Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)|
TUESDAY 16 APRIL 2002
100. I get the sense that you know you are not
going to get in the Championship League, and it has all gone wrong
off the field; it is a bit like that, is it not?
(Dr Turner) Setting aside any comments about the value
of myself versus some of the Leeds forwards, I do not feel that,
myself. I think I would say, cautiously optimistic, waiting for
the opportunity, to use the footballing analogy, to score a few
goals and come through.
101. Play the game as it comes; a game of two
(Dr Turner) Yes.
102. You are not winning many though, are you?
(Dr Turner) I do not think we won very many to start
with. I think there are more and more that we win now.
103. Two years ago, I had, personally, at least
an idea of what I thought was the Government's scenario to pull
this debate together, and it was based very strongly on the field
trials. Since then, I have to say, I no longer know how I think
the Government is going to pull this together, I have not got
the confidence that it thinks the field trials are going to deliver
its results. You heard evidence given earlier today that some
groups think field trials are heading off in entirely the wrong
direction, and that a more complex process of adjudication has
got to take place. Just looking at your crystal ball, when do
you think, realistically, not what you would like, but when do
you think realistically, you are likely to be able to grow your
first commercial crop, in the UK?
(Mr Fiddaman) That is a real crystal ball, is it not.
(Dr Turner) I will stick my neck out: 2004, 2005.
(Mr Fiddaman) I would have said, three years; so that
is not far out.
104. So you think that the present procedures
and process put in place, leaving aside some sort of problems
of joined-up government between various Departments involved in
all that, you think they will actually push this through, to be
able to take a decision, leaving aside any complications at the
European Union level with the sorts of mechanisms and approvals,
you do think that is the case?
(Mr Fiddaman) Yes.
(Dr Turner) Yes.
(Mr Pearsall) I do not think we can leave aside complications
at a European Union level, because we are in a situation where
the de facto moratorium, as it is called, is overriding,
and that is the essential block on new approvals being granted.
105. And so you think that, were it not for
that, the British Government would have the sort of clear perspective
as to where we are going and a sort of timescale which, eventually,
given the outcomes which people expected, or hoped for, would
lead to commercial planting?
(Mr Pearsall) I do not think we can answer on behalf
of the Government. I think we can present what is our clear understanding.
106. That is what I am asking you for, what
is your clear understanding?
(Mr Pearsall) Which is that, at the outset of the
farm-scale evaluations, industry, via SCIMAC, entered into an
agreement, and it was a voluntary agreement, from industry's perspective,
on the conduct of the farm-scale evaluations; that is set within
very clear parameters and has very clear time-lines. Now it is
a voluntary agreement, it is outside regulatory requirements,
over and above regulatory requirements; there are other regulatory
hurdles for each of these crops that must be cleared, not just
in relation to GM but also in relation to normal plant variety
and pesticide registration.
107. Are you aware of, and I am quoting again,
I think, previously, a catastrophe in the making in the United
(Mr Pearsall) No; in fact, in relation to the producer
benefits that Mr Jack was particularly asking about, I was going
to offer to provide information about the uptake of GM crops in
other parts of the world, including the United States, where their
penetration in the major crops continues to increase.
108. Yes; the remark made earlier was not about
producer penetration, or growing, it was suggesting that the environmental
consequences would be tantamount to a catastrophe there. But that
is not a perception which you recognise?
(Dr Turner) No; and, certainly, the people I have
talked with from America and people I have listened to, and read
scientific papers, suggest that the benefit you see, in terms
of pesticide reductions, benefits to reduce tillage, lots and
lots of things that I would put in a "box" that said
organic benefits are manifest there, and I do not think that North
American consumers would be willing to lose those.
109. What have the farm-scale trials demonstrated,
up to now?
(Mr Pearsall) I think, as you will be aware, there
are no results or data from the trials, those will be published
as one, covering the three-year period. I think, from our perspective,
as SCIMAC, we have gained experience of applying the SCIMAC guidelines
in a normal farming situation at more than 180 field-scale sites;
and I think the experience we have gained is that they are robust
and practicable and workable in a normal farming situation.
(Mr Fiddaman) And they have been audited to endorse
that viewpoint, that what we are doing, practitionally, on the
ground, is what has been recommended, and is keeping any element
of risk to the minimum, this is assuming what this term risk means.
110. The Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology
Commission, which is yet another one of these bodies in this extraordinarily
complicated piece of bureaucratic architecture, said, basically,
that why cannot you chaps and the organic lot get together and
sort out something which will make them happy, and make you happy,
and will prevent the contamination of organic crops. Do you believe
that the buffer zones, as they presently exist in the Code of
Practice, are adequate, and is asking you and the organic people
to get together and sort it out a bit like asking President Bush
and al-Qa'eda sort of to come to a gentlemanly agreement?
(Dr Turner) I would use the analogy of Mr Paisley
and the Pope, but I accept the point you are making. I do not
think it is a particularly fair comment; we do talk to them. This
year, for instance, in selecting the sites, some of the organic
accreditation bodies gave us lists of farmers in the areas, so
we could actually take steps to avoid that potential conflict.
