HC Deb 23 June 1999 vol 333 cc1157-8
6. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

What plans he has for a public information campaign regarding the safety and benefits of genetically modified foods; and if he will make a statement. [86785]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Dr. Jack Cunningham)

The Government welcome an informed public debate on these matters. To assist that, we have published the documents produced by the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser on the public health implications of genetically modified food, and transparency guidelines for the biotechnology regulatory committees.

Mr. Swayne

The leaked minutes of the biotechnology presentation group on 10 May show that it was proposed that endorsement of the Government's policy should be sought from the National Consumer Council. In the event, was such an approach made, and was the endorsement forthcoming?

Dr. Cunningham

Ministers, collectively and individually, discuss the development of our policies with the National Consumer Council and with other consumer organisations all the time.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there are widespread misgivings among the public about some of the implications of GM foods? For decisions to be taken openly and transparently, as he wishes, there is a need to ensure that the long-lasting effects of some GM inputs into the food chain are fully understood—for example, the effect of soya beans may last for four or five years. In planning to deal with the GM question, will he ensure that that aspect is taken fully on board?

Dr. Cunningham

Of course I accept that we should be open and transparent, and should give the public all the information available to us—and we do. I published in full the chief medical officer's paper on the safety aspects of genetically modified food. We have no evidence that these foods—the previous Administration licensed only three of them—present any health threat to the public. Because of public concern, we decided to introduce the labelling of all genetically modified products, so that people could have a genuine and informed choice. We shall continue to ensure that all the information that is available to Ministers on this important subject is available to the public.