Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Organic Gardener Prince Charles Mudwrestling With Genetically Modified Food Manufacturers

Prince Charles is an avid organic gardener and promoter of natural, locally grown foods.

In 2005 he worked on a successful co-op to help small local farmers and producers compete in the world market. But an interview he gave went from a happy PR piece to a major food fight with the manufacturers of Genetically Modified foods, Big Agriculture and chemical companies among others.

Surveys show that Americans don't like GM food and won't buy it when it is labeled as such. So why don't we have discussions about this in the US? You're already eating GM foods and there are so many loopholes in labeling laws you'd be hard pressed to find out about it. But that's a discussion for another day. At least they are discussing it somewhere.

Here's how the Telegraph interview started out:

I am here for an update from the Prince on his initiative to help farmers and fishermen of Scotland's Highlands - Caithness, Sutherland and Ross-shire - compete more profitably in their dealings with supermarkets. The scheme reflects not just his family's traditional links with the area but a deep personal conviction about the evils of industrialised food production.

What's the latest on North Highland Products (NHP), the co-operative of local producers brought together by the Prince in 2005?

For an enterprise that was started on a shoestring with just 13 members, its rapid success has been a surprise, not least to many local farmers who had become tired and suspicious of official efforts to ease their plight.

Today, NHP embraces 481 farmers, six fisherman and five distilleries, plus some clothing outlets. From a standing start, its annual turnover has jumped to more than £10m, with hopes and plans for hitting £40m by 2001. …

It's "a marketing and branding exercise", explains the Prince, enabling NHP to "tell a good story". The royal role in the operation is, however, much more than banging heads together and co-ordinating ideas.

The trick is that all the beef, lamb, mutton, geese, seafood, cheeses, biscuits, oatcakes, honey, conserves, wool products and whisky from co-operative members are sold under a single brand, Mey Selections, the logo of which is a print of a watercolour, painted by the Prince, of the castle.


So far so good. And what a cool business model eh?

Here's where it went off the rails:

At the heart of Mey Selections is sustainability (music to the Prince's ears). The ingredients have to be sourced within 100 miles of the castle. Its promotions boast: "Natural, environmentally-friendly methods of farming, fishing and production are supported by the company's commitment to a supply chain which has minimal impact on its suroundings."

Yes, yes, I say. But isn't this trying to turn back the clock? It's a nice thought that we might be able to feed the poor from family-run units where the animals live like residents at the Ritz, but in the real world Old MacDonald's Farm has come and gone. The solution, surely, is mass production?

At this point, something snaps; the Prince can take no more. Throughout our conversation he has been calm, measured and disinclined to rubbish the supermarket chains which, I suspect, he regards as doers of the devil's work, turning Cotswold villages into miserable clone towns.

But my suggestion that Big Food, industrial-scale operators, are the way ahead sends him whizzing off piste. Jabbing his finger at me, he lets rip: "What, all run by gigantic corporations? Is that really the answer? I think not. That would be the absolute destruction of everything and... the classic way of ensuring that there is no food in the future."

Bouncing in his chair, the Prince sets out his nightmare vision, a world in which millions of small farmers "are driven off their land [by global conglomerates] into unsustainable, unmanageable, degraded and dysfunctional conurbations of unmentionable awfulness".

If that's how it's going to be, he says, "count me out". We are missing the point. We should be discussing "food security not food production".

Without naming names, he goes after the "clever" genetic engineers who have put us on course for the "biggest disaster environmentally of all time". We should be working, he says, "with Nature.

We have gone working against Nature for too long." But these corporate monsters have engaged in "an experiment that's gone seriously wrong, causing untold problems which become very expensive and very difficult to undo". Monsanto, I imagine, will not be on his Christmas drinks list.

Read the entire piece here:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/portal/main.jhtml?xml=/portal/2008/08/13/ftcharles113.xml


Now, as we say in the States; It's on. The Prince has been called names by public officials, chemical company execs and paid scientists are lining up to throw their genetically-modified-to-resist-pesticides tomatoes at him.

The most interesting article to come out of all this is a piece by Wales Online. Called Everything You Wanted To Know About GM Food But Were Afraid To Ask, it gives a interesting look at the issue from both sides:
http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2008/08/17/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-gm-food-but-were-afraid-to-ask-91466-21546585/

Interesting reading you won't see in the States.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Laura,

I'm from Australia and our farmers are very jealous of yours. Genetic modification is the latest and best crop breeding technology in the world.

The labelling debate is happening here at the moment. We do label GM but only if you can detect a difference in the final product. We have looked at wider labelling and some still want it but it would impose huge costs on our food industries and make them less competitive with overseas imports (which will probably contain GM).

One last thing, I'd hardly call the article you link to balanced as it references a scientist (Pusztai) who has been thoroughly discredited in the scientific community and whose results have never been repeated despite several attempts. Any scientist who goes to the media before his peers is questionable in my opinion.

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