Motion to Approve
My Lords, I declare my farming interests, as set out in the register. I also much look forward to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Mendoza. I hope it would be useful to your Lordships if I speak to both the Organic Products (Production and Control) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 and the Genetically Modified Organisms (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, given the connection between the two instruments.
There are no changes to our policy on either organic products or genetically modified organisms. Amendments are required primarily as a result of the Northern Ireland protocol and to ensure that existing legislation continues to operate as intended. As established in the protocol, EU legislation will continue to apply to Northern Ireland. The existing EU exit legislation needs minor technical amendments to reflect the fact that retained EU law, whether on organics or GMOs, will be substantively applicable only in Great Britain. The changes do no more than is necessary to meet our legal obligations under the Northern Ireland protocol and ensure a workable legislative regime in Great Britain.
The first instrument makes minor amendments to the UK’s organics legislation to ensure that the regulatory regime is operable at the end of the transition period, in line with the Northern Ireland protocol. References to United Kingdom have been changed to Great Britain in the Organic Production and Control (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, and the Organic Products (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.
The instrument also amends retained EU legislation to allow organic producers to continue to use 5% of non-organic protein feed for organic porcine and poultry, until the end of 2022. The EU has taken the same decision to extend the derogation. No new policy is introduced by the instrument and the UK’s world-class standards are maintained. The Government are strongly supportive of organic standards, many of which were developed in the UK and adopted by the EU.
Under the protocol, EU law on organics will continue to have effect in Northern Ireland. Retained EU law will apply substantively only to Great Britain. This means that the Northern Irish organics market will remain the same, and we are working closely with Northern Irish colleagues to prepare for the end of the transition period, including setting up a Northern Ireland competent authority on organics. We remain committed to ensuring trade between GB and Northern Ireland continues. We are going to recognise the EU as an equivalent organic regime to the UK until 2022, providing certainty on imports for the immediate future. We hope that the EU will reciprocate very soon.
There are 6,000, predominantly small and medium-sized, UK organics operators, which contribute over £2.5 billion to the UK economy, including exports worth over £250 million. The statutory instrument relates to devolved matters and the respective devolved Administrations have consented to it.
The second instrument concerns existing EU exit legislation on GMOs. As I explained earlier, this instrument has the primary purpose of making technical amendments to the existing EU exit legislation, which are required in consequence of the protocol. I stress that we have not made any change to our policy on GMOs.
Detailed EU legislation currently provides a robust framework for the approval of GMOs and related matters to protect the environment and human health. Our existing exit legislation is intended to maintain this regime after the end of the transition period. It was prepared on the basis that those arrangements would be needed throughout the United Kingdom.
As a result of the protocol, the EU legislation on GMOs will continue to apply in Northern Ireland. We must amend EU retained law to ensure that it is operable in Great Britain. The amendments are to change references to the United Kingdom or institutions in the United Kingdom to Great Britain or institutions in Great Britain. This instrument also revokes amendments to Northern Irish legislation that are no longer required because of the protocol.
In addition to the provisions already described, this instrument makes a further amendment to retained direct EU legislation relating to traceability and labelling of GMOs. This additional amendment revokes a legislation-making power currently conferred on the Commission, as it will have no practical application in Great Britain after the end of the transition period.
Failure to adopt the instrument would mean that the retained EU law on GMOs would, by continuing to refer to the United Kingdom and UK institutions, be defective for Great Britain. It is also potentially confusing for Northern Ireland, as it suggests that the retained EU law applies there, when this is not the case. It will also mean that amendments to Northern Ireland legislation, which are not needed in light of the protocol, would take effect.
GMO policy is a devolved matter and will remain so. The devolved Administrations were closely engaged in the development of this instrument and gave their consent for it to be laid. The amendments contained in these instruments are required due to our exit from the European Union and to ensure that the Northern Ireland protocol can operate as intended. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that clear exposition of the regulations. Like him, I feel we are privileged today to have the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Mendoza. I look forward to hearing it shortly, as I am sure all noble Lords do.
