HL Deb 27 April 1998 vol 589 cc7-8WA
Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they have taken, or propose to take, to stimulate a full debate about the genetic modification of food, having regard to the implications for human health and the ecosystem as a whole. [HL1526]

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Clinton-Davis)

A comprehensive EU-wide system of checks and controls already exists for genetically modified foods, which are approved only following a rigorous safety assessment. In considering applications for approval of such foods, the Government draw upon expert advice from two independent committees, the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) and the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE). The latter advises on the issues relating to the wider health and safety issues associated with releases to the environment. Other independent committees, such as the Food Advisory Committee, are also consulted on more general issues as the need arises.

Following the report from the National Biotechnology Conference held in March 1997, the Government are currently giving consideration to the most appropriate means of ensuring that the wider implications of advances in the biosciences, including those related to genetically modified foods, are properly taken into account. As a first step, in November last year, John Battle, Minister of State for Science Energy and Industry, announced a decision to hold a public consultation exercise on the wider issues raised by advances in the biosciences.

The Government and their agencies, including the research councils, have supported other activities designed to stimulate public debate including the production of information leaflets for consumers and part funding an exhibition on genetically modified foods at the Science Museum.

The Government are also encouraging independent groups to stimulate public debate on these issues. As part of this initiative, the Nuffield Council has recently set up a working group to look at the genetic modification of plants. It focuses on the issues surrounding the use of genetically modified crops in the UK, but will also be considering the ethical issues raised by the use of technology elsewhere, particularly in developing countries.