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Clause 19

Volume 173: debated on Thursday 7 June 1990

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Special Provisions For Particular Foods Etc

I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 15, line 5, leave out

`or novel food sources'
and insert
',or food sources from which such foods are intended to be derived,'.

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 6 to 8.

This series of amendments clarifies the scope of clause 19. I explained in Committee that we proposed that foods produced by genetic modification should be subject to a positive approval system, based on advice from the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes, before marketing. I agreed to look at the provisions again.

The amendments will ensure that all foods produced by genetic modification are brought within the scope of clause 19. The amendments specifically provide for regulating the carrying out of commercial operations with such food and I hope that the specific reference to genetic modification on the face of the Bill will be helpful to clarify our intentions.

The House will recall that our announcement in Committee was warmly welcomed by the National Consumer Council, in a press statement from its chairman, Lady Wilcox. It is a sensible series of amendments.

I regret that we are discussing such an important issue late at night with little chance to examine the enormous implications of developments on the frontiers of science that affect food and society.

I served on the Committee considering the Environmental Protection Bill and the matter was discussed in great detail, although it was allocated insufficient time because of scheduling. The discussion on genetically modified organisms occurred late at night arid there was insufficient time to consider the matter in great depth.

Genetically modified organisms have major implications as well as considerable advantages. Clause 19 provides powers to control the use of food which contains genetically modified organisms or which had been modified. Will the Minister explain how his advisory committee will link in with the proposals in the Environmental Protection Bill? Will he be guided by the release committee? Are the powers in clause 19 fall-back powers to be used as a last-ditch defence, or does he expect the research work and clearance to be covered under the regulations set out in the Environmental Protection Bill?

That raises another question: genetically modified foods may be safe, but are they desirable? Is the Minister confident that such issues are covered by clause 19? Another matter that has been discussed, especially in Europe, involves the so-called fourth hurdle—assessing whether a genetically modified food is safe, meets a particular need and is desirable. We have discussed the way in which BST can increase milk yields, but does society need BST?

One genetically modified food organism has been allowed to go on sale for public use in Britain—genetically modified yeast. I do not doubt that that yeast has undergone the proper vetting procedures and has been considered very carefully, but although it is safe, was that form of genetically modified yeast needed or desired? I understand that it was designed for the baking industry. I am informed that the industry never made any request that that form of yeast should be accepted.

Genetically modified organisms raise wider issues for the Food Safety Bill and food regulations. For example, work is already being carried out to modify the naturally produced sugar in plants to produce sugar such as high fructose corn syrup which can replace cane sugar in many food processes. That raises the question whether implications on Third world countries and the sugar cane industry should be taken into consideration. I accept that some issues are outside the scope of the Bill, but we have not given them the detailed consideration that they deserve and we should carefully examine all the implications and consequences.

The amendment deals with IVF. The Government included that issue to make it clear that IVF is an accepted practice within the food industry and should not be caught by the new regulations. However, I am sure that the Minister will accept that much of the research into genetically modified organisms is aimed at animal husbandry and the development of particular animals. Animals may be developed that contain genetic modification and there may be artificial insemination with animals that have not. Is the Minister confident that the amendments will cover the use of sperm that has been genetically modified or is from a genetically modified source in IVF? Under the Bill, that may be acceptable. It is important that that is covered in regulations.

10.45 pm

I can give the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) the assurances he seeks. He asked whether everything was covered by the amendments. It is because we wanted to ensure that everything was covered that we have brought forward these revisions and improved wording.

There are two parts to the role of the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes. It is concerned with novel foods—that is, foods not previously consumed here—and with novel food processes and food produced by such processes. Novel foods are covered by clause 19 and we are now making specific provision to ensure that all foods produced by genetic modification are covered by that clause. Processes involving novel processes and the food produced by such processes could be regulated if necessary using the separate powers in clause 17(1) (c) and (f).

The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe asked about our interface with the other committees on genetic modification. I assure him that there is interface and that our provisions slot in nicely with their role. If he wants more detail, I shall be happy to write to him with specific details on how we envisage the way in which the other committees will operate and how they link with the ACNFP.

The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe also asked me whether sperm would be covered by the group of amendments. Yes, they are. That is a good example of something further back in the chain that is covered.

The one point on which I will not give the hon. Gentleman assurances is on the so-called "fourth hurdle", and the vague and subjective definition of socio-economic need. The amendments are not concerned with that. The role of ACNFP and the role of the amendments is to ensure that genetically modified organisms that may be a food source are safe. I do not want the role of the ACNFP to change radically to include making distinctions on whether it is socially good or nice for consumers to want to have certain products. It should be left to consumers to decide whether they need or want to use a genetically modified yeast. It is the job of the Government to ensure that it is safe; it is the job of consumers to decide whether they want it. I hope that those reassurances are satisfactory to the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 6, in page 15, line 6, after `regulations', insert—

'(aa) for prohibiting the carrying out of such operations with respect to genetically modified food sources, or foods derived from such food sources, of any class so specified;'.

No. 7, in page 15, line 9, leave out 'either' and insert 'each'.'

No. 8, in page 15, leave out lines 33 and 34 and insert—

'(4) For the purposes of this section a food source is genetically modified if any of the genes or other genetic material in the food source—
  • (a) has been modified by means of an artificial technique; or
  • (b) is inherited or otherwise derived, through any number of replications, from genetic material which was so modified;
  • and in this subsection "artificial technique" does not include any technique which involves no more than, or no more than the assistance of, naturally occurring processes of reproduction (including selective breeding techniques or in vitro fertilisation).'—[Mr. Maclean.]