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Genetically Modified Organisms

Volume 407: debated on Wednesday 18 June 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when she expects to implement the recommendations of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee's Fifth Report of Session 2001–02, on Genetically Modified Organisms. [119545]

The Government response published on 24 October 2002 agreed with all of the conclusions and recommendations in the Committee's report. This centred on the then proposed GM public debate, now underway, and eventual decisions on the commercial cultivation of GM crops. We have implemented, or are implementing, all the recommendations relevant to Government.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether the precautionary principle, set out in the EU Directive 2001/18/EC and in the Environmental Protection Act 1990, has been adhered to in the farm scale evaluation programme; and if it is her policy that it will be adhered to in the Government's forthcoming decisions relating to GM crops. [118575]

The Government is firmly committed to taking a precautionary approach to decision making on GMO releases, this had always been the case under directive 90/220/EEC and is now explicitly recognised in directive 2001/18/EC and the national legislation that transposes it. Each proposed GMO release is subject to an evidence-based, case-by-case assessment of the potential risks to human health or the environment and approved only if the applicant can satisfy the regulatory authorities that all appropriate measures are being taken to avoid adverse effects.The farm scale evaluations are an example of the Government's precautionary approach working in practice. In 1998, a genuine concern was raised about the potential impact on farmland wildlife of the herbicide use associated with GM herbicide-tolerant crops. We established the programme to investigate these concerns, and secured the agreement of the biotechnology industry that no GM crops would be grown commercially in the UK until the evaluations were complete.The companies who developed the GM crops in the evaluations had already made applications at European level through directive 90/220 for approval for commercial cultivation. This requires the submission of a comprehensive dossier of information about the GMO and its properties and an environmental risk assessment. In one case (T25 maize) approval for commercial cultivation had already been granted. The risks to the environment of carrying out the farm scale evaluations were explicitly addressed before they commenced based on advice from the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment. The trials have been closely monitored and could and would have been halted if necessary.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent representations she has received from the United States government regarding (a) the EU moratorium on the growing of GM crops and (b) the licensing of GM crops in the EU. [119258]

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State regularly discusses issues raised by GM crops with her counterparts from the United States and other nations. However, details of these exchanges are not recorded centrally.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) how many invitations have been sent out for each of the planned debates on GM crops; [119260]

(2) what assessment she has made of the adequacy of the size of each venue chosen to host GM public debates. [119261]

GM Nation?—the public debate on GM issues—is being conducted by an independent steering board at arm's length from Government. The regional launch meetings organised by the steering board in Birmingham, Swansea, Taunton, Belfast, Glasgow and Harrogate were open to the public on a first come, first served basis—no specific invitations were issued. The events involved facilitated active participation in small discussion groups, which limited their overall size, and the venues chosen were sufficient for this purpose. In the event, the numbers of tickets requested were in line with the capacity of all the venues selected. Two sessions were held at Taunton in response to public demand.In addition to these regional launch events, local authorities, other organisations and members of the public are being encouraged to organise their own local debates with the help of a debate toolkit. Copies of the toolkit are provided for each participant and facilitators can be provided on request for the larger county council level meetings. Members of the public can also get involved in the debate through the interactive debate website at