HC Deb 22 July 2004 vol 424 cc479-80
11. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)

When the Government will consult on a regime of co-existence and liability for GM crops. [185753]

The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley)

I announced our consultation plans last Friday. We will first hold a number of workshops with stakeholders over the summer and early autumn. Then we will publish our specific proposals and options, on which everyone will be able to comment.

Joan Ruddock

My hon. Friend is aware that our constituents do not wish to see the contamination of non-GM crops with GM crops, yet he told the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that the UK was legally obliged to ensure that co-existence measures did not go beyond those necessary to meet the 0.9 per cent. labelling threshold. Is my hon. Friend aware that Germany's co-existence plans go substantially beyond those thresholds? Is he really telling us that the UK cannot establish stronger co-existence measures designed to ensure that contamination is at a lower level than the EU labelling threshold or to avoid it?

Mr. Morley

We have already said that in our consultation we will look into the option, for organic crops, of a threshold lower than 0.9 per cent., but I repeat that 0.9 per cent. is the legal threshold set by the EU and we are obliged to take that into account in our calculations. I am not aware that Germany is doing anything different. In fact, I understand that, unlike the UK, Germany is applying a 0.9 per cent. threshold to the organic sector, so we are going a bit beyond what the Germans propose.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)

Will the Minister confirm that the new co-existence and liability regime will be in place and on the statute books before any further commercial planting of GM crops or any further trial planting?

Mr. Morley

Trial plantings are a different proposition. We do not have any applications at present, but the idea of trials is to examine the real concerns that people have about environmental impact, and we make no apology for that. We have led the way in ascertaining the biodiversity impact of various GM crops, and no one else internationally has done that on the scale that we have.

We are consulting on the timing of the regime. The original timetable was designed to bring the scheme in at the beginning of 2005, but we are unlikely to see commercial plantings in this country before 2007–08, so there will be no difficulty having the scheme in place, up and running and agreed before commercial planting takes place.

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab)

The letter from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about consultation mentions co-existence, and I have no doubt that it will address issues relating to thresholds and separation distances. However, I am concerned that the letter makes no mention of liability. Given the biotechnology industry's central concern about not being held liable, can my hon. Friend the Minister give the House an assurance that liability will be at the centre of the discussions and that we will not end up with proposals that show that the greatest separation distance in our policy is that between contamination and those who should be held liable for it?

Mr. Morley

We have made it clear that we are responding to the recommendations of the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission on both co-existence and liability. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State outlined that in a statement that she made to the House. In parallel with the consultation on co-existence, we are also consulting on the basis of the liability scheme, how it should work and who should be responsible.