I support these regulations. Clearly, the regulation of organic products and genetically modified organisms is a vital concern for our country—indeed, for all parts of our country, as these are devolved matters. I realise that the primary purpose of these regulations is to provide for the laws governing these areas to operate in accordance with the Northern Ireland protocol after the end of the transition period. In many areas, we are providing similarly. Just recently, we provided similarly for organs for transplant and blood products, where Northern Ireland is to be treated as a member state, with Great Britain as a third party.
That is consistent with the withdrawal agreement signed by the United Kingdom and is topical in your Lordships’ House in the light of the votes last night. I wonder if my noble friend can comment on whether those votes will result in Great Britain being treated as a third party, for customs purposes, and Northern Ireland being treated as a continuing member state, in accordance with the withdrawal agreement. I feel sure that my noble friend will modestly say that that is above his pay grade, but also that he will have some insights in this area.
More specifically, I ask my noble friend to comment on the production, processing, labelling and importing of organic products and our inspection systems. I note what he said about there being no immediate intention to diverge from the European rules and standards, and my noble friend touched on these matters during discussions on the Agriculture Bill. But I wonder, looking forward, whether there is any intention to diverge from EU standards and rules, other than de minimis. Similarly, I wonder whether we are intending to diverge from EU rules and standards, in any way other than de minimis, on controls for the production, movement, traceability, labelling and marketing of GMOs. With those specific questions, I am content to give these regulations my total support. They make a lot of sense.
My Lords, I refer to my farming interests, as listed in the register.
I, too, support the Government in their efforts to retain continuity of regulation in these important areas. The move towards ever more organic food and farming methods can only be a good thing for health and the environment, but are the Government confident that the paperwork that will be required from producers, especially regarding Northern Ireland, is in place?
When we discussed pesticides last week in your Lordships’ House, I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, say that, as we left the CAP, his Government would be strenuously moving to an ethos of sustainability. I am sure that the Minister would understand that small farms find it very hard economically to make the transition to organic. Here in mid-Wales, I have seen several of them falter on the way. I hope this is an area which he and his department might look at sympathetically in the future.
On genetically modified organisms, the checks and balances are, of course, essential, and we must ensure that no loosening of the reins can occur. Having said that, research here in this country has very real benefits in areas such as Africa, where conditions require special crops that can withstand drought, blight and insect predators. These are of huge significance to feeding an ever-growing and often starving population, and, of course, there are knock-on effects in domestic agriculture.
One of the great virtues of your Lordships’ House, in my humble opinion, is the sheer diversity of expertise on offer, so it is a very real pleasure to precede and welcome my noble friend Lord Mendoza. His knowledge of publishing, churches, painting and culture suggest that he will make valuable contributions to your Lordships’ deliberations. I am very much looking forward to his maiden speech.
My Lords, I had imagined that joining your Lordships’ House might prove intimidating, but the welcome I have had from everyone has been extremely friendly. I thank in particular the police officers, the security staff and the doorkeepers. Black Rod, the Clerk of the Parliaments and officials here have all helped me to begin the process of fathoming how this place works. The embrace of the Government Whips’ Office has been a particular delight. I also thank the Prime Minister for nominating me, and my noble friend Lady Finn and the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, for acting as my supporters.
I hope that your Lordships will indulge me in speaking on a subject that has occupied a large part of my life since March. I have the honour to serve as the Government’s Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal. Your Lordships will know that this is a hard and perilous time for organisations and people in the cultural sector. Cruelly, often the more independent the organisation, the most commercial it is and the least reliant it has been on government grant, and the harder it has been as audiences and visitors have been kept away.
Since March, I have played a part in conceiving, developing and overseeing the necessary £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund. I am proud of what has been achieved to date through so many working together. It has relied on ministerial leadership and joined-up working by brilliant officials across DCMS, the Treasury and No. 10. It has brought together great arm’s-length bodies, such as Arts Council England, Historic England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the British Film Institute. There have been regular working groups covering museums, entertainment, tourism and heritage, bringing in knowledgeable sector expertise.
