that violated the most sacred tenets of their culture and forever contaminated their agriculture and food supply. The note was in fact a sensitive response to a scientist that had to respond to the charge that her work was a threat to cultural purity. Once sentence stood out for me on which I would like to comment.

"One issue is clear...taro is a sacred food of the Hawaiian, so even the perception of genetic manipulation will cause an uproar."

Many on this list undoubtedly have worked with farmers in the U.S. and/or overseas. We all know that if you let the farmer explain what he or she is doing, what their goals and problems are and what they wished to do. Sensitivity to the local culture is inherent in the process. The role of the outside expert is to indicate options, describe possibilities that the farmer may not know about and offer technical and/or credit assistance. One tries to provide as much information as possible and to keep the information flows moving in both directions. Unfortunately, there are practical limits to what the farmers or the advisors can provide one another.

Never in my overseas experience (or in the experience of anyone whom I have consulted) has any farmer or official asked or worried about how a new variety was bred; they were interested in issues such as whether it produced a larger crop and how secure is it from crop failure. The only reason transgenics is considered by a population as being a violation of a sacred element within it while various forms of mutation breeding are not, is because an activist group has planted that idea of the alien character of biotechnology while deliberately remaining silent on most all other forms of plant breeding. Unlike the activists, who seem to believe that farmers are like children who need someone to think for them and protect them, I credit peoples of all types around the world with the ability to think for thrmselves. But concerns about how plants are bred only come about if people have been informed (or misinformed) about the issue and if they have been deliberately not told about the other ways that plant breeding has taken place for the variety of foods that they grow and/or eat. All of which reinforces the posting that we have to act early to inform people early on these issues before others with an ideological agenda can create a fear factor that is difficult to overcome.

Since the activists use the "violation of sacred cultural beliefs" as part of their global propaganda, it is important that we point out how this perception was created. In our world today, there are many different fears concerning other ethnic or religious or racial groups and the harm that they wish to visit upon ones own group. They are "real" in the sense of being firmly and widely believed but like beliefs about the harm from transgenics and the evil intent of those who promote them, they are no less wrong because many honestly believe them. It may seem strong to may but I view the misinformation and fears about plant breeding that make it more difficult to help farmers improve their food production to be in the same category as spreading fears about other ethnic, religious or racial groups.

Tom DeGregori


Sonoma County next up for anti-biotech crowd

- Western Farm Press, Feb 3, 2005, By Harry Cline

Losing three out of four in last November’s general election has done nothing to deter the anti-biotechnology radicals in California. No one really expected resounding defeats of anti-biotech initiatives in Butte, San Luis Obispo and Humboldt would dissuade this crowd.

At least a dozen California counties are being targeted now with for either anti-biotech initiatives or ordinances. Most of the counties targeted are in the Bay Area. The first one to rise to the surface after last fall’s defeats is in Sonoma County where GE-Free Sonoma is trying both ordinance and initiative routes at the same time.

GE-Free Sonoma has turned in petitions containing more than 45,000 signatures trying to force the county board of supervisors to call a special election this spring to place a 10-year moratorium on biotech crops in the county. The 10-year moratorium is just a smoke screen. The leaders of the anti-biotech movement in the county have no intentions of letting biotech crops into the county.

The Sonoma anti-GE radicals tried to get the initiative on the ballot last number when they presented 8,000 of the 29,000 signatures needed to get it on the ballot. They tried to coerce the supervisors into putting it on the ballot, even though they were short of signatures. They said it would be cheaper then than when they would come back later with more signatures now. Blackmail didn’t work.

Now they are trying it again.

Newspapers are filled daily with accounts of California cities and counties strapped for cash. The majority of Sonoma County voters -- 45,000 signatures or not -- would not be happy about supervisors spending $500,000 to fund a debate and a single issue election on a subject that even if the anti-biotech initiative passed would likely be ignored or unenforceable.