In terms of the separation distances, I would say that they do
work, in practice, the whole of arable farming is based on certified
seed, which is based on buffer zones and separation distances,
to give guaranteed genetic purity. Inherent in that is setting
some form of threshold that is "acceptable", and, there,
I think, is where you would come down; if the threshold is zero,
which is quite impractical and unenforceable, then I think that
will be very difficult. But, I think, if there is a pragmatic
realisation that you can have very, very low levels, without in
any way damaging the integrity of the products, then I think we
can live together. And there have been studies in North America,
Canada and Switzerland which show quite clearly that organic and
conventional farming can co-exist quite happily.
111. Now Bob Fiddaman told us about the discussions
he had had with his local community about his own trials, but
Crops on Trial said that it felt that some of the sites
that had been chosen were inappropriate sites, particularly inappropriate
sites, and it also said that it felt that the processes of consultation
and design could be condemned as having been secretive. Do you
think that is a justified comment, in the light of some of the
trials, or some of the consultations?
(Mr Pearsall) I think, `unfortunate' is a very subjective
term. Our role within the farm-scale evaluations essentially was
one to support the scientific endeavour, which was to deliver
a pool of sites which met the scientific criteria of the researchers
and the steering committee. In terms of the design and methodology
of the trials themselves, I think that is probably more an issue
for Government, but, clearly, there was a process of public consultation,
not only in a written form but also in the form of a public meeting,
before the trials were embarked upon. From our perspective, we
have learned lessons over the period of the trials, and, I think,
as each successive round of plantings has been announced, we have
made additional efforts to provide information to local people
as early as practicably possible. This year, the announcements
were made six weeks, at least, before the first plantings took
place, and that was in line with the AEBC's recommendation; in
fact, the AEBC recommended a benchmark of four weeks and that
SCIMAC should strive for six weeks, we have delivered six weeks.
It does add to the pressures and the practicalities of delivering
the site requirements. But, I think, a suggestion of secrecy,
or a lack of transparency, is misplaced, in relation to the way
we sought to deliver public information.
112. So you believe that when the present cycle
of trials has been completed, European Union rules and politics
permitting, the Government ought then to be in a position to make
the decision on commercial growing?
(Mr Pearsall) The farm-scale evaluations are asking
one single question, does the management of the GM herbicide-tolerant
crops, in direct comparison with the equivalent non-GM crop, have
a positive, neutral or negative impact on farmland biodiversity;
they do not provide the green light through all the other regulatory
hurdles that already exist. Now the crops involved are at varying
stages through those regulatory procedures; the forage maize is
the furthest progressed, that has a full marketing consent, the
others are being grown under experimental release consents. But
even the forage maize has two specific hurdles to clear before
it could be grown commercially, national listing and pesticide
113. Which takes us back to a point that we
were discussing earlier, which is the European process, because
the process you have just alluded to is governed through European
Union agreements. As we have said, a number of EU States effectively
have said that they will not authorise any further release of
GM crops, imposing an informal moratorium on the process. How
do you view that?
(Mr Pearsall) I think my understanding of the position,
of certainly some of those Member States, is that they would not
lift their de facto block on new approvals until not only
the revised Deliberate Release Directive was in place and implemented
across Member States but also the proposed food and feed labelling
and traceability requirements were also met. As far as SCIMAC's
position on that, we come from the viewpoint that there is no
scientific or safety basis for a de facto moratorium, as
it stands at the moment, and our concern would be that that risks
not only commercial disadvantage but also disadvantage to the
many scientific institutes and academic institutions, in terms
of their ability to conduct research and deliver progress and
innovation in Europe.
114. There seems some evidence that a court
challenge might succeed; is that an action that any of your members
(Mr Pearsall) I do not know. I do not think we are
in a position to comment on that.
115. So at the moment you are just accepting
this moratorium, although you feel it to be unfounded?
(Mr Pearsall) Taking the risk of answering on behalf
of SCIMAC, I do not think a legal challenge would be the most
constructive route forward to deliver public confidence in the
strengthened regulatory regime.
116. I think I would say that is a very sensible
view, but the implication of that is that you will have to accept
some significant delay, and, bearing in mind your rather optimistic
statements about when we would be seeing these crops in the ground,
you are not expecting a substantial delay on this; but one of
the provisos, as you said, is the labelling and traceability one,
do you feel that that is an acceptable proviso, bearing in mind
that it would be applied purely to GM product and not to other
(Mr Pearsall) We come very much from the perspective
that SCIMAC was established in response to a very clear demand
for consumer choice, where GM crops and products are concerned,
that is the basis of
117. Where was the great clamour for GM crops,
for GM food?
(Mr Pearsall) For choice?
118. Yes; from the consumer then, where was
the consumer crying out for this choice? They did not; it was
offered to them, we can say?
(Mr Pearsall) The ability to exercise a choice, in
that case, between GM and non-GM.
119. Yes; but there was no great clamour for
it, was there?
(Dr Turner) There was, in my local Waitrose, from
me and my wife.