Over the last weeks, thousands of grants, large and small, have been announced for places up and down the country—for churches and cathedrals, heritage sites, steam railways, museums and galleries, dance, theatre, orchestras, music venues, festivals, arts centres and independent cinemas. Many have never had or needed public funding before. The process will carry on over the coming weeks. It will not end the crisis for culture, but it will help. We continue to work to get places open, with fuller audiences and visitors where we can, so that they can continue to bring joy and happiness, promote economic growth, help society and add vibrancy to local communities, villages, towns and cities. Culture will return.
Turning to the SIs, as the Minister clearly explained, the Government are not altering regulatory policy at the moment. The SIs are keeping in place existing regimes that come over from retained EU law. At the risk of repeating what the Minister said, they amend the 2019 regulations to refer to Great Britain rather than to the UK in order to help the legislation operate in line with the Northern Ireland protocol.
As provost of Oriel College at the University of Oxford, I witnessed the wonderful range of academic endeavour from arts to sciences. I am privileged to be able to discuss the work of students, researchers and academics in, for example, biochemistry, biomedicine and medicine. Powerful gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR-Cas9 are now ubiquitous. They are used to develop GMOs and potential therapies and cures for a range of diseases, such as some forms of blindness and cancer. This country leads in much of that research. I support legislation that allows this progress to flourish.
I congratulate my noble friend on his excellent speech. We have more in common than he may realise. We were both brought up in the suburbs of north London, we went to private day schools on the edge of London, and then, as he knows, we both went to Oriel College, Oxford. What he may not know is that we both applied to be provost of Oriel College. There the similarities end. He became provost. I was not considered. I know why, because I have good intelligence; it was because I was too old. As it happens, that is pretty sensible, because I am too old, but the 2010 Equalities Act might have had something to say about that.
I had a rather undistinguished military career and then became a Member of Parliament because I needed a job. He has had a stellar career, which we heard only a little about in his speech. With great enterprise, he founded Forward Publishing, with Will Sieghart. With even greater enterprise, and I suspect some financial benefit, he sold it 15 years later to WPP. Since then, he has made a name in the cultural field and in the arts charities’ fields. There is too much to list, but he was chairman of the Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts, he is chairman of the Landmark Trust, he was a commissioner of Historic England, and this year, as we have heard, he was appointed the Government’s Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal—et cetera, et cetera. As we can tell from his speech, he has a huge amount to offer this House, and we look forward to further contributions, when Oriel College can spare him.
Oriel, our college, was the very fortunate recipient, about a century ago, of a large donation from Cecil Rhodes, which built undergraduate accommodation—the Rhodes building—where there is a statue of him. I regret that some woke members of the governing body, possibly ones rather ignorant of history or with a different interpretation of history than some of us, wish to rewrite history. Rhodes was a very controversial, unpopular figure in his time, who was much criticised. He fought the Boers and his nadir was the Jameson raid against the Transvaal. However, the descendants of the Boers he fought founded apartheid half a century later. His rather uninteresting and usually unregarded statute is part of history and part of the historic built environment of Oxford. I particularly regret that there are pusillanimous dons trying to curry favour with left-wing students by trying to bring the statue down.
My noble friend Lord Mendoza has been outed as a Tory. I fear that he may find himself in a minority on the governing body; the only Tory in the village, we might say. However, I hope that he will bring some balance and common sense to Oxford University, which remains an institution that is admired around the world. In welcoming him, I should tell him that we have one last shared interest, which I only discovered yesterday when he gave me some political betting tips. I am also a political gambler, so I am very grateful for his tips.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the noble Lord, Lord Mendoza. His excellent maiden speech was probably indicative of the amount of effort that he will put into the House of Lords, despite all his work outside, and I hope that he will find time to educate all of us on these Benches.
I shall deal with the organic products statutory instrument first. The organic food sector is worth about £2.3 billion a year. It would obviously be good if we had even more organic growers and farmers, but part of the problem is the transition. Therefore, is there going to be any sort of government plan not to reduce the transition time of three years but perhaps to enable growers to use the label “transition”, so that people know that they are on their way and that their products cannot be called “organic” but they are trying to get there?
