HC Deb 20 November 2003 vol 413 cc950-2
12. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

What her policy is on new approvals of GM foods in Europe.[139841]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Elliot Morley)

Applications for approval to market GM foods are subject to collective EU decision making under the novel foods regulation. The independent Food Standards Agency leads the UK assessment of any application based on scientific evidence of risk to human health. Any food exceeding the EU threshold for GM ingredients must be labelled to provide consumers with information and choice.

Joan Ruddock

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the EU regulatory committee meeting on 10 November saw the UK Government indicate their willingness to give approval to GM sweetcorn Bt11? Can he tell me why he wants that product in our shops when neither the new labelling and traceability arrangements nor the new GMO approval regime, with its compulsory post-monitoring regime, are in place? What is the haste to end the EU moratorium on GMOs?

Mr. Morley

In the UK submission to the Commission, we made it clear that marketing should not go ahead until the traceability and labelling regulations had been resolved. That remains our position, and it is why the decision to address that specific point was deferred. On the other issues that my hon. Friend raised, the one criterion that we apply is whether such products are safe. That is subject to review by the Food Standards Agency, which is advised by the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

GM foods are now at a commercial disadvantage. Is it not true that the Canadians, who have grown GM foods in great quantities for a number of years, are turning away from them for that reason and because there is international repugnance regarding their use? Should we not wait for scientific proof that such foods are harmless and insist that the biotech companies prove that themselves?

Mr. Morley

The basis of the applications is that there must be careful evaluation of whether there is risk to people and, indeed, the environment. We expect any application for GMs to go through that process. My hon. Friend might have a point about whether such crops are marketable at present—that was addressed by the strategy unit report—but whatever the future for GM, there must be clear traceability and labelling so that people may have the choice of whether to buy the foods.