In Depth

Princess Anne takes on Prince Charles over GM food

Princess Royal says gene technology - which her brother is steadfastly against - is the future of farming

A new BBC interview with Princess Anne has exposed what appears to be a division in the royal family over genetically modified crops.

The Princess Royal told Radio 4's Farming Today programme that arguments against GM crops were "not practical" and she would grow them on her own land if permitted.

She acknowledged that GM seeds are "one of those things that divides people".

She may well have had a particular person in mind – her brother, Prince Charles, who has long been a passionate campaigner against the technology.

What are GM crops?

Genetically modified crops are plants that have had their DNA engineered in a laboratory to enhance or eliminate certain traits.

For instance, seeds might be artificially modified to be resistant to a common disease or to be more resilient in a cold climate or in a drought.

Genetic modification can also be used on livestock. Its advocates say the technology is essential for securing the world's future food needs while its opponents argue that interfering with DNA could pose risks to the environment and to human health.

The EU has been especially reluctant to embrace genetic modification, and to date has only approved one GM product since 1998, writes the Daily Telegraph.

The issue of GM crops is back in the spotlight as a side-effect of Brexit. In October last year, agriculture minister George Eustice confirmed the government was looking at future regulations of GM crops after Brexit.

What are Princess Anne's views?

The Princess Royal, a keen agriculturalist, told Radio 4 that continuing advancements in genetic technology offered "real benefits" to the modern farmer.

"If we're going to be better at producing food of the right value, then we have to accept that genetic technology - whether you call it modification or anything else - is going to be part of that," she said.

Princess Anne added that GM crops and livestock were not as unnatural. "Most of us would argue that we've been genetically modifying food since man started to be agrarian," she said.

She confirmed she would consider using gene technology on her own livestock and plants when EU restrictions cease to apply.

Why might that upset Prince Charles?

Genetically modified food is one of the topics on which the environmentally-minded royal has been particularly outspoken.

In 2008, the prince accused proponents of GM farming of "conducting a gigantic experiment with nature", a remark that attracted criticism from a large segment of the scientific community, says The Guardian.

Charles is also the royal patron of the Soil Association, which campaigns against GM crops and GM ingredients in food, says the Daily Telegraph.

Prince Charles has not responded to his sister's defence of GM food, which comes as no surprise: in a 2014 interview with BBC's Countryfile, Princess Anne said that the pair "seldom" discuss their opposing views on the issue.

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