Examination of witnesses (Questions 560
WEDNESDAY 14 OCTOBER 1998
and DR GERALDINE
Lord Wade of Chorlton
560. Are you happyand I am talking
now about the food industrywith the role of the bioscience
companies in the production of GM foods, and what relationship
does the food industry have with them, because their direct customer
is generally the producer?
(Dr Schofield) Yes, we do have obviously through
the scientific community, as well as through a business community,
dealings with the people who supply us in terms of what research
they are doing and what they are going to have to offer. I think
there was a slight problem, particularly with the introduction
of the products we have been talking about, with agronomic benefits,
that there was a lack of understanding of how to market these
initially, because a lot of these companies are not used to dealing
directly with consumers and so on; they are used to dealing into
commodities and they did not quite understand or fully appreciate
or go through the whole of the food chain, as Mr Ferguson said
earlier, in terms of understanding what the consumer wants, what
the consumer needs and what the informations are. I think that
was part of the problem with the marketing strategy. It obviously
is changing and it is a different relationship with people who
are looking at consumer benefits in the bioscience companies.
561. Does that suggest that perhaps the
bioscience companies have not really appreciated the response
of certain consumer groups to these genetically modified foods?
(Mr Ferguson) It is a fact to say that the American
bioscience companies were surprised by the reaction in Europe.
They were surprised because they did not have the same reaction
in North America, where they had successfully introduced these
products, and they believed that a similar strategy, which was
essentially to build on the benefits to the growers and therefore
create a stream of material, would also work in Europe. Clearly
they have learned from that mistake and, indeed, are now quite
active in a number of initiatives, some joint initiatives with
the food industry, some initiatives within their own trade associations,
in helping to make available information and contribute information
to things such as the FDF Foodfuture campaign. Again it is
an example of the fact, of course, that the majority of these
companies are not United Kingdom companies; they are not even
European companies, they are essentially global companies, often
using the North American market, because, of course, it is the
biggest agricultural market in the world, as their point of introduction.
(Dr Schofield) We have been working with them
through the European industry associations of which both ourselves
and the bioscience companies are a part. It is a positive step.
Lord Willoughby de Broke
562. What work are you involved in in creating
a code of practice, is the EC or the United Kingdom Government
involved, and why did the Institute of Grocery Distribution produce
(Mr Ferguson) We are working as an industry. As
I mentioned earlier, I believe, the IGD is the overarching body
which brings together the retailers and the food manufacturers,
and their particular work, which Dr Schofield is very much involved
with, in putting together labelling guidelines, was really there
to try and fill a vacuum. As we have already talked about, we
needed desperately the legislation and the regulation to be in
place. In the absence of that, in order to build consumer confidence
we wanted to make sure that, as far as possible, everyone in industry
was using the same basic guidelines, so that we could build on
that as part of our communication.
(Dr Schofield) We realised, both retailers and
manufacturers, about four years ago that these genetically modified
commodity crops would be coming on to the market and research
was done about how to provide information and labelling. There
was a hope that we would have had the Novel Foods Regulation several
years ago but in the absence of that it was decided to have a
voluntary code, and we did some consumer research with some focus
groups to decide what the consumer wanted. At that point there
was quite an upswell that they wanted any novel protein labelled
and that is why the Institute of Grocery Distribution came up
with their code of practice. Part of it was a realisation of commodities
and part of it was the Novel Foods Regulation.
(Mr Craddock) May I add, my Lord Chairman, we
do, of course, work with our own government, as do other interested
bodies, and they are looking at the moment to formulate guidelines
which will hopefully clarify some of the uncertainties of the
new regulatory framework.
563. Could I ask you about the lack of an
international agreement and particularly the lack of agreement
within the European Union on the handling of GM crops and the
use of GM crops. Is this causing your members problems?
(Mr Ferguson) Yes. If we go back to the beginning
almost, it is an internationally sourced industry. It would be
very advantageous to have one unified set of rules, one unified
set of regulations, which were applied universally, fairly and
consistently. That would make our jobs very much easier.
564. Are you concerned about the delays
that are involved in the EC regulatory system?
(Mr Ferguson) Yes, we are, my Lord Chairman. In
a sense it causes uncertainties. It allows the things that Lord
Jopling was referring to to happen. It allows a particular element
or part of a business or a particular business to try to make
short-term commercial gain out of exploiting a lack of certainty
and regulations, which can only be done at the expense of the
rest of the industry which is trying to follow a uniform path.
We very much want to see regulations in place and we want to see
even-handed and consistent enforcement of those regulations. We
see that as a fundamental part of helping to build consumer confidence.
565. Do you think the revised Directive,
90/220/EEC, will improve matters?
(Dr Schofield) 90/220/EEC, if it was applied across
the board as it stands and we have seen it in the United Kingdom,
is actually quite effective at regulating the field trials and
commercialisation. Certainly, as my own experience, mainly in
the United Kingdom, has shown and also from my sister company
in the Netherlands, that it can actually be applied evenly and
fairly. I think the problem comes with a lack of understanding
and harmonisation of data requirements across the EC in terms
of 90/220/EEC, which has caused a lot of problems. It is also
rather unfortunate that we are in a revision of 90/220/EEC at
this time because it is going to increase uncertainty at a time
when we are looking for more certainty. So over the next two years
we may be seeing a lot of debate about the scope, liabilities,
monitoring, seven-year authorisation schemes, which I think is
actually going to be rather unhelpful at this moment, certainly
to industry and I am sure to the public, whom we have been assuring
we have a good regulatory regime and now it has been taken apart
and relooked at.
Chairman: That brings
us to the end of our questions. May I thank you on behalf of the
Committee very much indeed for having spared the time to come
and give us some extremely helpful and interesting evidence. Thank