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Mr. Morley: I am happy to clarify the position as far as I can at this stage in the process. The Government have made it clear that there should be a liability scheme, just as there should be a co-existence scheme, and I have outlined to the House the steps being taken to put them in place. If, after consultation, a liability scheme is put in place and if it is determined that it should be based on an industry contribution, it is up to the biotech industry to decide whether it wants to operate under those conditionsthat is the choice that it must make.
Andrew George: I am grateful to the Minister, but clearly some farmers and growers will suffer unintended consequences as a result of the decision on the commercial growing of GM and may be put out of business. It is therefore important to reassure people who want to retain their edge in the marketplace as non-GM organic growers that they will not be undermined, and that there is a liability scheme to which they can appeal if they are affected. I am grateful for the Minister's assurance, and I look forward to the Government's publication of the consultation documents on the liability and co-existence schemes, both of which are fundamental to the future of the industry.
Mr. Morley: I am grateful for an opportunity to do so. Under the thresholds agreed by the EU, food is deemed to be GM only if its GM content is over 0.9 per cent. Honey could not exceed that level, so it could not be labelled as GM.
Andrew George: I am sure that the beekeepers of the UK will be reassured by that explanation. They would not want the GM content of any of their products to exceed 0.1 per cent.the organic standard that some people believe should be the absolute thresholdso I am sure that the Minister will receive further correspondence from them.
For regions and localities that wish to maintain their market edge the establishment of GM-free zones mentioned by the Secretary of State in her statement on 9 March will be extremely important. There are many places, including my own area of west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, where the majority of growers want to take full advantage of being able to promote their product as GM free. What statutory support will be available for them? The Secretary of State suggested that the matter would be kept under review and that she would consult EU colleagues about the introduction of more robust measures. That is extremely important.
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If the Government intend to introduce measures to protect farmers, or at least to ensure that growers and farmers have the option of trying to dissuade other growers who may be considering growing GM in their vicinity, it would be interesting to hear what mechanisms might be put in place to allow that to happen. Because a few farmers and growers want to remain GM-free, we should not take the view that no GM should be grown in the UK, but when all the assurances have been given and the Government have made a proper decision based on sound science, there should still be the opportunity for local measures to be taken to protect growers and to enable them to maintain clear market advantage.
Mr. Drew: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I tabled an early-day motion on the possibility of introducing buffer zones for pesticide use. I know he had some difficulties with aspects of that early-day motion. I spoke to the National Farmers Union, which thought it would be impractical to operate buffer zones for pesticides in this country because land space is so tight. If it is impossible for pesticides, how does the hon. Gentleman think such a measure would operate for GM?
Andrew George: I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman. I am not a spokesman for the NFU or any agricultural body. Establishing buffer zones for pesticides should be a great deal easier, given that they would not be wind blown, one hopes, whereas pollen seeds could be carried very long distances. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should put his question to others.
Ms Walley: In the light of the hon. Gentleman's comments about commercial growers and the ways in which organic commercial growers could maintain their integrity, what does he have to say about people who grow organically for the sheer joy of it? There are hundreds of thousands of farmers who grow commercially, but just as many people who grow in their own gardens. What about people who belong to organic associations and want to carry on growing organic produce in their gardens?
Andrew George: That is a good point. I am not saying that commercial growers are the only people who should have a say. All those who are engaged in growing and have an interest of one type or anothernot merely a commercial interestshould have a say in the way in which policy is developed in the locality. I hope the Government will take that on board when they introduce measures to support the establishment of GM-free zones.
"managed as in the trials, or under such conditions as will not result in adverse effects on the environment."[Official Report, 9 March 2004; Vol. 418, c. 1382.]
Although that has been put off as a result of the decision of a commercial company, so we are told, what conditions other than those in the trials would be deemed not to result in adverse effects on the environment, and who will take that decision?
The Government will find themselves under a great deal of pressure following last week's announcement from the US Administration challenging the
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moratorium in the EU and threatening to impose a £1 billion fine on the EU for the moratorium. On 28 April 2004, an article in the Daily Mailnot my regular readstated:
"America opposes full labelling because it is concerned that once consumers know a product contains GM ingredients they will boycott it, so harming U.S. exports."
The UK Government have an opportunity to show leadership both in Europe and in the US, and the criticisms that they have behaved like a poodle with regard to the US are possibly unfair. GM offers an admirable opportunity for the UK to use its strong and special relationship with the US to show not only that the UK is proceeding on the grounds of sound science and an appropriate moratorium, but that proper choice for consumers in purchasing or consuming any food product is of fundamental importance, and I hope that the Government argue strongly on that front.
We cannot take future decisions at a speed that precludes a responsible and cautious approach. Decisions must clearly be based on sound science, and consumers must be presented with an informed choice. The Government must be congratulated on consulting the public and undertaking field-scale trials and scientific and commercial reviews.
Andrew George: I am doing my very best to sugar the pill that I am offering the Minister on this issue. Like the hon. Gentleman, I have criticised the Government for mistiming the public consultation, which was concluded before the publication of essential science on which there should have been a public debate. I take his point that it is absurd to consult the public before the farm-scale trial evaluations report and before the commercial and scientific reports are produced. However, the Government have gone further than many of us expected, given that elements within the Government are more pro-science than the Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): I begin by declaring an interest in an organic retail firm. I also pay tribute to the Environmental Audit Committee report, which was thoughtfulnot being a speed reader, I thought that it deserved more than one day's contemplation and that it should have been taken into account before decisions were made.
Having listened to the debate, the central question is why the Government are so anxious to support GM in the face of all the pressures to the contrary. First, as has been repeatedly pointed out, the public do not want GM. If the Government want to restore trust, it does not
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help to have a nationwide consultation, find out that 85 per cent. of people do not want GM crops in this country and then proceed in the other direction. Secondly, the supermarkets will not stock it because there is no market in it.
Thirdly, even the biotech companies are pulling out. I am referring not only to the withdrawal of Bayer CropScience from the Chardon LL application, but to other biotech companies pulling out even from research trials, which have slumped from 140 two years ago to 42 last year and just one this year.
Fourthly, even farmers' initial enthusiasm has begun to wane. The claim that yields would increase and pesticide use would decrease has turned to dustliterally so in the case of the Argentine pampas to which my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) referred. That area, which contains a quarter of global GM production, now faces ecological catastrophe as a result of soil erosion. Charles Benbrook, the former head of the agricultural division of the US National Academy of SciencesI would regard that as a very reliable authorityhas found that over the past eight years pesticide use has increased by 50 million lb in the US, where two thirds of the world's GM crops are grown. I would say to my hon. Friend the Minister that that is despite what has happened in relation to herbicide-tolerant maize, and it is caused by volunteers, super-weeds and increasing resistance from new strains of weeds.
Fifthly, even the Government's wider policies are incompatible with GM. In my view, their central agricultural policy, apart from getting rid of the common agricultural policy, is to generate sustainable agriculture in this countrythey are absolutely right to do soand to implement the excellent Curry report. That is not consistent with promoting GM, not least because of the high and increasing use of chemical pesticides. Moreover, the Governmentincluding, notably, the Prime Ministerhave repeatedly made it clear that they support a major extension of organic crops and have pledged themselves to more than double by 2010 the percentage of organic food that is consumed and has been cultivated in this country. That, too, is incompatible with GM, because cross-contamination by GM crops will wipe out the organic sector. There is no doubt that within the small confines of farming in this country that will happen, as it has on the Canadian prairies.
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