It does not take an organic rocket scientist to figure what the anti-biotech crowd is up to. If Sonoma supervisors rightfully balk at spending a half million dollars to appease a group looking for a tokenism vote, the anti-biotech crowd could say, "well just pass an anti-biotech county ordinance like we palmed off on Trinity, Marin or Mendocino counties and you don’t have to spend $500,000." Blackmail again.

However, as we have said all along, it is not about biotech. It is about freedom of choice and one of those is the freedom to farm. Many of the leaders of this California anti-biotech movement are not really that interested in biotech. They prefer to take freedoms away from people with whom they disagree.

The Internet provided a revealing look at what one anti-biotech leader and his other interests.

Daniel Solnit is the campaign coordinator for GE-Free Sonoma County. Solnit is identified on the Internet as founder and executive director of the Institute For Local Economic Democracy, a group dedicated to "sustainable alternatives to corporate globalization." Solnit is also allied with The Occidental Arts and Ecology Center (OAEC). Dave Henson, who authored the Sonoma Anti-GE initiative is a director of OAEC.

Solnit authored a revealing article several years ago that has been reprinted several times in alternative publications on the North Coast. Apparently the first time it appeared was a month after 9-11. It reflects his interests go far beyond agriculture. The article with Solnit’s byline appeared in one publication under the headline:

"Confused? Having difficulty telling the good guys from the bad guys? Use this handy guide to differences between terrorists and the U.S. government:"

Here are some excerpts from Solnit’s insightful piece.

"TERRORISTS: Supposed leader is the spoiled son of a powerful politician, from extremely wealthy oil family.

U.S. GOVERNMENT: Supposed leader is the spoiled son of a powerful politician, from extremely wealthy oil family.

TERRORISTS: Leader has declared a holy war ('Jihad') against his 'enemies'; believes any nation not with him is against him; believes god is on his side, and that any means are justified.

U.S. GOVERNMENT: Leader has declared a holy war ('Crusade') against his 'enemies'; believes any nation not with him is against him; believes god is on his side, and that any means are justified.

TERRORISTS: Supported by extreme fundamentalist religious leaders who preach hatred, intolerance, subjugation of women, and persecution of non-believers.

U.S. GOVERNMENT: Supported by extreme fundamentalist religious leaders who preach hatred, intolerance, subjugation of women, and persecution of non-believers.

TERRORISTS: Kills thousands of innocent civilians, some of them children, in cold blooded bombings.

U.S. GOVERNMENT: Kills (tens of) thousands of innocent civilians, some of them children, in cold blooded bombings.

TERRORISTS: Using war as pretext to clamp down on dissent and undermine civil liberties.

U.S. GOVERNMENT: Using war as pretext to clamp down on dissent and undermine civil liberties.

TERRORISTS: Weapon of choice: a three-dollar box cutter.

U.S. GOVERNMENT: Weapon of choice: a billion-dollar B1 bomber."

Now convince me that some of the leaders of this California anti-biotechnology movement are really concerned about biotechnology.

Not everyone in this biotech debate can be painted with the same brush as Daniel Solnit. There are farmers and ranchers and well-meaning urban citizens who have what they believe are legitimate concerns about biotechnology and the companies developing it. It is unfortunate that they are being represented by a bunch of radicals with hidden anti-societal agendas.


New maize seeds lauched

- Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, By Agatha Katheu, February 03, 2005

Caption: Here they are, Mr. Minister; seems to be saying seed manufacturers who presented Agriculture Minister Kipruto Kirwa with a variety of maize seed at his Kilimo House office, Nairobi Wednesday

Agriculture Minister Kipruto Kirwa Wednesday released 21 varieties of maize. Among the leading seed companies that will avail the seeds include Monsanto Kenya Ltd and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute .

The release comes at a time when the country has had a maize deficit of almost 2 million bags as announced the minister last Month.

The seeds are expected to help bridge the food insufficiency gap and improve the country’s maize production.

The new seed variety prices have been reduced by a further 5 percent to soften the blow caused by rising fertiliser prices.

Farmers had expressed fear of fertiliser shortage due to an increase in their prices but the minister assured them of adequate supplies.

