HC Deb 22 January 2004 vol 416 cc1365-6W
Joan Ruddock

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the benefits of Bayer GM rice approved by her Department as animal feed on 7 January. [148610]

Mr. Morley

[holding answer 19 January 2004]: The application by Bayer for the importation of herbicide tolerant rice (event LLRICE62) into the European Union is being considered under the procedures set out in Directive 2001/18/EC. The Directive requires each application to market GM crops for commercial importation or cultivation to be assessed on a case-by-case basis on the scientific evidence of any risks it may pose to human health or the environment. The Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment concluded that, "This GM rice does not pose a risk to human health and the environment. The marketing of this product for importation and processing in the UK will be no different from that of other rice imported for processing and animal feed purposes." No assessment is required or made of comparative advantages with other products. The full UK assessment of Bayer's application is available on the Defra website at: www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/regulation/euconsent. htm.

The UK is the lead member state on the application and therefore undertakes the initial assessment. The application and the UK's assessment will now be assessed by other EU member states and the Commission before a collective decision is made. Consent, if granted, would not permit cultivation of the rice in the EU nor, without separate approval, could it be used in human food.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what plans she has to(a) conduct and (b) commission further research on how GM plants might invade new habitats. [148903]

Mr Morley

The Department has commissioned research on the potential invasiveness of GM crops. An example is "An Investigation of Feral Oilseed Rape Populations" the report of which was published in February 1999. Details of this and other Defra-funded research projects that have included a consideration of the invasiveness of GM crops are available on the Defra website at www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/research.

In addition to work funded by the Department there has been a large body of research on the invasiveness of GM and other plants conducted elsewhere. This body of research was recently reviewed by the GM Science Review (details available from www.gmsciencedebate.org.uk). Chapter 6.2 of the their final report specifically considered research on the risks of invasiveness of GM crops.

The risks of invasiveness of GM crops are carefully assessed prior to any release. The Government's statutory advisers on GM crop releases—the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE)—have advised that in the case of all previous releases, that the risks of invasiveness have been low. This view was supported by the Science Review. However both ACRE and the Science Review highlight the need to continually monitor developments and we are currently considering future research requirements in this area.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the evaluation of the costs and benefits of the commercial cultivation of GM crops in the UK over the next 10 to 15 years. [148905]

Mr. Morley

As part of the GM dialogue the Strategy Unit carried out a study of the costs and benefits of GM crops. This looked at not only the range of GM crops currently available, but also those that might be available in 10–15 years.

The unit concluded that GM crops could offer some cost and convenience advantages to UK farmers, although any economic benefit is likely to be limited in the short-term as only a narrow range of existing GM crops are currently suited to UK conditions, and weak consumer demand may limit take-up. In the longer term it concluded that future developments in GM crops have the potential to offer more wide-ranging benefits, to both farmers and consumers.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when the Government will decide their GM food policy. [148906]

Mr. Morley

We are considering our policy on GM food and crops generally in the light of all the information we have gathered. That includes the reports of the public debate and the science review, the Strategy Unit's costs and benefits study, the AEBC's report on coexistence and liability, and now ACRE'S advice on the FSE results. We will set out our conclusions in due course.

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