HC Deb 21 October 1999 vol 336 cc553-4
1. Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham)

When he proposes to set up the Advisory Committee on Animal Feeding Stuffs; and if he will ensure that it considers the issue of feeds containing genetically modified material. [93385]

8. Mr. Alan W. Williams (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr)

If he will make a statement on the requirements governing the labelling of animal feeding stuffs containing genetically modified crops. [93392]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Ms Joyce Quin)

The Advisory Committee on Animal Feeding Stuffs held its first meeting on 24 September. It will have an important role in considering both the safety and labelling of genetically modified material in animal feed.

Mr. Atkinson

I thank the Minister for that answer and welcome her to the Dispatch Box in her new role. It is nice to see the north-east gain yet more power in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Is not the issue of genetically modified material in animal feed vital, particularly for the British pig and poultry industries? A threat to ban it, would be the last straw for those industries, which would then face substantial extra costs getting a separate supply of GM-free soya, which is used for animal feeds. Will the Minister ask the committee to consider this matter urgently and to state that there is not a shred of evidence that this material is in any way injurious to human health?

Ms Quin

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words at the beginning of his supplementary question. Secondly, we attach importance to the work of this committee, which we feel will be able to examine the different aspects that the hon. Gentleman has raised. As a new MAFF Minister, it seems to me that it was a failing of the previous Government not to set up such a committee when they could have done so. I am glad that it began its work recently and that my noble Friend Baroness Hayman, the Minister who deals with these issues, was able to attend the first meeting and thereby show the importance that Ministers attach to its work.

Mr. Williams

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her new responsibilities and wish her well. She will know that a large fraction of the United States production of soya and corn is from genetically modified crops and that large quantities are exported unsegregated to the European market for incorporation into animal feed. Should not all animal feeds containing GM crops be labelled as such? Will she confirm that there is no independent, publicly funded research in Britain into the safety of feeding GM crops to animals?

Ms Quin

I thank my hon. Friend for his opening remarks. We believe that labelling is a major aspect of this issue. I pay tribute to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), for the work that he did on labelling and giving these issues prominence, not just here in the United Kingdom, but within the European Union. Because of that we are making progress within the European Union towards proper labelling.

My hon. Friend mentioned the question of separation. There seems to be increasing pressure now on suppliers in the United States to separate crops. Therefore, in future it will be much easier to tell the source of these products—whether they come from a GM or non-GM source. The wider work that is being done on labelling in Brussels today is an important part of that pressure. We believe in examining all aspects of these issues. Indeed, the committee to which I referred will certainly be able to look at safety and other issues.

Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes)

May I press the Minister a little further? Does she agree that farmers have a right to know what they are buying, and consumers what they are eating further down the food chain? Will she guarantee that any animal feedstuffs containing GM material will be labelled so that farmers know what they are buying, and have the right to segregate the supply of non-GM material should they so wish?

Ms Quin

As the hon. Gentleman knows, from the outset this Government have had a commitment to consumer and producer information so that people know what they are buying and will not be misled into buying products which turn out to be different from what they thought. We have pursued that both in the European Union and at home. Although we are pressing for animal feeds to be labelled in the European Union, in the meantime—because of the length of time that it takes to get those arrangements agreed—we are also pursuing a voluntary labelling system within this country.