Last season the Agricultural Financial Corporation availed 750 million shillings as seasonal credit.

Another 800 million shillings will be available for disbursement in the 2005 planting season.

EU to consider allowing imports of more GMO maize

- Reuters, February 3, 2005 (VIA AGNET)

BRUSSELS - Officials were cited as saying on Thursday that EU environment experts will discuss whether to allow imports of a gene maize next month, potentially the fourth such food to win approval after the bloc lifted its biotech ban last year. The story says that two genetically modified (GMO) maize varieties were authorised for EU-wide use last year using a rubberstamp process that kicks in when the 25 governments cannot agree. A third GMO, a rapeseed type, should be approved in a couple of weeks.

Another GMO maize will be discussed on March 7 when EU member state experts should vote on whether to allow imports for processing into animal feed. But the maize, known as 1507, would not be allowed in food products or to be sown as a crop.


Health value of organic fruits and veggies up for debate
Advocates say foods grown without chemicals are healthier; others contend evidence is lacking.

- The News-Leader, By Susan Atteberry Smith, February 1, 2005

Wes Browning doesn't need a study to tell him that business is looking up.

Last summer, all the owner of Stone Cottage Organics in Ash Grove had to do was take a look at the number of customers waiting to buy his organically grown fruits and berries at the Greater Springfield Farmers' Market.

"By the end of the summer, we had lines," Browning said. "One woman, who was battling cancer, said she wanted to get the purest food possible."

Browning is among a growing number of certified organic farmers in the state who are emerging to meet a consumer demand for organic fruits, vegetables, beef, poultry, eggs and dairy products, according to Sue Baird, coordinator for the Missouri Department of Agriculture's organic program.

In general, organic farming does not allow synthetic ingredients and/or chemicals in crop production, and prohibits the use of antibiotics or hormones in livestock production. Organic farmers also try to use nonchemical methods to manage pests and increase soil fertility.

According to the National Organic Standards Board, "Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. ... Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and water. ... The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people."

As Baird sees it, "people are just beginning to demand good food and local foods, so organic just fits the bill."

Despite the higher demand for organic, whether this type of food is more healthful than conventionally produced foods remains a subject of contention among producers, grocers, food and plant specialists — and anyone else who isn't afraid to join a debate that is often politically charged.

Not all convinced

"There are more and more studies showing that organically produced produce may have increased amounts of carotenes and antioxidants because of how it's produced," said Rex Dufour, a manager for the National Center for Appropriate Technology, a nonprofit sustainable agriculture project in Davis, Calif. "It's a result of the way the plants are grown."

A Cornell University study published in a 2001 issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that organic crops — compared with crops grown using synthetic materials — contained significantly more vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorus yet significantly lower levels of nitrates. Organic crops were also found to have lower levels of heavy metals than conventional crops.

In 2003, a University of California-Davis food scientist comparing organically and conventionally grown corn, strawberries and marionberries found higher levels of antioxidants in the organic produce.

And another study — this one by scientists from the independent research group Organic Materials Review Institute and the Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports magazine — analyzed data on pesticide residues of more than 94,000 organic and non-organic food samples from at least 20 different crops tested over a decade. U.S. Department of Agriculture data used in the 2002 study showed that 73 percent of conventional produce had at least one pesticide residue, while only 23 percent of organic samples of the same crops contained residues.

Susan Farbin, co-owner of Mama Jean's Natural Food Market, was only half-joking recently as she explained one reason she prefers organic foods.

"I usually try to avoid anything that ends with 'cide' — pesticide, herbicide, homicide," said Farbin, who stocks many organic products at her Springfield store.

Yet area food and plant specialists are serious when they say they don't have enough evidence to say the organic way is more healthful. Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture, on its National Organic Program Web site, "makes no claims that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food."

As far as nutrients are concerned, licensed dietitian Tammy Roberts thinks more about how fresh fruits and vegetables are handled than about whether they're produced organically or conventionally.

