Are We Playing God with the Natural Food Chain?; Where Will Genetic Engineering End? Asks Finola Lynch

Article excerpt

They are called Vegadura and Vegaspeso and they are not the names of two tacky Tenerife nightclubs but a new strain of neo-tomato.

Genetically-modified (GM) this Vega-miracle does not ripen as quickly as your bog standard garden variety and out-sells all other toms by 2:1 in the guise of Sainsbury's and Safeway's own-brand tomato puree.

Admittedly the product is cheaper but consumers know the essential ingredient has been genetically modified because it says so on the label.

Are shoppers merely letting themselves be used as guinea-pigs in a global food experiment, the long-term results of which could be devastating both to the natural food chain, our environment and even our health?

Or can we trust the food scientists who claim anything from fish to bacteria can be added to foodstuffs to make them pest-resistant and a potential Third World life-saver?

More remarkable in the short-term was the timing of the Prince of Wales who finally chose the right moment to air his views on farming.

A few years ago a public outcry by Prince Charles might have done the cause against genetically-modified organisms more harm than good.

But the organic-farming prince proved yesterday his ideas were light-years ahead of his time.

While the rest of Britain has been spoilt by rows of perfectly-formed vegetables piled high like sweets in supermarkets, the Prince of Wales has been pictured in wellies and mud eulogising about the joys of organic farming.

He was dismissed as a crackpot, a man desperate to be taken seriously and therefore susceptible to being hijacked by cause-politics.

But in a devastating letter in The Daily Telegraph, Prince Charles set the agenda on GM farming and sent its advocates running for cover behind their test tubes and scientific jargon.

"I happen to believe that this kind of genetic modification takes mankind into realms that belong to God, and to God alone.

"Apart from certain highly beneficial and specific medical applications, do we have the right to experiment with, and commercialise, the building blocks of life? We live in an age of rights - it seems to me that it is time our Creator had some rights as well."

It is the unforeseen consequences of GM farming on a wide scale which worries Prince Charles as well as organisations like Greenpeace and English Nature and their fears chime with growing public awareness about mass farming and its affects on the food ch ain, as tragically demonstrated by the on-going BSE crisis. For now genetically-modified crops cannot be grown commercially in this country but three crops have just been given the thumbs-up by the European Union and are reportedly already in the ground. Farmers are just waiting for the specially-designed pesticides to be given the allear.

But in this country the latest buzz word in the food industry is "traceability". Consumers are no longer willing to trust supermarkets and food producers. They want to know where their food came from right down to the seed or farm animal. …