Perhaps the Minister can also tell me whether the Government have any plans to diverge from EU standards. This has been raised before. If they do, how will that affect Northern Ireland?
On the GMO amendment regulations, the Government say that the Administrations of Wales and Scotland will be able to make their own decisions about whether, and in what circumstances, to authorise GMOs. How does that fit with the internal markets Bill? If the UK Government decided to authorise certain GMOs in England, would Wales and Scotland then be forced to accept those GMO products under the internal market rules? I hope that the Minister can give me an answer to those questions.
My Lords, first, I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Mendoza on an excellent maiden speech. I am confident that he will bring a lot of his expertise to this House. He shares Oriel College with my noble friend Lord Robathan. I shared my school days with my noble friend Lord Robathan, and that just goes to show what diversity we have both at school and in universities. I congratulate my noble friend on a typically uncontroversial speech.
I should also like to say to my noble friend Lord Mendoza that I am sure that those in the Government Whips’ Office are very grateful for the thanks that he gave them. They do not often get thanks but, if there is any place where you can find cultural recovery and renewal, it will be in that office. They are not having a very easy time of it—not helped by my recent voting record—so I offer them my support.
I thank my noble friend Lord Gardiner for his clear explanation of the need for these regulations, and I support them. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that I too am a supporter of organic products, but I think that sometimes we have made a mistake. Other countries—France, in particular—call them “bioproducts”, which might be a little more appetising to the public.
On the other hand, I have always had somewhat conflicted views on GM organisms. In 1999, as a relatively newly elected MP, together with two other MPs on a cross-party basis, I took the Government to the High Court over the regulation of GM seeds. However, this is not the moment to debate the merits or otherwise of GM organisms. As this is a devolved matter, presumably it is possible to end up with different regimes throughout the UK. I am not sure that that is a good thing but, in other ways, I fully support these measures.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.
I am delighted to warmly welcome my noble friend Lord Mendoza. I hope that he will not be led too far astray by my noble friend Lord Randall so early in his parliamentary career.
I also take this opportunity to thank my noble friend Lord Gardiner for introducing these regulations. I shall limit my remarks to the Organic Products (Production and Control) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations. In particular, I note, as explained in paragraph 7 of the Explanatory Memorandum, the importance to the United Kingdom as a whole of the organic sector. It is worth some £2.3 billion a year to the UK economy and growth, and its exports are worth around £250 million to the UK economy.
What is the relationship between these regulations and EU directive 2018/848? I understand that the directive defers the date of the application when the EU organics regime comes into effect and applies to Northern Ireland by virtue of the Northern Ireland protocol. The EU Environment Sub-Committee has had cause to write to our honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Victoria Prentis, on this point. I do not know whether my noble friend has had a chance to see that yet, but I would welcome his views on it. We stated that this matter is of some significance and concern to organic producers in Northern Ireland and across the United Kingdom generally, particularly as regards the ability of Great Britain’s organic producers to continue exporting to the EU and Northern Ireland after the transition period. Also, the Government’s guidance on trading from 1 January 2021 confirms that an EU-UK equivalence agreement needs to be in place for the EU to recognise the UK’s control bodies, such as, in our case, the Soil Association.
Therefore, will my noble friend confirm that we will be in a position to guarantee the ability of Great Britain’s organic producers to continue exporting their products, marketed as organic, to the EU and Northern Ireland after 1 January? Can he also take this opportunity to give us an update on the negotiations over an EU-UK organics equivalence agreement? As I understand it, the lack of such an agreement could result in our not being listed in the relevant EU regulation annexe.
With those few remarks, I commend the regulations but I hope that my noble friend will share my concerns in this regard.
My Lords, like fellow colleagues in the House, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Mendoza, for his passionate maiden speech today and for the breadth of cultural experience that he brings to the House. We might not always agree as Members in this Chamber, but that is one of the great things about having such a breadth of expertise. However, we try to hold each other in respect, and I look forward to debating with him in the future—probably sooner rather than later, if the Government get their way—on the regulatory framework that controls the gene-editing technology to which he so eloquently referred.
