HC Deb 28 April 1999 vol 330 cc147-8W
Mr. Stinchcombe

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what assessment he has made of the report leaked from his Department on the impact of genetically modified crops on wildlife and the environment; and if he will make a statement. [72759]

Mr. Meacher

[holding answer 25 February 1999]: The discussion paper "The Commercial use of Genetically Modified Crops in the United Kingdom: the Potential Wider Impact on Farmland Wildlife" prepared by the Secretariat for the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) was published on 18 February 1999. The paper may be found on ACRE' s website (www.environment.detr.gov.uk/acre/wildlife/index.htm) or in ACRE' s latest Annual Report, a copy of which is in the Library.

The leaked report was an early draft of the one published. This early draft had served as a basis for a meeting I chaired in June last year to advise me on the possible wider indirect effects of the use of GM crops on wildlife. I invited a number of experts, including English Nature, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the chairman of ACRE, to inform me of the issues to enable us to get an initiative started to address concerns about wider impacts on biodiversity from the use of genetically modified crops.

My officials then developed the paper with ACRE. The key conclusion of the paper is that there have been serious declines in farmland wildlife, and we need to ensure that the widespread introduction of GM crops does not prejudice Government objectives to halt and where possible reverse these wildlife declines. To this end, it is important to have the capability to identify whether and how GM crops are likely to change agricultural practices which could result in indirect, delayed and long term adverse effects on farmland wildlife. I have already taken steps to address this.

Before this paper was published, I requested that the remit of ACRE be extended to consider the potential wider implications of the use of GMOs, especially when the committee is requested to give advice on applications to place GM crops on the market. ACRE has set up a Sub-group on Wider Biodiversity Issues to consider the issues raised the paper in more detail. The first meeting of this Sub-group was held on 15 March. The farm-scale evaluations into the ecological effects of genetically modified crops being set up by my Department, MAFF and Scottish Office will also assist in providing baseline data on farmland wildlife in order to underpin the consideration of wider biodiversity issues on a more detailed level.