Clause 5 - Restrictions on marketing of precision bred organism in England

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 5 July 2022.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We have moved on at some speed. The clause builds on clause 3 and sets out the requirements for notifying the Secretary of State before a precision bred organism is released into the environment for purposes other than marketing, in particular for field trials.

Under the clause, the Secretary of State has powers to make regulations, establishing the form and content of notices that must be submitted before a trial can take place and the information that must accompany them. That will enable us to tailor what information we ask for, which may be placed on a public register, to ensure that the requirements remain relevant and appropriate.

The clause also allows for regulations to be made establishing who can be specified in a release notice and for a minimum time period to be set between the submission of that notice and when a trial can take place. Regulations made under the clause are subject to the negative procedure. The clause will enable us to develop and expand the proportionate pre-trial notification regime that we introduced earlier this year in respect of plants to all precision bred plants and animals.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Clause 5 concerns restrictions on marketing precision bred organisms in England. I do not have a lot to say about it, other than to explore with the Minister how it will be determined that a precision bred organism is indeed that; this goes back to the earlier, earlier debate.

My understanding is that the determination will be based on the definition, agreed by the Committee, as something edited using modern biotechnology in a way that could have occurred naturally or through traditional breeding processes. Can the Minister say more about how it will be determined that the organism could have been produced in that kind of way? What kind of evidence will be sought and how will the whole process work? It is not entirely clear to me from the Bill as written.

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the ACRE process and the guidance from the penultimate evidence giver, Nigel Moore. The ACRE guidance lays out how it will be determined, which is part 1 of the PBO assessment. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the guidance notes because they lay out very specifically and clearly how that will be determined.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I suppose my concern is that this seems to be a very closed world in which a group of eminent and expert people are involved in making judgments. There is no external input. Given that all those people basically work in the same institutes, is it not a rather closed system?

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I believe nomination to ACRE works to the Nolan principles. Yes, those people are eminent, but they are also held in high esteem and regard and have to work to those Nolan principles when acting in the capacity of their position on that committee. It is difficult to unpick who the hon. Gentleman would see as the most qualified, if it is not those who are elected by their peers and go through an appropriate system. They must have the expertise because it is important that those who are determining know what they are doing; otherwise, with the greatest of respect to the hon. Gentleman, he and I would be a lot less enabled.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I return to a point I made when we discussed the statutory instrument. I am in no way trying to question the integrity of those who sit on those committees. However, when we look at their declaration of interests, almost all—perhaps inevitably—are linked to some of the major industries in the field.

I ask the question again. Does the Minister genuinely believe that the system and set-up will fill the public with confidence or will they look at it and worry?

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I think most people will see it as proportionate and want to have those who are expert in the field making judgments. It is they who will say whether the technology is a PBO and can move forward. The hon. Gentleman’s argument slightly falls down because the issue applies to just about every overarching body, in that they have, by definition, some knowledge of the issue on which they are deciding.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned.—(Gareth Johnson.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.