As other noble Lords have noted, the two SIs are not contentious. When the primary legislation was discussed in, I think, the 2008 Session, they were not debated in either House. As others have said, they ensure that the Northern Ireland protocol is implemented.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, I would like to ask a question about the potential in the future for divergence relating to GMOs. As the noble Lord, Lord Randall, said, now is not the time to debate the ins and outs of the merits or demerits of making a policy move to genetically modified organisms. However, given that that seems likely following what the Minister said during debate on the Agriculture Bill about the Government introducing a consultation on gene editing this autumn, there is a fundamental question that I would like to ask him. If the Government consider making changes to the policies around GMOs in the future, will they give a commitment that they will not do so in advance of laying before Parliament the policy statement on environmental principles, which is promised in the Environment Bill and which would make clear how environmental principles, such as the precautionary principles, are to be interpreted?
Turning to the regulations on organics, like other noble Lords I fully support the organic farmers and small and medium-sized enterprises in our country, who do so much for animal welfare and the environment, and indeed give consumers the choice on food standards that they need and demand. It is important that we approve this legislation today so that there are rules and regulations to enable them to keep trading.
I have two issues, the first of which is around paperwork and checks. As others have alluded to, producers will need to fill in new paperwork and have new checks, and there will be physical inspections on Northern Ireland land. Last week, the National Audit Office put a report out in which it made clear that there were serious concerns about how those checks will work in Northern Ireland and trader readiness to implement these new requirements upon them. It said quite clearly that DAERA was
“severely hampered by … the lack of clarity”
on the measures required. Of course, this will apply to organic farmers.
DAERA has concluded that it is not possible to complete the necessary work or the systems and infrastructure by 1 January. It also does not have sufficient time to mobilise its trader support services. I ask the Minister to update the House on how those measures to introduce the new checks and physical inspections are moving forward. I also ask the Minister to say a bit more, perhaps, about the contingency operations that DAERA has now admitted it will have to invest in because it is convinced that it will not have those checks and inspections in place in time. As I say, this will directly impact on the 6,000 organic farmers and, indeed, other traders in the future.
Those concerns were echoed last week by Sainsbury’s, which said that the supply of dairy, meat and fish products, which would of course include organic products such as sausages, could be seriously affected from January. There are 13 Sainsbury’s stores in Northern Ireland, and other traders will also be affected. It is important that we hear from the Minister today about the state of readiness in relation to implementing these checks and balances.
Finally, I will follow up on the point so well made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. There are concerns about organic farmers’ ability to continue to export. Of course, we are all desperately hoping for a deal between the EU and UK, which would mean that there would be that equivalence for the control bodies for organic farming. However, if there is not one, then all the organic bodies will need to be recognised by the EU for any trade to continue. My understanding is that, currently, there are six of those bodies. Therefore, like the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, I would like the Government to say a bit more about the discussions they have had with the European Union about equivalence and, if not, what the state of play is with regard to those organic bodies being recognised by the EU for trade to be able to continue.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these SIs this afternoon and for organising the very helpful briefing beforehand. I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord Mendoza, and congratulate him on his excellent maiden speech. I welcome the informed contributions of your Lordships and will concentrate specifically on the instruments themselves. As we have heard, neither instrument introduces substantive policy change, although I understand that the reassignment of certain functions from the European Commission to UK bodies can occasionally mean a slight difference in how those functions will be carried out.
First, I come to the Genetically Modified Organisms (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020; I have some areas where I will ask the Minister for clarification. Paragraph 2.7 of the Explanatory Memorandum notes:
“Marketing consents granted at the EU level do not require further, national-level authorisations.”
Clearly, this situation will change going forward. Further information is set out in Paragraph 2.12, which states:
“existing processes … will continue as now.”
Can the Minister confirm that this means no change to the criteria being applied on 1 January? Does the department intend to review the criteria going forward? If that is the case, when would that work take place, and would it be carried out alongside the devolved Administrations?
