Genetically Modified Food and Feed

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Richard Younger-Ross: Can the Minister expand on the importation of feedingstuff and the required documentation? If a farmer imports soya for feed and has no documentation, would he have to bear the cost of testing?

Ms Blears: I do not know whether testing costs would have to be borne by the person importing the goods to provide documentary information for the supply chain process. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point because costs will be as important for that sector as for the manufactured food sector. We want to ensure that the provisions are proportionate in their impact and instil confidence in the community.

I now understand that the costs would have to be borne by the importer if the documents were not available to him, so it is important to ensure that documentation is available.

Mr. Drew: I have just about got my mind around substantive equivalents, on which I can wax lyrical, but I am a little confused about the new concept of one door, one key. Can my hon. Friend advance some examples of how that might operate, given that one of the benefits of being opposed to GM, as she has already said, is that one can be completely opposed to it? We now have a muddying of principles: it appears that, on the one hand, someone can apply for one GM application and, on the other, that allows the person to

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do something else with the GM products, which I have not quite got my mind around. Can she give me some examples to show why that will be better?

Ms Blears: It is right that we try to apply the same principles to assessments for the goods, irrespective of the use to which they are to be put. If someone has an authorisation application for both food and feed, the same analysis, the same process and the same principles should be applied to them. Companies could apply for approval to grow crops and to use them for food and seed with a single application. To try to make sure that the measures are proportionate, practical and easier to use, the proposals allow people to make a single application and have a single assessment for the variety of uses to which they may want to put some of the crops.

Some GM products can be used in food applications for humans, feed applications for stock and also in seed applications. The proposal enables that to be undertaken through one process. The substantive equivalent process would not be available for all those different uses; this proposal makes the process simpler, more transparent and more easily understood for people who have to engage with the system.

Mr. Heald: Article 9 of document 2001/0173 allows for existing products to continue to be placed on the market. What is the scope of that? What products does it cover?

Ms Blears: I understand that the products already approved for importation and processing are soya beans, oil seed rape and maize that has insect and herbicide tolerance. Those products are currently approved for importation and processing only, not for growing in the EU, because we are awaiting the outcome of the large-scale field evaluation trials, certainly in this country. Products of that nature are covered by the measure, but none of them is approved for growing here.

Alan Simpson: Paragraph 3.2 at the beginning of the report mentions that the proposals are

    ''based on the principle that the products in question must not present a danger to, or mislead, the consumer''

and that

    ''anyone wishing to place them on the Community market is required to submit a request to the Member State concerned, providing the necessary supporting information. In the case of GMOs, this includes any written consents and environmental risk assessments given under the Community legislation governing the deliberate release of such organisms''.

The Minister said that she was keen to unblock the consents given to crops and products in the testing pipeline. However, I received a reply yesterday from DEFRA about the environmental impact assessments, specifically in relation to the impact on soil ecology. It pointed out that we have not conducted any tests on soil ecology and that the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment—ACRE—does not plan to begin to put together a group that would consider the framework for such assessments until this summer. Do the Government plan to dispense with those tests,

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as part of the regulatory impact assessment, or to bring them forward so that we conduct them on all the crops in the testing pipeline?

Ms Blears: My hon. Friend's inquiry on unblocking that process is a little outwith today's debate. I was merely seeking to show that the 1 per cent. threshold would be on the crops that are currently awaiting approval, which would then require a proper risk assessment. We are beginning to unblock the process, and my hon. Friend's specific query about whether the tests would be carried out is a matter for that wider debate. I can certainly make an undertaking to provide him with that information, but that would be outwith the scope of our discussion today. In the wider scheme of things, as to whether those soil tests will be carried out, I will ensure that my hon. Friends in Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will let him have that information.

Mr. Jack: Would the Minister tell me in relation to article 3.15, whether ''pre-packaged'' covers McDonald's or Burger King burgers? If so, would they be required to put some declaration on a label on the outer burger packaging?

Ms Blears: I have not had that example put to me when looking at the legislation, but there is a definition in article 15 of ''pre-packaged'':

    '''pre-packaged' means any single item for sale to the ultimate user, consisting of a product and the packaging into which it was put before being offered for sale, whether such packaging encloses the product completely or only partially, but in such a way that the contents cannot be altered without opening or changing the packaging.''

Whether an individual product falls under that definition will be a matter for interpretation in relation to that individual product. I can think of items that are not enclosed in full packaging material that have a wrap around them, possibly a cardboard wrap and some sort of see-through wrapping as well. I can think of many such instances that could fall under that definition, but it would be a matter of considering each individual item. To determine whether such an item fell under that definition—a product and packaging into which it was put before being offered for sale—the process would have to be applied to each product as it came along.

A burger, if it were not served as a takeaway, might not come in any packaging at all. If it were saved in a takeaway package, it may well come in a package that encloses the whole product or part of it, or it may be enclosed by something that would have to be interfered with before it could be removed. There is a range of options, and I am sure that lawyers will have some work to do in deciding to which products article 15 applies.

Alan Simpson: I thank the Minister for that offer of clarification, to which I look forward. I would not mind a copy of any reply she gives to the right hon. Member for Fylde about the indistinguishability of traditionally hybrid plants and those that have been genetically modified. My understanding is that there is

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not such a category, and I would be excited to know about it. The specifics of the debate are about the ability of an industry to cross nature's frontiers, rather than work within them.

I would like to return to the issue of liability. We have had several representations from organic farmers who have taken up the Government's invitation to be part of the conversion scheme.

The Chairman: Order. The questions are beginning to be too lengthy. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will reserve them for the speech.

Ms Blears: I do not have a response to make. My hon. Friend did not quite manage to ask a question. I do not think I can quite manage to reply.

Mr. Heald: Article 11 deals with the modification, suspension, and revocation of authorisations. That is clearly an area in which science is moving fast. What are the grounds on which an authorisation could be modified, suspended or revoked?

Ms Blears: I am not aware of any specific examples of circumstances in which an authorisation could be revoked, but if an authorisation were given on a set of circumstances in relation to a product, and those circumstances were not complied with, the authorisation would not apply. I am thinking of a matter raised by one of my hon. Friends earlier on. If there were to be a considerable departure from the threshold limits for an authorisation that formed a wilful departure, the regulatory authorities would be extremely concerned about the authorisation that had been granted. The authorisation will be granted on certain terms and conditions and, as with any other regulatory framework, it will be suspended or revoked where products do not comply with them.

Alan Simpson: I shall be much more succinct. What discussions have been held with organic farmers about the implications of the proposals in respect of not traceability but liability?

Ms Blears: There has been extensive general consultation with consumers, businesses and organisations. I am not aware of the detail of any submission about the proposals from organic producers, but if they have raised points of concern I shall gladly inform the Secretary of State of them. For organics—I may be straying from the point a little—there is a threshold of 5 per cent; for goods that can be labelled organic, 5 per cent. may be other materials. The principle of thresholds is therefore as well established for organics as it is for GMOs.

Richard Younger-Ross: On the international aspects of the documents, what representations has the Minister received from countries such as the United States about the impact of regulation on multinational agreements? In response to the question on documentation and who pays, what will be the impact on third-world countries that are trying to export to the European Union?

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