Genetically Modified Food and Feed

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Mr. Jack: Can the Minister assure me that the Council of Ministers will discuss an equivalence of enforcement and analysis throughout the European Union? Several countries might have sophisticated techniques while those in other countries could be less sophisticated. Given that we have a single market, people might choose the easier door of entry.

Ms Blears: The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point about variations of analysis and enforcement. It is important to have consistent standards in both those areas for international trade, and I shall ensure that those issues are properly taken up. I hope that member states will share technology. Countries in which technology is better developed could share that among all of us who have an interest in ensuring that the analysis is correct.

The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned the catering sector and burgers, although I am not sure whether he thought that both necessarily go together. If restaurants in the UK sell products containing GM foods, they are required to notify that fact. The proposals will require such labelling throughout the

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European Union. Our position will not change, but there must be consistency throughout the European Union to require restaurant outlets to label food in such a way. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the proposals would cover burgers. Yes, they will, if any ingredients are obtained from a GMO or if the burgers contain soya protein. Article 15 refers to the separate issue of packaging.

The contributions to the debate showed that there are strong views on both sides of the House. Hon. Members raised important points about consumers being able to access good-quality information that allows them to make informed choices. At the same time, my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet made an extremely interesting argument about the differences between conventional hybridisation and the GM process. It will be important to get further information about the different content of products.

My hon. Friend also said that we should not take an anti-science view. It is important that the wider debate that will be launched has a rigorous science base for two reasons. First, we must ensure that we get the right information and, secondly, as the report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee says, we must rebuild public confidence in using science as a public policy issue. That is an important recommendation that we shall take forward. I am sure that hon. Members who do not share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet are not anti-science and will welcome that debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud made the important point that there is public demand and that we should listen to consumers. He also discussed whether we could get product liability in place before proceeding with the proposals. I do not think that there will necessarily be a direct read across to implications for product liability, but we must

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examine the international position. GM crops are traded internationally and we must try to ensure that we do not end up with legislation that is out of kilter with product liability legislation.

The hon. Member for Teignbridge made an important point about the effect on small businesses. There is a regulatory impact assessment that considers small businesses in particular, because many of the catering establishments employ fewer than 10 employees, and many bakery outlets are small businesses. We must be mindful of the burdens of extra paper audit trails and regulatory systems on those companies, but that must be balanced with safety and consumer information. He made an important point about the effect of the proposals on developing countries. We do not want the proposals to act as a barrier preventing developing countries from opening up trade.

I hope that I have covered all the matters that hon. Members raised. It is important that we get the right balance of safety and information, and that the proposals that the Government support are practical, enforceable and proportionate. I ask all hon. Members to support the motion. We will continue to negotiate with our partners and to try to ensure that whatever the eventual outcome of the legislation, it can be enforced properly and practically.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee takes note of European Union documents No. 11576/01, draft Council Regulation on genetically modified food and feed, and No. 11496/01, draft Council Regulation on the traceability and labelling of genetically modified organisms and traceability of food and feed products produced from genetically modified organisms; and supports the Government's aim of securing practical, proportionate and enforceable legislation that also recognises the external impact, including that on developing countries.

        Committee rose at twenty-five minutes to Seven o'clock.

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The following Members attended the Committee:
Hurst, Mr. Alan (Chairman)
Cunningham, Tony
Dobbin, Jim
Havard, Mr.
Hesford, Stephen
Jack, Mr.

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Ladyman, Dr.
Luke, Mr.
Murrison, Dr.
Swire, Mr.
Wright, Mr. Anthony D.
Younger-Ross, Richard

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(5):

Blears, Ms Hazel (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of

State for Health)

Caplin, Mr. Ivor (Hove)

Drew, Mr. David (Stroud)

Heald, Mr. Oliver (North-East Hertfordshire)

Love, Mr. Andrew (Edmonton)

Simpson, Alan (Nottingham, South)

 
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