In a move that has angered environmentalists, Britain's future trade ambassador is set to deliver an opening speech at Bio2001, the world's largest trade fair organised for the biotechnology industry, on 25 June.

Prince Andrew's visit is at the express request of the event's organisers, and has also prompted rumours of an ideological split within Buckingham Palace. His elder brother Charles, the Prince of Wales, has openly condemned GM technology and agriculture and ploughed money into organic farming ventures. 

The palace commented last night, "The Foreign Office has looked at his [Andrew's] programme very closely. He will be supporting a wide range of British companies who will be at the trade fair. He will be speaking in general support of trade and will not be commenting in a policy-setting context about the biotech industry."

The attendance of the high-profile speaker has been described as a "public relations coup" for the US biotech industry: "It's incredible that this government is underwriting him to push a technology that they cannot give away at home. This will inevitably be widely reported as a royal stamp of approval for the GM industry," said Charlie Kronick of the environmental action group Greenpeace.

The event, which is held in San Diego and organised by the Biotechnology Industry Organisation, is sponsored by a variety of companies lauded by environmental groups. Among others present are Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences, Aventis, Astra Zeneca, Merck and Bayer. The two latter firms recently took court action against the South African in a bid to prevent the distribution of cheap generic AIDS drugs.