"We used to always recommend fresh fruits and vegetables as being more nutrient-dense," said the University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health education specialist, "but we don't do that anymore because of the way fresh fruits and vegetables are handled. Sometimes frozen (foods) have better nutrients, if (fresh) fruits and vegetables have been stored in the back of a truck for a month."

And CoxHealth licensed dietitian Donna Skelly won't promote organic food until she sees a control-group study that links such a diet to health benefits.

"Dietitians believe there are no studies to support that (organic food) is more healthy for you than non-organic food," said Skelly, who directs CoxHealth's dietetics program.

And, she added, "there are no studies that show that pesticides in fruits and vegetables have caused cancer."

Federal laws safeguard the public against overexposure to pesticides, said Tom Hansen, agronomy specialist for University of Missouri Extension. These "tolerance standards," which limit pesticide residue on crops to so many parts per million, are set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Growers are also prohibited from selling crops before the end of a "preharvest interval" — a period following pesticide application. Preharvest intervals vary depending on the pesticide: Some pesticides break down in as little as a day, Hansen said. Others take several months.

"Some are degraded by bacteria; some have a chemical breakdown," he said. "Some of them even break down in sunlight."

The law has teeth, too. If growers fail to follow the preharvest interval guidelines given on pesticide labels, Hansen said, they could be subject to strict penalties, including mandatory destruction of the harvested crop.

In his view, the public should be more concerned about pesticide residues on crops imported from South America, for example, where DDT — a toxic pesticide banned in the United States in 1972 — is still used to control pests.

And in Skelly's view, bacteria left on fruits and vegetables during handling pose a greater threat to public health than residue from federally approved pesticides.

Certification process

The concern of organic foods proponents doesn't stop with an apple or a carrot, however. They're also worried about how synthetic chemicals, used to grow foods that are not labeled organic, affect air, soil and water quality.

That's not to say conventional farmers aren't concerned about the environment.

"Using pesticides or using chemicals in a judicious way, only on a minimal basis, it's very responsible as well," said Gaylord Moore, horticulture specialist for University of Missouri Extension.

By contrast, most organic producers feel strongly about the use of synthetic chemicals: "They don't want those chemicals and pesticides put on their land," Baird said.

For their products to earn the U.S. Department of Agriculture's organic seal — a seal with the acronym USDA and the word "organic" on it — farmers have to do a lot more than have strong feelings, though.

To be certified by the state's organic program, which adheres to national standards, farmers have to maintain or enhance soil fertility, prevent erosion, and manage their farms in an environmentally or ecologically friendly way, Baird said. The soil must have been free from pesticide, herbicide and chemical fertilizer applications for three years.

When Browning had his farm inspected two years ago, he thought Baird would be there for 30 minutes. Instead, she worked for three hours.

"She looked at every seed packet, every label," he said.

Browning earned his certification as an organic producer. Yet despite national organic standards that solidified into law in 2001, Baird said, "there's still a whole lot of people out there that call themselves organic that have not gone through the certification process."

"They may or may not be producing organically," she added. "No one knows."

For consumers, the USDA seal is proof of an organic product, Baird said.

For Mama Jean's Farbin, the USDA's strict standards mean she can't place certified and non-certified organic products together at her store.

"We can't mix (non-certified) organic with certified organic in the same case," she said.

Fruits, veggies crucial

Dietitians hope the debate over organic versus non-organic foods doesn't cause the public to overlook what they say to be more important: a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whether they're organically or conventionally grown.

Skelly may question studies of organic foods, but she doesn't question the "hundreds of studies that lots of fruits and vegetables in your diet will decrease your risk of cancer."

Roberts agrees, particularly in light of a recently revised set of federal dietary guidelines. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention promotes a diet with five fruits and vegetables per day, in January the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services recommended nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables.

Plus, current research into phytochemicals — natural cancer-fighting chemical compounds found in vine-ripened plants — proves again that eating fruits and vegetables is even more important for good health.

"It's just critical," Roberts said.

