12 June 2002
GM crop firms should be liable for any damage done, says Prince
By Caroline Davies in Lubeck
The Prince of Wales yesterday launched his most outspoken attack yet on companies that fund research into genetically modified crops, calling for them to be made "liable" for any damage caused.
Contrary to the Prime Minister's recent address to scientists, in which he said he could find no evidence "of serious health risks" in GM crops, Prince Charles said that the problems of GM contamination were "becoming clearer and clearer".
The Prince, speaking to environmentalists in Germany, urged policy-makers and funders of research to look at investing in traditional and organic methods, even though they were regarded as "a great deal less exciting".
The Prince continued; "At the moment the emphasis seems to be on supporting research into genetically-modified crops which, regardless of any possible environmental threat, certainly pose an acute threat to organic farmers, and all those consumers who actually wish to exercise a right of choice about what they eat."
He added: "The extent of the problems of contamination, I think, is becoming clearer and clearer.
"So I find it hard to understand how the companies which will profit from having developed these crops, and which are taking out patents to ensure that they do, should be able to avoid taking liability for any damage that occurs."
The prince was in Lubeck, north Germany, as part of a three-day official visit to Germany and Poland to highlight organic farming, environmental protection and community regeneration.
He was presented with the prestigious German annual Euronatur environmental award for his "exemplary contribution to the promotion of organic agriculture and his engagement in the conservation of traditional landscapes".
The Prince told his audience yesterday: "I recognise, of course, that improving an existing situation, using a combination of traditional knowledge and modern methods, will always be regarded as a great deal less exciting that doing entirely new things, and that these are likely to be more profitable - at least in the short term."
In a wide-ranging speech, he also highlighted the environmental hazards of plastic wine bottle corks.
"Quite why anyone should want to encounter a nasty plastic plug in the neck of a wine bottle is beyond me," he said.
He added that the subsequent decline in the demand for cork in Spain and Portugal, a sustainable industry, was threatening birds and butterflies, as cork oaks were being replaced with fast-growing eucalyptus.
The Prince has long expressed "grave" concern over GM, which he argues includes the loss of biodiversity and the likelihood of cross-pollination, but this is his strongest attack yet on the multi-national companies that stand to profit from genetic modification.
In a speech to the Royal Society last month, Tony Blair expressed his wish that Britain should become the "best place in the world" for scientific research.
He called anti-GM activists a "small band of people" who wanted to stifle debate and "destroy experimental crops before we can determine their environmental impact".
In what was interpreted as positive encouragement to those investing in GM research, Mr Blair added: "I want to reach my judgement after I have heard the facts and not before. In GM crops I can find no serious evidence of health risks."