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GM Maize

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 11th March 2004.

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Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire 11:30 am, 11th March 2004

What assessment has been made of the possibility of growing GM maize in England; and if she will make a statement.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made an oral statement in the House on Tuesday. The statement covered the issue of commercial growing of a type of GM maize.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire

Given the doubts of the Environmental Audit Committee about the robustness, validity and relevance of the farm-scale evaluation results and the view of the British Medical Association that insufficient research into the impact on human health of GM foodstuffs has been conducted, does the Minister agree that few, if any, conventional or organic farmers will be able wholly to escape the impact of GM contamination of their crops, and that the GM industry should conclude a legal liability regime not only with farmers but with the ultimate consumers of the food they produce?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend has raised a number of points. First, let me deal with the British Medical Association report. In fact, the report made it clear that the BMA supported the Government's approach of considering each application on a case-by-case basis. Furthermore, the BMA conceded and recognised—again effectively supporting the Government—the thoroughness of the detailed work on GM herbicide-tolerant maize. On the issue of liabilities, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that this summer we will consult on the shape of a liability scheme and the consultation will include any potential consequences in relation to GM crops.

As for growing the crops, consultation will also be held on a coexistence regime to ensure that GM crops and conventional and organic crops are cultivated separately. These are important matters, and the Government take careful note of Select Committee reports. Much of what was in the EAC report was not new, and a report published in Nature on the same day—of which the Committee was not aware—addressed many of the points that the EAC raised.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Minister (Women), Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Tuesday's statement authorising the planting of GM maize in this country was an historic occasion, as it brought to an end this country's GM-free status. Does the Minister accept that to make such a decision before the House had had a chance to debate the outcome of the trials was to put the cart before the horse, and that it served only to aggravate the public's widespread concern?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Lady talks about this country's GM-free status, but may I remind her that the first authorisation for GM products and crops was given by the previous Conservative Government, before 1997? This Government negotiated a commercial moratorium while we carried out the largest and most detailed field-scale evaluation of its type ever held. No country has been as thorough in its examination of GM, which has been the subject of much discussion and debate in this House. I assure the hon. Lady that there will be a debate in Government time on the outcome of the FSEs, and on the Government's approach to the matter.

Photo of Colin Challen Colin Challen Labour, Morley and Rothwell

May I declare an interest in that, being a vegetarian, I have probably eaten more GM food than many other hon. Members? As far as I am aware, I have not yet shown any ill effects. [Interruption.]

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Labour, Sherwood

But my hon. Friend has a green beard.

Photo of Colin Challen Colin Challen Labour, Morley and Rothwell

Yes, I have.

I hope that the Government can give a more positive response on the question of health effects on humans. A report that emerged only last week from the Philippines detailed the possible very bad effect on villagers living adjacent to a GM maize crop. Should we not take that very seriously, and listen to the BMA's concerns—albeit on a case-by-case basis?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I accept the points that my hon. Friend raises. It is important that we should not be complacent about any report. The BMA report was helpful: it said that there had been years of evaluation of the consumption of GM foods, especially in the US, and that no discernible ill effects had been found. As for the research in the Philippines, the scientist involved has conceded that he has offered his interpretation, and that more work needs to be done. Also, the findings have not been published yet, nor subject to independent peer review. When that happens, we will look at them very carefully.