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The Earl of Caithness asked Her Majesty's Government:

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Lord Whitty: As stated in British Shipping: Charting a new course the Government proposed to set up catalyst groups to identify for each action point what needs to be done and the most appropriate body or bodies to undertake the work. Three catalyst groups have been established, covering training and skills, employment and environmental benefits. The catalyst groups were appointed by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and include representatives from the Chamber of Shipping, NUMAST, RMT, TGWU and departmental officials.

Each catalyst group is assigned the task of taking forward the relevant action points from the shipping paper. The groups have no terms of reference beyond this task and no further reports have been commissioned. There is no cost to the taxpayer in the establishment and running of the catalyst groups other than the cost of officials as part of their normal duties.

Food Labelling: GM Content

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans he has to introduce regulations for the enforcement of EC Regulation 1139/98 concerning the labelling of genetically-modified soya and maize.[HL1642]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): On 18 March we laid before Parliament the Food Labelling (Amendment) Regulations 1999, which came into force on 19 March. These provide the means for local authorities to be able to enforce the EC regulation that requires all foods containing genetically modified soya or maize ingredients to be clearly labelled. This regulation, which took effect last September, applies to all foods produced and labelled from that date.

The Government are determined that consumers should be able to choose whether or not to eat genetically modified foods. This includes food sold in restaurants, cafes and takeaways and not just that available from supermarkets. The UK is the first member state in Europe to take steps to ensure that consumers eating out will have the same right to choose whether or not to consume foods containing GM ingredients as those buying from shops.

As a measure of how seriously the Government take the right of consumers to have clear, reliable information about the GM content of the food they buy, we have decided not to wait the customary 21 days for these regulations to come into force but to make them fully effective from 19 March.

A letter was sent on 18 March to interested parties advising them of the content of the regulations and enclosing a copy of the text. Further copies of

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the regulations are available from John Furzer or Raj Pal, MAFF, Room 239c, Ergon House, 17 Smith Square, London, SW1P 3JR. In addition, the legislation can be viewed at MAFF's Website "". A regulatory impact assessment for the regulations has been prepared and placed in the Library of the House.

Abattoir Closures

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many abattoirs have closed in the last two years.[HL1524]

Lord Donoughue: A total of 55 slaughterhouse licences (red meat and poultry meat) were revoked in England during the last two years because they had ceased operating. For Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the totals are eight seven and four respectively.

British Beef

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How soon they expect exports of British beef to begin following the lifting of the beef ban in November 1998.[HL1523]

Lord Donoughue: The November 1998 European Commission decision on the Date-based Export Scheme (DBES) for British beef requires the commission to set a date from which exports can commence. The decision also requires that this date can only be set following a satisfactory Commission inspection of the UK's operational arrangements for the DBES. We have invited the Commission to undertake its inspection in the week commencing 12 April. Following the inspection we will encourage the Commission to set the start date as quickly as possible.

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the total number of export abattoirs which have been established to relaunch the beef export trade.[HL1525]

Lord Donoughue: One abattoir in Northern Ireland is approved to slaughter cattle for export under the Export Certified Herds Scheme. The Date-based Export Scheme is not yet operational. The European Commission must carry out an inspection of our procedures before setting a date on which exports may resume. We do not intend to approve plants for export until the Commission inspectors have reported on their findings.

WTO Rules and Precautionary Principle

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Donoughue on 26 January (WA 142), whether they will work to ensure that the World Trade Organisation

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    should always adopt the precautionary principle in the absence of conclusive scientific evidence that a product is safe, and should not assume that the absence of conclusive evidence can amount to conclusive evidence of absence or risk to human, animal or plant life or health.[HL1440]

Lord Donoughue: As I have explained in my two previous replies of 8 December 1998 and 26 January 1999, the WTO rules governing trade restrictions in relation to human, animal and plant life and health already allow the use of a precautionary approach.

Rural Affairs Ministry

The Duke of Buccleuch and Queensbury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether consideration will be given to merging the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions into a single rural affairs ministry, following the setting up of a Food Standards Agency.[HL1362]

Lord Donoughue: The Government have no plans at present to merge these two departments.

Ilisu Dam Project

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why the Export Credits Guarantee Department is assessing the Ilisu dam project in Turkey, when it has already been turned down by the World Bank; and whether the Department of Trade and Industry is supporting the application by a British company.[HL1430]

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury): The Export Credits Guarantee Department's role is to provide support to UK exporters of goods and services in respect of exports of capital goods and projects overseas. It is considering the request for support from a UK company, in accordance with its normal procedures. It is not the case that the World Bank has refused financing support for the Ilisu dam project, since its support has not been requested.

In assessing this application, ECGD has been working with the other export credit agencies and companies involved to ensure that the environmental and social impact which the project has on the region is mitigated. This is a good example of companies and export credit

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agencies working together to ensure that projects are carried out with due regard to the local environment.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What advice they have received concerning (a) possible increased international tension and (b) environmental impact, resulting from the proposed Ilisu dam in Turkey.[HL1431]

Lord Simon of Highbury: Studies have been produced to consider the political and environmental implications of this project. We shall continue to work with the authorities in other countries from which contractors are involved in this project, and with the companies themselves, to ensure that all the issues are properly addressed.

A large amount of work has been done already--a full Environmental Impact Assessment has been carried out, followed by a further study. More analysis will be required to enable the project's implementation to be fully managed and monitored.

WTO Rules and Precautionary Principle

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made by the World Trade Organisation in adjusting its criteria to ensure that its decisions take proper account of the precautionary principle as regards their social and environmental effects; and, if not, whether they will seek to halt the WTO's activities until these improvements in its procedure have been affected.[HL1437]

Lord Simon of Highbury: Discussions are taking place in the World Trade Organisation's Committee on Trade and Environment on the relationship between multilateral environmental agreements (some of which are underpinned by the precautionary principle) and trade rules. Progress in this area will have to satisfy concerns that any trade measures in this area might be used as a cloak for protectionism.

Separately, the WTO's Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures to protect human, animal and plant life or health provides a framework to ensure that such measures are soundly based. The Government fully support a precautionary approach in cases where there may be serious risk to health, and provision is already available for such an approach within the SPS Agreement (Article 5) provided that members seek to obtain the additional information necessary for a more objective assessment of risk and review the measure accordingly within a reasonable period of time.

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