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Baroness Byford: I rise to express my support for my noble friend's two amendments. I am slightly confused by the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Taverne,

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especially as regards the contribution made by my noble friend Lady Wilcox. She correctly reminded us that, at the end of day, it is the people--that is, all of us--who actually buy the food. It is most important that we should have confidence in what we buy. Therefore, I should like to support my noble friend's two amendments. They will give a special date by which one can start. Indeed, I have looked through much of the paperwork on this issue and studied the interviews that have been given. That reminded me of the interview which the right honourable Michael Meacher gave recently when he spoke on a Radio 4 programme. He said that the commercial planting of the herbicide resistant crops may start in the spring of the year 2000. So my noble friend is not asking for much of a delay.

In fact, with all the uncertainty and discussions that has gone on both in and outside the House, I think it would be very sensible for the Government to accept that we can work to a set date. In that way, those in the farming profession and general consumers will be much happier than they are at present with the phrase "it may", which is going around. That is why I support my noble friend.

Lord Carter: The effect of the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, would be a complete moratorium on research or marketing of certain types of genetically modified crops until 2001, in respect of herbicide tolerant crops, and 2003 in respect of insect tolerant crops. The Government are not prepared to see the development of GM crops stifled in this way. The current UK and EU legislation already closely controls research releases of GM crops. The applicant must be able to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Expert Advisory Committee and the Secretary of State that the proposed release will not cause damage to the environment. There is, therefore, no justification for a complete halt to such research. Similarly, there is no need for a moratorium on the granting of marketing consents. Such consents are only granted at European level and only after member states are satisfied that the growing of the GM plants, or the use of the seeds, will not cause harm to human health or the environment.

Perhaps I may raise one point with the noble Lord that has always puzzled me. He mentioned the seed which cannot be grown on. However, if there is a terminator gene--I believe that that is the correct term--in the seed, which means that there will not be a second generation, presumably there is no danger of the spread of the organism. I believe that I am correct in that assumption, as the noble Lord seems to be in agreement with me.

In addition, such unilateral action by the United Kingdom would be completely contrary to European law. I wonder whether the noble Lord might find that particular argument persuasive.

Lord Kimball: I shall incur the wrath of my noble friend Lady Miller because, in view of what the Captain of the Gentleman at Arms, said, I do not intend to press my amendments. Therefore, with noble Lords' permission, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

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Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 4A:


Page 1, line 22, at end insert--
("However, the Secretary of State shall under no circumstances grant consent for the commercial release of genetically modified organisms containing genes for antibiotic resistance present in the organism as the direct result of genetic modification or as a by-product of it.")

The noble Baroness said: I am sure the Committee will agree that the standards of good health that we enjoy today depend in large part upon the availability of effective antibiotics. There is now growing concern in medical circles that this effectiveness is being undermined.

Inevitably, as time goes on, strains of micro-organisms develop resistance to antibiotics to which they are exposed. Therefore any process that raises the level of antibiotics in the environment accelerates the rate at which resistance is developed. With good reason, health campaigners have called for an end to the unnecessary use of antibiotics, whether for human or animal applications.

However, the development of GM crops poses a new threat, that of directly introducing genes for antibiotic resistance into the environment. It is a fact that many forms of genetic modification involve the use of genes coding for antibiotic resistance as so-called "marker genes." The genes, though introduced in the laboratory, persist in the released crop with the risk that they may be passed on to various micro-organisms present in the environment. Such a risk is unacceptable, as is any dependence on voluntary agreements to phase out the use of antibiotic resistance marker genes. Only an unambiguous legislative ban on the release of crops genetically modified in this way can provide an acceptable guarantee on this most crucial of public health issues. I beg to move.

Lord Carter: The Government recognise that there are genuine concerns about the inclusion of antibiotic resistance markers in certain genetically modified organisms. The risks such markers may pose are assessed thoroughly during the approvals process and under the current legislation. The Secretary of State would not grant a consent if inclusion of such markers would pose a risk to human health and the environment. This was highlighted at the Environment Ministers' Council last month where all member states endorsed this view.

There are some antibiotic resistance marker genes whose inclusion in GMOs has no consequence at all for human health or the environment as the antibiotics in question are not used for therapeutic or other purposes. Therefore there is no need for this amendment as the current legislation already deals adequately with the issue. However, we on these Benches have no objection if the noble Baroness wishes to add otiose amendments to her own Bill.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 5:


Page 1, line 22, at end insert--
("(8B) Any consent granted by the Secretary of State pursuant to subsection (8A) during the first twenty years after the first release of a genetically modified organism shall not extend for more than three years but may be extended by up to the same period from time to time.
(8C) For the purposes of this section, an organism which is materially different from one already released shall be deemed to be one requiring consent under subsection (8A) and the consent required under subsection (8B) shall be time limited and require renewal as provided in that subsection.
(8D) Any consent granted by the Secretary of State pursuant to subsection (8A) may be revoked at any time without notice during the first twenty years after the first release of a genetically modified organism.
(8E) If any consent is revoked as aforesaid, the Secretary of State may also order the destruction of any growing organisms and the sterilisation of the soil in which they were growing in whatever way he deems appropriate.
(8F) No compensation shall be payable as a consequence of the revocation of a consent or an order for sterilisation.")

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 5 I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 6. Pollen and seeds carried by birds know nothing of national borders. On, I believe, 1st June the Minister, in a Written Answer to the honourable Member for Lewisham Deptford, stated that,


    "the Government welcomes the European plans to develop harmonised GMO risk assessment for cosmetic products and will push in Europe for their adoption.

If the Government are concerned about the implications for cosmetic products, how much more concerned should they be for crops? We have seen the presentation by the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC). Prior to that presentation a spokesman for Monsanto--a leading member of SCIMAC--said:


    "Consumer response is dictating the agenda, when it should be the science". I believe that that was breathtaking arrogance, as I mentioned on Second Reading. It is as if consumers are to have no say about what is crammed down their throats in the interests of the recovery of research costs and profits by the biotechnology industry.

I truly believe that in the end it will be found that properly licensed GM foods, derived from properly licensed and controlled GM crops, will be of immense benefit to mankind, not only because of improvements in taste and preservation time, but also because of the increasing demands of an escalating world population with increasing ambitions to enjoy more than the figurative bowl of rice. However, just that one misguided remark by Monsanto made me look closely at what is happening currently and the pressures that are being exerted by the biotechnology industry. That made me ask myself one simple question: what is the hurry?

At its presentation last month SCIMAC announced its guidelines for growing herbicide tolerant crops, its code of practice, its measures to ensure compliance with both of these, and a programme for administration of independent audit. That is all good stuff and all highly commendable. However, self-interested self-regulation

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is no substitute for government regulation on a subject as vital as this aspect of the environment, which could be damaged beyond repair for ever by just one accident in just one growing season. As I say, self-regulation is no substitute for government regulation or, at the least, strict rules on labelling--health warnings, if you wish--before the resulting products are put on the supermarket shelves.

Perhaps at this point it is worth my while reminding the Committee that on Second Reading I made it quite clear that I was not talking about genetically modified foods but about genetically modified crops. There is a difference. The New Scientist is not the Sun. The noble Lord may find some evidence in the New Scientist.


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