GM Maize

– in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 10th March 2004.

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Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative 2:45 pm, 10th March 2004

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What, if commercial growing of genetically modified maize is approved, will be the anticipated effect on commercial assurance schemes, organic produce and home-grown vegetables.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, we recognise that if GM crops are grown it will raise questions about the possible effect on other forms of production. As we announced yesterday, the Government will facilitate measures to enable GM, conventional and organic crops to co-exist.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. Does he accept that the Government have put the cart before the horse? Surely they should have come forward with a proper legal framework and an agreed liability programme before giving approval to GM maize? Will he consider the important issue of oilseed rape? I know that the current strain has been turned down but a winter rape trial is still ongoing and, as cross-fertilisation can take place, a decision on legal liability is even more important. Can he assure the House that such liability will be agreed before any future approval is given?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, I think I can assure the noble Baroness. As we indicated in the Statement yesterday, no planting—even of the one crop we have approved—will be possible before Spring 2005 at the earliest. By that time, not only will the conditions of how we manage that crop be clear, but also the general conditions for co-existence and liability should be in place. We intend to consult on those terms very shortly.

Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the considerable misgivings expressed to date by English Nature, the independent advisory body to the Government on nature conservation issues, about the planting of GM crops. Was English Nature invited to give an opinion prior to the Government's announcement to allow the commercial cultivation of GM herbicide tolerant maize? If it did so, can the Minister tell the House what its opinion was?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, in the consultation, English Nature gave its views in relation to all the GM crops being tested. It has indicated that it still has some concerns about any of them being given approval. That is reflected in some of the press coverage today. The Government obviously considered the opinion of English Nature, along with other opinions but, as we indicated yesterday, we feel that there is no scientific reason for a ban on this form of GM maize.

Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Labour

My Lords, while it is obviously important that the Government put in place robust structures to ensure co-existence of different types of farming if and when GM crops are introduced into this country, is it not important that the organic movement does not make a rod for its own back by differentiating between the standards required for non-contamination, to use that phrase, of conventional crops as against GM crops? Will he confirm that there is no need for it to do so under European standards for organic produce?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, it would not be reasonable for the organic movement to insist that the thresholds were unachievably tight. There are, however, ongoing discussions, both at European and UK level, on whether differential thresholds should apply in relation to organic crops. The Government's position is that any such threshold, and therefore requirement on the GM producer, will have to be both feasible and verifiable if we are genuinely to protect organic crops.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Shadow Minister, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

My Lords, the Minister said yesterday in reply to questions on the Statement that he "expected" that the rules on co-existence would be in place; today he said that they "should" be in place. Can he assure the House that they "will" be in place before any planting of GM maize? This is really important, not only to the organic sector but also to conventional vegetable growers.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, the conditions attached to this particular crop, and therefore its co-existence with other crops, will undoubtedly be clear before any planting takes place. The process of consultation on the general conditions of co-existence and of liability will start as soon as possible and should be completed well before the earliest possible planting date. I see no reason why that should not happen. But complex issues are involved, particularly in relation to the liability provisions.

Photo of Lord Rotherwick Lord Rotherwick Conservative

My Lords, does not yesterday's Statement on GM crops effectively stop them being grown? If the Government, the GM industry and the insurance industry do not accept liability for compensation to be paid for any adverse effect on the environment, will there be any farmers brave enough to grow the crops?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, the approval which the Government gave was in relation to one particular crop. We do not believe that that crop, if grown according to the conditions would, in practice, contaminate conventional or organic crops. The decision whether to produce it obviously depends on the growers' and farmers' view of what the market will be and is not therefore a matter for the Government.

We have also said that if, under any form of GM crop growing in future, a liability for contamination arose, we would expect the consent holders—the GM growers—to meet that liability. But we would not, under the conditions we are attaching to this crop, expect such liability to arise.

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Conservative

My Lords, when the detailed results of the GM trials were published in October 2003, we were not told how many sites were used for testing the GM maize crop or the number of sites used for testing conventional maize. Can the Minister tell us how many sites used a regime including atrazine and how many did not?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, the exact number is available, and I can write to the noble Duke with it. However, the number of fields involving pesticide treatment which was not atrazine was limited. The rather complicated article published in Nature last week showed that 28 different comparisons can be made between atrazine and non-atrazine-treated fields in GM and conventional mode. The article makes it clear that—if and when atrazine is banned; there is enough information from the trials indicating that non-atrazine alternative pesticides would have less differentially bad effects on the environment—there would still be a big advantage remaining for the GM form of cultivation.