'It just makes sense to me'

Science aside, Farbin said many of her customers choose organic foods because doing so makes them feel they have more control over their health.

"People are realizing that they can't control their whole environment; they can't control the air they're breathing," Farbin said.

Browning doesn't eat organic foods exclusively, he said, but basing most of his diet on them makes sense to him.

"To me, I wouldn't even have to wait on the scientific evidence because it just makes sense to me: I don't want to be ingesting things that kill other living things," he said. "It may not be deadly, it may not kill me, but I can't imagine that it's good for me — and it's not good for the Earth, either."


Organic myth cracked

- Daily Mail, by FIONA MACRAE, 2 February 2005

With a price tag of £1.55 for half-a-dozen and a label stating 'organic', shoppers expect to get what they're paying for.

Organic food is produced under the most natural of conditions, without the aid of chemicals and drugs - unless that food is an egg.

For an egg to be classified organic, the hen needs to have been on an organic diet for a mere six weeks.

Chicks - or pullets - spend their first 16 to 18 weeks alongside hens destined for other parts of the market. They are fed on nonorganic food, pumped with vaccines, and, if disease breaks out, given antibiotics.

Adult birds are transferred to a 'laying farm', and introduced to an organic diet.

Even then, the chicken feed - a mix of cereals, soya, vitamins and minerals - need only be 80 per cent organic.

After six weeks, their systems are judged to be purged of their old diet, and their eggs can be classed organic.

New EU rules

A spokesman for the Soil Association, one of several bodies which certifies organic eggs, said: "At present we do certify eggs as being organic even if they come from birds which up to six weeks previously were not raised organically.

"Pullets raised to organic standards are unobtainable."

The hens must also have room to roam and access to the outdoors, with not more than 12,000 birds in a barn or shed, or not more than nine hens per square metre.

New EU rules mean the hens will have to eat an organic diet from the start of their lives.

Under the regulations, which come into effect at the end of this year, antibiotics and large- scale vaccination of the chicks will not be allowed. Farmers fear this will push up the price of organic eggs by up to 15p a dozen, with disastrous consequences for the industry.

The British Egg Producers' Association said: "If the EU and the Government insist on tightening up the definition of "organic" as it relates to eggs, it will have massive implication on the cost."

Organic eggs cost 10p more per egg than those classed as 'free range', and up to three times more than those produced on a battery farm.

Despite the cost, they are popular, accounting for one third of egg sales through Ocado, Waitrose's home delivery business.


Why I'm an 'aristo-ganic' snob

- Daily Telegraph, 01/02/2005

Duchy Originals has a big fan in Judith Woods. But she doesn't want to share it...

You can nibble on his shortbread, drink his bitter ruby ale and sit on his sweet chestnut chairs. You can serve up his beef casserole ready-meals to guests, plant his fuchsias in your garden, and, if you like, wash your entire family's hair in his bergamot and lime shampoo.

Duchy Originals: 'make me visualise apple-cheeked girls doffing their caps as Charles and Camilla come over the hills'

Prince Charles, never a man to preoccupy my thoughts, has somehow infiltrated modern life in general - and mine in particular - to an extraordinary degree, without most of us noticing. Last month came the news that his Duchy Originals range of reassuringly expensive organic food and drink has increased its profits by 40 per cent.

Sales topped £3.3 million, resulting in a profit of £1 million, which represents a formidable quantity of lemon curd and Cumberland sausage. Profits are ploughed back into the Prince of Wales's Charitable Foundation.

The heir to the throne doesn't receive money from the Civil List, so it has been an extraordinarily shrewd move to transform the 700-year-old Duchy of Cornwall estate - given to him by his mother as a 21st birthday present in 1969 - into a hugely successful commercial enterprise.

A modest estimate of the Duchy food and nursery plants brands give it a value of £463 million. The Prince also owns a string of other businesses, and in 2004 he received an income of £12 million, 20 per cent up on the previous 12 months. This week, the Commons' Public Accounts Committee will investigate the tax-exempt Duchy's complex finances to ensure that the public is being given value for money.

