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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome given to my Statement. I pay

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tribute to the Select Committee's work. The material that we have published today comes to conclusions that are very similar to those of the Select Committee. The bodies are called commissions because they are to take a more strategic look at these issues than committees would do. Committees would be more concerned with a case-by-case consideration of food and planting issues. I think that that explains the difference.

The commissions will be able to commission research. I was asked about the breakdown between lay and scientific members. All sorts of people will be represented: lay members, members concerned with ethics, scientists, providers, and so on. I cannot give a precise breakdown. The Human Genetics Commission will report to health Ministers and the Agricultural and Environment Biotechnology Commission will report to the Minister in the Cabinet Office.

Lord Jopling: My Lords, I add my welcome to that given by the noble Lord, Lord Reay, and to the tribute paid by the Minister to the Select Committee's work. The Royal Society and the Select Committee recommended an overarching body to oversee all the regulators. I am not clear whether the Minister's proposals are in line with the wishes of the Royal Society and the Select Committee. I hope that the Minister can assure me on that.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am aware that the Select Committee suggested one overarching body. However, I do not think that we came to the same conclusion on that recommendation. Biotechnology can be used in a wide range of sectors. We thought that it would be too much for a single, overarching body to manage. That is why we suggested two commissions. It seemed to be the best way of providing the strategic leadership required.

Lord Kimball : My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that one of the problems has been the failure of the firms that are working in this field to promote the good which they are doing? Is he aware that we are discussing this problem 26 years after an Act was passed concerning plant breeders' rights? Is he further aware that in the first year the Act was on the statute book a very new, high-yielding, disease-resistant winter barley was launched on the market? The source from which it was said to come was seeds that were found on the hem of a dead nun's dress in Bulgaria. Can the noble and learned Lord imagine a more soothing way of calming the public's fears about genetically modified seed?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I can think of no more soothing way. The debate on genetically modified foods has rightly focused, and focused almost exclusively, on the negative aspects. There has been no widescale debate about the benefits to medicine, to the environment and to the third world which can come from the development of this science. When I say "development", I mean development. A good deal of development needs to be done. What we should not do is take steps which prevent that development taking

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place and, as a result, cause great disbenefit to the quality of life not just in the first world but also in the third world.

Viscount Addison: My Lords, how does the noble and learned Lord square with what he has just said the concerns arising from this example: on the one hand, the threat of peanuts in so many foods that are inadequately labelled to those who have allergies; and, on the other hand, the future ability of genetically modified peanuts to remove from the peanut the organism causing the allergy?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, perhaps I may write to the noble Viscount in relation to the problem of the peanut.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, what precautions will be put in place to prevent during the experimental period pollen from genetically modified crops that may damage the environment getting out of those plots and into the rest of the landscape round about the experimental area?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, one of the main issues in relation to that question is the distance between the farm-scale trials and the ordinary farming activity going on elsewhere. That would be the main aspect of protection.

Earl Peel: My Lords, I realise from what the Minister said that the advisory committee will contain a wide range of experts. On the environmental issues, I hope that the Government will listen carefully to the advice they are given by English Nature, which so far is somewhat concerned about the possible environmental impact of genetically modified crops.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the Government intend to take the best advice on all of these issues and pay appropriate regard to it.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that there is a less hysterical group of people in the community who are concerned about this issue? They accept all the points made by my noble friend Lord Kimball about the benefits in terms of feeding the people of the world, the medical benefits and many others. However, at the same time, they are worried that whole species of the life chain may disappear as a result of growing these crops or that there may be disruption of the environment to the extent that the price to be paid for those benefits is too high. These questions need to be resolved. For that reason I believe that what the noble and learned Lord appears to be saying in the Statement is right. We should not go forward to commercial production until we know that biodiversity will not be upset.

The Statement says:


    "Unrestricted commercial cultivation of any crop will not proceed until we are satisfied that it does not harm the environment".

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    Why is the qualification of "unrestricted" there? If it read:


    "Commercial cultivation of any crop will not proceed until we are satisfied that it does not harm the environment", that would be unequivocal. Can I take it from the noble and learned Lord that restricted commercial cultivation could take place? Can I have an assurance that no commercial cultivation will take place until we are satisfied that it does not harm the environment?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I have already said that field-scale and farm-scale trials are going on. The results of those farm-scale trials will have to be looked at. Once the results of those farm-scale trials have been looked at, appropriate measures will have to be determined. It would be wrong to restrict ourselves in any way as to what those measures should be. In effect, the noble Baroness is asking me to define whether it will be all or nothing. I cannot say.

Lord Christopher: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in welcoming the Statement and congratulate the Government on bringing it forward. I am left perplexed about why my honourable friend in another place submitted himself this morning to a difficult interview when he had some very good things to say which he obviously could not say in advance of making his Statement. But that is another matter.

We have to accept that there is widespread misunderstanding about what is taking place. That is not helped by the press, but I suppose that the press was not very much better informed than many of us. Public anxiety is understandable. The latest story that I have heard--I have no means of knowing whether it is accurate--is that a company is beginning to look at what contribution to this science funnel web spiders and scorpions can make. That is bound to worry people. Therefore, I ask the Minister whether any thought has been given to elevating the controls and so on in this area on an international basis.

I ask that for two reasons. First, in many respects, it seems that the United States is significantly ahead, certainly in using GM seeds. Secondly, my noble and learned friend did not mention the economic consequences of this technology, which need to be examined on an international basis. It has often been said that it will help third-world countries. It will not help them if they cannot keep the seed after each crop to grow the next crop and it may not help them if part of the environmental effects in their countries--in South America and Africa--are to interfere with other important crops through contamination. I am puzzled as to why further experiments are not carried out under more controlled conditions. A great many vegetables are today grown in tunnels. I have been to at least two or three extremely good butterfly farms. Thinking of the issue of the Monarch, it would have been perfectly possible to have discovered that in what I would call laboratory conditions.

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I conclude by asking the Minister to indicate whether the safety element of food will extend to the volume of that food consumed over a period of time as well as to the short-term consequences.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, with regard to safety, all aspects will have to be considered, including the amount of genetically modified food that may be eaten and what its consequences may be. The noble Lord asked about the international aspects. As I said in the Statement, we shall be working not just with industry but also with our European partners. I think that the noble Lord had in mind the wider international aspects. We must consider scientific advice and scientific research, from wherever in the world it comes.


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