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GM Crops: Public Interest and Commercial Secrecy

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Whitty: The release of information on genetically modified (GM) crops is governed by the Genetically Modified Organisms (Deliberate Release) Regulations 1992 (as amended) which give effect to Part VI of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Under the regulations, information contained in applications to release GM crops must be placed on the public register. However, the legislation requires the Secretary of State to keep certain information confidential if required to do so by the company concerned. The department's criteria for deciding whether such requests are valid are set out in the guide to the regulations, a copy of which is in the Library. Generally, such information is limited to the protection of intellectual property rights for which a patent application is being made. The information is placed on the public register once the patent has been granted. Otherwise all the information in the application for consent to release or market a GMO is available on request. Even when the detailed description is kept confidential, general information about the description of the genetically modified organism in question and the purpose of the release must be placed on the public register.

Aircraft: Cabin Ventilation

Lord Shore of Stepney asked Her Majesty's Government:

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Lord Whitty: The Chief Medical Officer of the Civil Aviation Authority believes that the recirculation of air does not pose a risk to the health of passengers.

Even when the air conditioning is set at its lowest level, the air in a modern aircraft cabin is changed every three minutes on average. The oxygen used by passengers is a small proportion, approximately 5 per cent. of the oxygen supplied at the minimum flow rate. The oxygen level in the cabin air therefore remains at around 20 per cent. for the duration of a flight, which is almost the same as normal atmospheric oxygen levels.

There is no evidence of links between cabin air quality, flow rates and the spread of disease. The filters used in most modern aircraft are similar to those used in critical wards of hospitals, operating theatres and burns units, and provide protection against the circulation of biological agents such as viruses. However, the spread of disease is facilitated when large numbers of people gather in close proximity. This has nothing to do with air quality but is a matter of personal contact.

While the re-circulation of air poses no risk, the air pressure in aircraft in flight, which is roughly equivalent to the atmospheric pressure at 8,000 feet above sea level, can affect people with respiratory diseases such as bronchitis, emphysema and bronchiolitis. Those affected are advised to consult their own doctor and the airline before travelling.

Lead Shot Regulations: Devolved Legislation

Lord Burton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly will have to approve the draft regulations to restrict the use of lead shot; and, if so, whether it will still be possible for the draft regulations to come into force on 1 September 1999.[HL2538]

Lord Whitty: From 1 July this will be a matter for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. There is no proposal to make a single set of regulations concerning the whole of Great Britain.

Lord Burton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether it would be anomalous for the draft regulations to restrict the use of lead shot to be in operation on one side of the Solway Firth and Dee estuary but not the other.[HL2539]

Lord Whitty: No. It is a consequence of devolution that the law on devolved matters may not be identical in Scotland or in Wales to what it is in England. In a number of respects existing law is, of course, already different in Scotland and Wales to that in England.

Hearing Loss

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the statement by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security on 3 March (HC Deb, col. 1044) that "Fifty decibels is

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    the point at which a person starts to have trouble following conversation in a noisy environment", whether they will indicate what scientific and medical evidence there is to justify this statement.[HL2743]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): The effect on hearing ability of any level of hearing loss varies among individuals depending on age, gender, type of hearing loss and whether hearing ability is measured by self-report or actual inability to perform listening tasks. The comment by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Bayley) was intended to give a non-specialist audience an idea of the impact of such a hearing loss in an adult.

A number of scales linking disablement to hearing level have been proposed and most publicly funded compensation schemes define a disablement threshold level below which disablement does not attract compensation. In the industrial injuries and war pensions schemes the compensation threshold is set at 50 decibels averaged over 1, 2 and 3 Kiloherz, which equates to 20 per cent. disablement in the scale of disablement used for both schemes. The details of the adoption of this threshold are set out in the Industrial Injuries Command Paper, Command 5461, Occupational Deafness (October 1973). A copy of that paper will be sent to the noble Earl.

Abattoirs: Bovine and Porcine Carcasses

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether Official Veterinary Service officers in charge of hygiene supervision in abattoirs should be able to differentiate between bovine and porcine carcasses; and what is the legal position of abattoir owners who are accused of failing to remove spinal cords from bovines which turn out to be porcine.[HL2705]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): All official veterinary surgeons can differentiate between a bovine and a porcine carcass. There is no legal requirement to remove the spinal cord from a porcine carcass.

Abattoirs: Cost of Specified Risk Material Controls

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in view of the reported overspend by the BSE inquiry and the alleged strain on the current finances of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, they will consider implementing suggestions for self-supervision of specified risk material controls by abattoir owners under licence; and, if not, why not.[HL2704]

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Lord Donoughue: The Ministry's financial position is not relevant to this question since, as the Government have made clear, they believe that the costs of enforcing the controls on specified risk material should in principle be recovered from industry. However, the Government have also announced that they will examine the way the inspections are carried out to ensure that, when charges are set, the costs are as low as possible, consistent with maintaining public safety and honouring our obligations under EU law. There is no reason why that examination should not include the idea of self-supervision.

Pet Quarantine Reform

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will ensure that all new implementation proposals on quarantine reform will comply with European Community law and in particular with Articles 30 to 36 of the Treaty of Rome.[HL2690]

Lord Donoughue: It is always the Government's intention that their proposals should comply with European Community law.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the drafts of the proposed amendments to the Rabies Order 1974 and the Animal Health Act 1981 have been submitted to the European Commission for approval and confirmation of conformity with European Community law; and whether they will place a copy of the draft proposals, which have already been shown to carriers, in the Library of the House.[HL2691]

Lord Donoughue: Drafting of a statutory instrument providing for the pet travel scheme pilot arrangements is still under way. MAFF officials have not shown copies of a draft to carriers. I am happy to put copies of the draft in the Library of the House when work has further advanced.

GM Crops and Foods: EC Directives

Lord Shore of Stepney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the treaty base which empowers the European Commission to draft directives regulating the import into a member state of products, foodstuffs, seeds and plants produced or grown in other member states which are judged by a member state to threaten the health of humans, animals, plants and crops in that state.[HL2741]

Lord Donoughue: As my noble friend correctly identified in the debate on 27 May 1999 on Genetic Modification in Agriculture: ECC Report (Official Report, col. 1069) Article 30 (previously Article 36) of the treaty enables member states to restrict imports on

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the grounds of protecting the health of humans, animals or plants if there are no other harmonising measures in place. In relation to GM crops and foods, both the council directive on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms (90/220/EEC) and EC Regulation 258/97 concerning novel foods and novel food ingredients have regard to the treaty establishing the European Community and in particular Article 95 (previously Article 100a) thereof.

Community legislation governing the marketing of genetically modified foods, plants and seeds has the objective of safeguarding human health and the environment. Products have to be approved at Community level before they can be placed on the Community market. Given the treaty base and the objectives of the Community legislation, there are no grounds for restricting such imports unless new information calls into question the original approval, in which case a member state may temporarily restrict imports while the new information is assessed.

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