As a de facto member of the EU single market, Northern Ireland will continue to adhere to a portion of the EU’s body of law. These obligations relate to many of these areas, including genetically modified organisms. Divergence has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords, so does the Minister envisage any practical difficulties arising from the different regulatory regimes in Great Britain and Northern Ireland? For example, if the UK were to grant a GMO authorisation to a product that did not enjoy similar accreditation at the EU level, would there be any implications for the UK’s internal market? Will the Government maintain equivalent regulations to the EU on GMOs? If not, how will that affect our ability to export agricultural products to the EU, not to mention any possible effects on the environment?
I now turn to the SI on organic products. On these Benches, we wish to see a smooth transfer into UK law and welcome this SI, which is essential for the continuity of trade in organic products. We particularly welcome the commitment in paragraph 2.11 of the Explanatory Memorandum that:
“The current organic standards will be maintained at the end of the Transition Period.”
The organic sector may still be considered a fairly small one, but it is important, leading the way on sustainability in agriculture—recognising, for example, the value of soils and issues around pesticides. As such, it is good to see that paragraphs 7.2 and 7.3 in the Explanatory Memorandum—and the Minister, in his introduction—recognise its value to the UK economy. The continuation of this trade is hugely important.
I also welcome the fact that the 6,000 organic operators are mentioned and that many of these are small and medium-sized businesses, which would be particularly vulnerable if the retained EU organic legislation were not updated.
There is one particular area where I ask the Minister for further clarification. He referenced Part 2 of the regulations and that it extends an existing derogation for porcine and poultry feed into 2021 and 2022. However, there is no mention of what will happen after this date. Could the Minister clarify the Government’s intentions beyond 2022? For example, will the provision just continually roll over, or will the matter be put under review?
Finally, I stress how important it is for the UK to achieve equivalence with the EU. This has been mentioned by the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Parminter. Can the Minister assure us that future access to the EU market for our UK organic exporters is a priority? If we end up in a no-deal scenario and do not have mutual recognition of one another’s organic standards, the EU market will likely be closed to UK organic-certified produce. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate, and I particularly highlight the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Mendoza. I note his wide range of experience and am sure we all look forward to his contributions and him playing his part in the affairs of your Lordships’ House. I know he would expect me to note his vital work as the Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal, so I hope I am forgiven if I say, as the Rural Affairs Minister: in the spirit of rural-proofing, please do not forget the rural context.
I also express my warm welcome to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, as this is the first time we have debated Defra matters from our respective Front Benches. I very much look forward to working with her. A range of questions were put forward in this debate, and I will do my best to address them. If there are any further details, I will of course write to all noble Lords contributing to this debate, as well as placing a copy in the House of Lords Library.
I turn to questions on organics, and I particularly want to flag up what the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Hayman, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, asked about mutual recognition by the EU of our regulatory regime at the end of the transition period. This will allow us to continue to export our organic products to the EU and Northern Ireland. Currently, organics have an annexe in the free trade agreement being negotiated with the EU, but, as a mitigation, all six control bodies—the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, raised this, and I can confirm it—have individually applied for recognition. We remain confident that the EU Commission will grant this.
The applications for recognition are independent of the Government’s negotiations with the EU and not covered by any potential deal. Recognition gives individual control bodies the ability to certify to an equivalent EU standard, and their operators can export to the EU and Northern Ireland. We remain committed to negotiating a trade agreement that will remove barriers to trade and promote trade in organic products between the UK, Northern Ireland and the EU.