But it is his Duchy Originals brand, founded in 1990, that fascinates me the most. Charles describes the philosophy behind the label as maintaining a "virtuous circle"; creating high quality, organic and premium products while protecting and maintaining the countryside and wildlife. Making a few bob on the side clearly doesn't hurt, either.

The Duchy Originals empire now encompasses 130 products, including jam, bacon, furniture and haircare. There is undoubtedly a certain kudos attached to the brand.

Duchy Original biscuits are the unofficial currency of the north London toddlers' coffee morning. Fortnum & Mason is considered too posh, Carluccio's macaroons too pretentious and anything home-baked will be greeted with apparent delight but be considered a covert reproach.

'Food is fast becoming the last bastion of middle-class snobbery'

Duchy Originals strike the perfect note, being organic, resolutely British and above all, redolent of tradition. (The fact they are delicious is merely an added bonus.)

When I see a box of Duchy oaten biscuits, I always imagine a poor-but-proud Catherine Cookson heroine in skirts, grinding grain outside her ramshackle - but, obviously, health-and-safety-compliant - tied cottage.

I visualise apple-cheeked girls, laughing as they gather up armfuls of damsons in hand-woven baskets, and crusty old retainers, doffing their caps as Charles and Camilla trundle over the hills in an all-terrain Bentley, the gentle clinking of champagne glasses drifting from the window. Realistically, it would take a battalion of doddery farm hands working double shifts to churn out the requisite number of Madagascan vanilla ice creams to meet demand. But once a notion has fixed in consumers' minds, it is difficult to shake.

With its old-fashioned, crested packaging, a box of Duchy's Originals ginger biscuits lends your shopping trolley a certain gravitas. In a world where style is becoming increasingly cheap, where anyone can afford a chic pale wooden floor courtesy of Ikea or classy high street versions of designer clothing, food is fast becoming the last bastion of middle-class snobbery.

Buying ordinary organic is all very well, but "aristo-ganic" is in a different league. Unfortunately, as more products are added, the Duchy's Originals brand is reaching ever more people which, if you're a food snob, is no good at all. According to retail analysts, many customers now have no idea of the brand's blue-blooded connection, which is a very worrying development.

Diversification is all very well, but sometimes the price is too high to pay. The next time Prince Charles toys with the idea of expanding his range, he would do well to think of his loyal customer base and remember what happened to Burberry.

Subject: reply to comment about stem cell research
Date: Wed, 2 Feb 2005 15:58:28 -0600
From: "Mark Hubbard"

I must respond to an article in AgBioWorld which lumped opposition to (embryonic) stem cell research together with other ideas stated as being based on faith rather than science (Playing God a Good Thing. Sonoma Index Tribune, Feb 1, 2005, By Bill Lynch (Editor)). I realize this forum is NOT about embryonic stem cell research but I am compelled to respond.

I have not seen any evidence in scientific literature that indicates that embryos are in any way not human persons nor whether they are human persons. Is it even possible at present to make scientific conclusions on such an issue? How could one then be scientific (and conversely unscientific) about it? If I may go a step further and propose that it is immoral to do research on embryos until there is definite evidence that they are not human persons. There are two possible mistakes regarding research on embryos: 1) embryos are labeled as human persons and the truth is (whether we ever know it or not) that they are not human persons; 2) embryos are labeled as not human persons and the truth is that they are. Are we not morally compelled to forego embryonic research to avoid making the second and much more costly mistake?!? As a scientist, I am amazed that there appears to be such a lack of moral compulsion on this issue. I suggest it is not my unproven belief that drives my opposition to embryonic stem cell research but my moral fortitude (weak at times though it may be). If I have missed something please let me know.

The scientific research indicating that transgenic crops are beneficial and pose minimal risks is in; however, the scientific research indicating that embryos are not human persons is not in.

Again, I recognize this is not a forum on embryonic stem cell research and I would love to discuss this privately with anyone.

Sincerely yours,