Is Princess Anne right to disagree with her brother Prince Charles about the benefits of GM crops?

The Queen's 90th Birthday Celebration - Opening Night
Princess Anne said gene technology has real benefits to offer (Source: Getty)

Sam Bowman, executive director of the Adam Smith Institute, says Yes.

Those who spread misinformation and lies about GM foods have caused the disabilities and deaths of millions. Any commercially available GM crop has been rigorously tested and found to be safe, and they are widespread in the US without incident.

Many could transform millions of lives. Golden Rice is modified to contain higher levels of Vitamin A, for the 2m people who die every year from vitamin A deficiency and the 500,000 children who go blind. Its patents are open source and licences are free, as with many other GM crops.

But its progress has been delayed needlessly. Environmentalist vandals have destroyed fields of it being used in safety trials and Greenpeace has lobbied the governments of poor countries to ban it. Delays in India alone have cost an estimated 1,424,000 life years.

Other GM crops can make food cheaper by withstanding frost better, growing more quickly, or rotting more slowly. Shame on Prince Charles for denying the science, and thank goodness his sister has a bit more sense.

Tim Worstall, a writer and author of Chasing Rainbows: Economic Myths, Environmental Facts, says No.

It’s always painful to watch sibling rivalry from outside the family, but Charles does actually have a point about GM crops. Perhaps not the one he generally makes – which is that they are the very devil which must be abhorred – but it’s also true that we’re not entirely certain about them yet.

Yes, we’ve not seen problems so far with those that are being used in some parts of the world, but we’re still pretty early doors about some of what could be done. And the philosopher and mathematician Nassim Taleb does have a point that GM crops might introduce systemic risk into the environment – what could or would happen if it all got out of control?

In fact, it’s not risk that we face here, it’s what economists call uncertainty. That justifies great caution. But there’s a much more important point to be made. If Charles doesn’t wish to use GM crops, Charles doesn’t have to. For we do claim to be a free society and “don’t want” means “don’t have to” in one of those.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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