The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, also asked a number of questions about trade between Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain—and, indeed, clearly we wish this to continue. I can confirm that we are working with DAERA and other important stakeholders, including the ports of Larne, Belfast and Warrenpoint, in readiness for 1 January. Port health authorities in Northern Ireland have increased staffing levels sevenfold, and they are working to improve significantly their facilities. My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering asked about this, too. We are exploring ways in which to reduce the burden on industry and the ports to ensure minimal disruption to business. We have shared the new process for importing products into GB from the European Union and third countries with stakeholders, and continue to discuss access to the EU’s Trade Control and Expert System New Technology—TRACES NT—for imports into Northern Ireland with the European Commission. I should say to my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth that Northern Ireland has unfettered access so will be able to export organic products to Great Britain.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, also asked whether the derogation to allow farmers to feed organic porcine and poultry up to 5% non-organic protein feed would continue beyond the end of 2022. Any extension will be carefully considered by the end of 2022 and we will consult the devolved Administrations and stakeholders to ensure that the changes are in the best interests of UK farmers. We continue to work closely with all UK control bodies to support them to prepare for the end of the transition period. I take the opportunity to reiterate our commitment to growing the UK’s world-class organics sector.
In that regard, I was most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, in referring to the importance of organics. We have just finished debating the Agriculture Bill. Many noble Lords will recall our discussions on how that Bill is going to advance food production of high and healthy quality food as well as the environment. I believe that organic farmers will be well placed to benefit from the new system, with the provision of environmental benefits and services, such as increased biodiversity and habitats.
I can say to my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth that we are committed to the highest organic standards and will use new powers provided by the Agriculture Bill to maintain this regime. Also on the reference to transition from three years, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, asked about farmers converting to producing organic products, who can benefit from higher premiums when selling into conversion products. As I said, we recognise the potential for the organics sector as we move forward.
I move to questions on GMOs. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, asked about this, and it came up in my noble friend Lord Mendoza’s speech, too. This is about the future of GM food policy. During debate on the Agriculture Bill, we considered as a House the elements of gene editing; we will issue a consultation relating to gene editing in England and will gather preliminary evidence on whether or not to reform our GMO legislation more broadly. I assure all noble Lords, on whatever side of the argument they may be, that we will consider the responses and evidence received from the consultation very carefully indeed, because there is great potential but it is very important that we get this right. When I read of the need for us to feed the world and have less applications to help the environment, I think that the science could help us enormously. But it is really important to get this right and, in getting it right, for the public to understand the bona fides of this, rather than getting worried about hyperbole and the potential that there may be concern. I think there is great potential here, but we need to do this properly and thoroughly.
My noble friend Lord Bourne and the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Hayman, asked about divergence between GB policy and the policy in Northern Ireland and the European Union for GMOs. That point was made by other noble Lords as well. At the moment, there is no divergence between GB and Northern Ireland as our retained law reflects EU law, and Northern Ireland is subject to EU rules and will have to comply with decisions made at an EU level. As I made clear in debate on the Agriculture Bill, any changes to our GMO policy will be subject to consultation and a change in primary legislation, which would mean that there would be very full scrutiny from your Lordships’ House and the other place—and, I have no doubt, some public debate as well. If we change our policy following the consultation, we will clearly work closely with Northern Irish authorities to minimise any impact on trade in GM products. I emphasise, as I did before—I hope that this reassures the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb—that GM policy is a devolved area. That is why I said that the consultation was about England, because it is the responsibility of the UK Government. But with this SI, we have worked extremely closely with devolved Administrations to develop it and, obviously, we need to go forward in a spirit of collaboration and understanding of these matters.
I also say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that the processes and powers to legislate in GB will remain in parallel with those in the EU and Northern Ireland, so they will remain familiar to stakeholders. In Northern Ireland, existing EU legislation will continue to be directly applicable after the end of the transition period. I have no doubt that on that matter we will have more work to do.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked about further changes, and I have looked into that matter. I think that she referred to paragraph 2.7 of the Explanatory Memorandum, whereas I wonder whether it might relate to paragraph 2.9, which explains that further changes to exit legislation were needed to give effect to annexe 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol. This SI makes these further changes as explained in paragraph 2.9. In reply to the noble Baroness, I should therefore say that no other changes are needed to give effect to the protocol. I apologise if the memorandum did not make that entirely clear.
I shall look at Hansard to see whether there were any further points, because there was a range of questions. I am grateful for the support that noble Lords have given to the principle of the two instruments.