The mass development of genetically modified crops risks causing the world’s worst environmental disaster, The Prince of Wales has warned.
In his most outspoken intervention on the issue of GM food, the Prince said that multi-national companies were conducting an experiment with nature which had gone “seriously wrong”.
The Prince, in an exclusive interview with the Daily Telegraph, also expressed the fear that food would run out because of the damage being wreaked on the earth’s soil by scientists’ research.
He accused firms of conducting a “gigantic experiment I think with nature and the whole of humanity which has gone seriously wrong”.
Related article: The Prince of Wales: ‘If that is the future, count me out’
Relying on “gigantic corporations” for food, he said, would result in “absolute disaster”.
“That would be the absolute destruction of everything… and the classic way of ensuring there is no food in the future,” he said.
“What we should be talking about is food security not food production – that is what matters and that is what people will not understand.
“And if they think its somehow going to work because they are going to have one form of clever genetic engineering after another then again count me out, because that will be guaranteed to cause the biggest disaster environmentally of all time.”
Small farmers, in particular, would be the victims of “gigantic corporations” taking over the mass production of food.
“I think it’s heading for real disaster,” he said.
“If they think this is the way to go….we [will] end up with millions of small farmers all over the world being driven off their land into unsustainable, unmanageable, degraded and dysfunctional conurbations of unmentionable awfulness.”
The Prince of Wales’s forthright comments will reopen the whole debate about GM food.
They will put him on a collision course with the international scientific community and Downing Street – which has allowed 54 GM crop trials in Britain since 2000.
His intervention comes at a critical time. There is intense pressure for more GM products, not fewer, because of soaring food costs and widespread shortages.
Many scientists believe GM research is the only way to guarantee food for the world’s growing population as the planet is affected by climate change.
They will be dismayed by such a high profile and controversial contribution from the Prince of Wales at such a sensitive time.
The Prince will be braced for the biggest outpouring of criticism from scientists since he accused genetic engineers of taking us into “realms that belong to God and God alone” in an article in the Daily Telegraph in 1998.
In the interview the Prince, who has an organic farm on his Highgrove estate, held out the hope of the British agricultural system encouraging more and more family run co-operative farms.
When challenged over whether he was trying to turn back the clock, he said: “I think not. I’m terribly sorry. It’s not going backwards. It is actually recognising that we are with nature, not against it. We have gone working against nature for too long.”
The Prince of Wales cited the widespread environmental damage in India caused by the rush to mass produce GM food.
“Look at India’s Green Revolution. It worked for a short time but now the price is being paid.
“I have been to the Punjab where you have seen the disasters that have taken place as result of the over demand on irrigation because of the hybrid seeds and grains that have been produced which demand huge amounts of water.
“[The] water table has disappeared. They have huge problems with water level, with pesticide problems, and complications which are now coming home to roost.
“Look at western Australia. Huge salinisation problems. I have been there. Seen it. Some of the excessive approaches to modern forms of agriculture.”
He said that the scientists were putting too much pressure on nature.
“If you are not working with natural assistance you cause untold problems. which become very expensive and very difficult to undo.
It places impossible burdens on nature and leads to accumulating problems which become more difficult to sort out.”
In a keynote speech last year the Prince of Wales warned that the world faces a series of natural disasters within 18 months unless a £15 billion action plan is agreed to save the world’s rain forests.
He has set up his own rain forest project with 15 of the world’s largest companies, environmental and economic experts, to try to find ways to stop their destruction.
Only two weeks ago British GM researchers lobbied ministers for their crops to be kept in high-security facilities or in fields at secret locations across the country to prevent them from being attacked and destroyed.
They spoke out after protesters ripped up crops in one of only two GM trials to be approved in Britain this year.
Scientists claim the repeated attacks on their trials are stifling vital research to evaluate whether GM crops can reduce the cost and environmental impact of farming and whether they will grow better in harsh environments where droughts have devastated harvests.
By Jeff Randall