Princess Anne has given her backing to genetically modified crops, putting her on a collision course with her brother, the Prince of Wales, who has said in the past they could cause ‘environmental disaster’.
An active farmer and patron of almost 50 countryside organisations, Princess Anne told BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today GM crops have important benefits for providing food and she would be open to growing them on her land.
“To say we must not go there ‘just in case’ is probably not a practical argument”, she said.
“Gene technology has got real benefits to offer. It would maybe have an occasional downside but I suspect not very many.
“We grow some very good plants here remarkably easily. I do not see the problem in saying ‘is there something we could do to improve their abilities?’”
The Princess also suggested she would be open to using GM to help improve the health of her rare-breed cattle.
Prince Charles, who runs his own organic farm, has very different views.
A royal patron of the Soil Association, he has said GM crops damage the earth’s soil and even appeared to link their use to climate change in an interview with The Telegraph in 2008.
He has expressed mistrust of the ‘gigantic corporations’ behind GM technology and claimed in 1998 they were taking us into ‘realms which belong to God and God alone’.
The royal row came as the EU parliament voted to ban the import of 20 GM maize varieties from Syngenta for use in feed and food.
Keith Taylor, Green MEP for the South East and a member of the EU Environment Committee said: “This is a right royal stitch up. Princess Anne holds no elected public office and is supposed to remain politically neutral. Yet she is using her considerable unearned status to push a nakedly political agenda.
“In stark contrast, just this week, I joined elected MEPs from across Europe to vote against the import and use of untested GM maize in the EU.
“It is the sixth time in just over a year the European Parliament has signalled its opposition to the approval of new GM foods.”
But the NFU’s chief science and regulatory affairs adviser Helen Ferrier said British farmers should have the choice to access the best technologies to ensure they can remain competitive and produce high-quality food while protecting the environment.