Future shock, this?

 
Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

Prince Charles turns the heat on genetic modification

PRINCE Charles' recent comments on genetically modified (gm) crops have kicked up a storm in uk. The heir apparent to the British throne perhaps did not bargain for so strident a backlash, especially from the Labour government, when he commented that adoption of gm farming will lead to "the biggest disaster, environmentally, of all time". The Prince accused "gigantic corporations" of experimenting with nature "which has gone seriously wrong". Phil Woolas, Britain's environment minister, reacted swifty and challenged the Prince to prove his claims insisting that the government will not stop the gm crop trials unless science proves them harmful. In doing so, the minister has completely turned the precautionary principle on its head.

Precautionary principle demands that in the absence of scientific consensus on the likely harmful effects on public health and environment of any new product, policy or action, the burden of proof falls on those who recommend them. Clearly, in case of gm technology, there has never been any consensus. The scientific community is sharply divided on the question of how safe gm crops and products are. Some scientists have called the Prince's comments 'unscientific' and 'ill-informed'. Just a few months back their colleagues had released a report asserting that gm crops will not play a major role in addressing the challenges of climate change, loss of biodiversity, hunger and poverty. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development report was drafted by about 4,000 scientific and social science experts from around the world. Even then the debate over gm technology does not die down.

For the most part, it has been transnational corporations that have been developing these crops and then using their clout and muscle-power to push through pro- gm policies. In many countries, as in India, the entire process had been kept away from the public domain, refusing researchers and activists access to data and studies. gm technology warrants a public debate. That can happen only when all safety related data are in the public domain. But corporations will never allow that. By decrying gm crops Prince Charles only articulated the apprehension of millions of people around the globe. It is only natural to be wary of something that one does not know or understand fully.

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