HC Deb 15 March 1999 vol 327 cc454-7W
Mr. Baker

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what assessment he has made of the implications of the precautionary principle enshrined in the Biosafety Protocol for the Government's policy on the planting of(a) trial genetically modified crops and (b) commercial genetically modified crops. [72575]

Mr. Meacher

[holding answer 22 February 1999]: Throughout the recent negotiations on the Biosafety Protocol in Cartagena, the EU maintained its strong support for the inclusion of the precautionary principle in the preamble to and in the objectives of protocol. This approach is consistent with the European Community legislation controlling the release and marketing of genetically modified organisms and with the Government's general policy on the planting of trial and commercial genetically modified crops. Rigorous scientific risk assessment, carried out as part of the strict regulation of GM crops, identifies appropriate risk management measures to ensure that risks are reduced to a minimum. In the UK, field trials of GM crops may require risk management such as pollen barriers or isolation distances. In respect of the commercial planting of GM crops, the Government support a programme of managed development involving farm scale evaluations with full ecological monitoring. The Government believe that this approach offers sufficient safeguards to ensure that large-scale plantings do not proceed until there is sufficient evidence that a particular crop does not harm the environment.

Mr. Baker

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions for what reason at the recent Biosafety Protocol meeting in Colombia the UK opposed the creation of an enabling provision to allow countries to take socio-economic factors into account in determining whether or not to import GMOs. [75092]

Mr. Meacher

[holding answer 8 March 1999]: The UK, as a Member State of the European Union, broadly supported the text of the Protocol put forward by the Chair of the Working Group to the extraordinary Conference of the Parties which included an enabling provision on socio-economics. The compromise package put forward by the EU in the final stages of the negotiations did not seek to amend that provision.

Mr. Baker

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will list by title the unpublished reports into aspects of genetic modification which are held by his Department. [75100]

Mr. Meacher

[holding answer 8 March 1999]: My Department endeavours to publish all the final reports of the research contracts it funds to underpin the assessment of applications for consent to release or market genetically modified organisms. Reports are published after the research contracts are completed and when a satisfactory report has been submitted. Research contractors may also publish papers in peer reviewed scientific journals describing the work funded by my Department.

The following reports have very recently been published:

  • Safety of Plant Viral Inserts
  • Investigation of Feral Oilseed Rape Populations
  • Review of Parasitic Nematodes for Biological Control of Invertebrates

The following reports are currently being printed and will be available shortly:

  • Environmental Impact of Genetically Modified Crops (Proceedings of a Workshop sponsored by the Department)
  • Genetically Modified Bioinsecticides

A report on the outcome of monitoring releases of Plant Genetics System's hybrid oilseed rape, which was carried out by the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) is being prepared for publication. My Department aims to publish this by July this year.

Copies of all the reports listed above will be made available for the House of Commons Library.

Joan Ruddock

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what research he has undertaken into the impact on water companies' ability to meet individual pesticide and herbicide limits in drinking water of the application of glufosinate and glyphosate to genetically modified crops. [75901]

Mr. Meacher

The Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations 1989 prescribe an extremely strict standard of 0.1 microgrammes per litre for individual pesticides. Since 1989 water companies have been obliged to enter into legally binding programmes to install pesticide removal processes whenever water supplies have exceeded the standard.

The pesticide removal programmes have been completed and in 1997, around 99.96 per cent. of all analyses for pesticides complied with the standard.

Glufosinate and glyphosate both degrade rapidly in the environment, but, were they present in water sources, they would be removed by the treatment processes that have been installed.

Joan Ruddock

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make available the locations of genetically modified trial crops to water companies. [75900]

Mr. Meacher

Water companies may obtain information on the locations of genetically modified crop trials from the statutory public register, held in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Information on the location of trial sites is also available on the Department's website.

Applicants for consent to release genetically modified organisms must advertise locally where the release will take place. This is a public notice in a local newspaper. If the proposed release may have an impact on any controlled waters, then the Environment Agency is notified.

Mrs. Anne Campbell

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what measures he has taken to improve the regulation of genetically modified crops. [74097]

Mr. Meacher

[holding answer 11 March 1999]: The release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is governed by EC Directive 90/220. The European Commission published its proposal to amend the Directive in February 1998 and since then the UK Government have played an active role in negotiating the draft amending Directive. The Commission's proposal seeks to make a number of significant changes to the Directive, such as strengthening provisions on environmental risk assessment and monitoring, streamlining some procedures, ensuring greater transparency and better labelling requirements, and providing for the consultation of EU ethics and scientific committees. The Government have been active in their support for revision of the Directive to ensure full protection for human health and the environment.

In the Government's view the amendment should be taken forward seriously and rapidly. At the Environment Council this week, I intend to press the German Presidency to devote time to this dossier with a view to securing common position at the June Council.

Pending the revision of the Directive, EU Environment Ministers agreed in December 1998 to use the flexibility within the existing Directive to introduce new principles on risk assessment and monitoring. These new requirements, based on provisions in the draft amending Directive, were adopted as a direct result of public concerns about GMOs and the European Parliament's call for action. The new principles on risk assessment and monitoring will allow a clearer picture to be built up of the direct and indirect, and immediate and delayed, effects of GMOs on the environment.

On top of the new EC requirements, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and I announced before the House of Lords Select Committee on 21 October 1998 that the Government have reached agreement with the plant breeding industry for a managed development programme for herbicide tolerant GM crops. Farm-scale evaluations will ensure that first commercial plantings of herbicide tolerant GM crops will be strictly limited and monitored for ecological effects alongside comparable plantings of conventional crops. The Government are funding ecological studies of the diversity and abundance of plants and invertebrates associated with the management of GM and non-GM crops to test whether there are any significant differences, initially over a four year period. This will assist consideration of what effects GM crops may have on higher species and our agricultural landscape. If ecological monitoring reveals adverse effects then appropriate action will be taken.