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GMOs, God and the Prince of Wales

By Pretty Bara and Tawanda Zidenga
Crop Science Department, University of Zimbabwe
05 Aug 2003

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 don’t have “the right to experiment with, and commercialize, the building blocks of life?”

We question the good prince’s understanding of agriculture, and we believe he doesn’t 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 it’s 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 doesn’t 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 it’s 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 wasn’t 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 don’t 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!