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Genetically Modified Food

Mr. Sheerman: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans his Department has to regulate the supply of genetically modified food. [5087]

Mr. Rooker: The EC novel foods and novel food ingredients regulation 258/97, which came into force on 15 May, lays down an EU wide pre-market approval system and labelling requirements for novel foods and novel food ingredients including those containing, or produced from, genetically modified organisms (GMOs). All applications for approval will be considered by the UK's independent Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes.

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Mr. Paice: To ask the Minster of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what studies he has authorised into the consumer safety aspects of genetically modified maize. [5167]

Mr. Rooker: While no specific studies have been commissioned on genetically modified (GM) maize, the Department is currently spending around £1 million a year on work to underpin the safety assessments undertaken by the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes on GM materials such as this.

Internet

Mr. Sheerman: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what use he plans to make of the Internet to make Government more open. [5105]

Mr. Morley: MAFF takes a positive view of the Internet as a medium for making its work more open and accessible. The introduction of a dedicated MAFF World Wide Web service (http://www.maff.gov.uk) in October 1996 has seen an expansion in the range of information available to Internet users. The Department is considering how to further develop electronic services to the public.

Regional Panels

Mr. Letwin: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what mechanisms for consultation with farmers he intends to introduce to replace the MAFF regional panels. [4925]

Mr. Rooker: We have arrangements for consulting formally with a wide range of interests, including farmers, about a wide range of issues. These will continue. Ministers have begun a new system of regular regional consultations with a wider representation of those involved in the countryside, including farmers, consumers, environmentalists, and from the food industry. Ministers will also be available and accessible to those who use, live and work in the countryside on their regular regional visits.

Horticulture

Mr. Martyn Jones: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to promote horticulture; and if he will make a statement. [4877]

Mr. Rooker: The Government is determined to see a flourishing horticulture industry in the United Kingdom. We will therefore be spending some £12.7 million in 1997-98 under our research programme, directed at improving the competitiveness and market responsiveness of the sector. Priority areas are those showing the greatest potential for growth and added value, especially where there is a clear trade gap opportunity such as extending our own growing seasons.

The financial assistance available to recognised producer groups under the reformed regime for fresh fruit and vegetables will also enable growers in the sector to improve their competitive edge. We are seeking to ensure that growers in the UK benefit fully from EU funds available under these new arrangements.

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Antibiotics (Livestock Production)

Mr. Martyn Jones: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will establish a comprehensive review of the issues relating to the use of antibiotics in livestock production. [4879]

Mr. Rooker: The use of antibiotics in livestock production is kept under review. The independent scientific Veterinary Products Committee (VPC) advises the government on the safety, quality and efficacy of veterinary medicines and medicinal feed additives, including the possible development of antibiotic resistance in humans. The Advisory Committee on Microbiological Safety of Food has set up a Working Group to examine the issues of antibiotic resistance, including the possible effects of the use of veterinary products. The Working Group is due to report its findings by the end of 1997.

A European Commission expert Working Group is preparing a monitoring programme, and the Committee for Veterinary Medicinal Products, the European body responsible for scientific advice on veterinary medicinal products, has set up an ad hoc group to investigate the current status of antimicrobial resistance in animals and the potential for its transfer to man.

Forestry Commission Land

Mr. John Cryer: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to halt the sale of Forestry Commission land in England; and if he will make a statement. [5223]

Mr. Morley: Our election manifesto stated that we favoured a moratorium on the large-scale sale of Forestry Commission land. Sales of all Commission land have been halted since the election was called.

Countryside Stewardship Scheme

Mr. Paice: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on his plans for the countryside stewardship scheme. [5185]

Mr. Morley: Countryside Stewardship is the main environmental land management scheme providing incentives for farmers and land managers in England outside the Environmentally Sensitive Areas. It provides a very important mechanism for helping to fulfil our Biodiversity Strategy commitments as well as offering benefits for landscape, history and public enjoyment of the countryside.

The scheme will continue to expand with £5 million available for approval of new agreements in 1997-98 and a further £5 million 1998-99 when the total annual expenditure on the scheme will have risen to £21 million.

In addition we now propose a further expansion of the scheme. We wish to test a series of new options to enhance bio-diversity of arable areas through the introduction of a pilot scheme in 1998 to be called Arable Stewardship. One of the two proposed pilot areas is in the south Cambridgeshire/Suffolk area with the other being in the West Midlands.

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Genetically Modified Organisms

Mr. Martyn Jones: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent research he has (a) commissioned and (b) evaluated on the potential implications of the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment; and if he will make a statement. [5300]

Mr. Rooker: (a) MAFF has commissioned new research on possible risks to the agricultural environment from the release of herbicide tolerant crops. The research, with a total budget of over £500,000, will start this year and the results will be available from about 2000. (b) MAFF began a programme of research to look at the possible risks to the agricultural environment from the release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in 1990. Over £3.5 million has been committed to the programme and to date, results have not indicated any risks to the agricultural environment from the release of GMOs.

Mr. Flynn: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans his Department has to increase levels of surveillance for scrapie in sheep; and if he will make a statement. [4492]

Mr. Rooker [holding answer 24 June 1997]: SEAC reviewed the options for scrapie surveillance and in their advice to Government on 23 May recommended a three part strategy consisting of (1) a survey of sheeps' brains from abattoirs, (2) a postal survey of farmers, (3) introduction of compulsory slaughter measures together with compensation and powers to conduct veterinary investigation of cases of scrapie.

The Government intends to implement these recommendations. The first survey has been commissioned with the Veterinary Laboratory Agency, Weybridge and a number of approaches are being examined by MAFF to take forward the second. Work for this survey will be commissioned shortly. The Agriculture Departments are consulting interested parties on the draft measures for the compulsory slaughter and compensation scheme.

Scrapie

Mr. Flynn: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1) how many cases of scrapie have been recorded in each of the last five years; [4493]

Mr. Rooker [holding answer 24 June 1997]: Scrapie became a notifiable disease on 1 January 1993. The confirmed cases in Great Britain year by year since the disease became notifiable were:

YearNumber
1993328
1994235
1995254
1996453
1997(6) (until end May)213

(6) Until end May.


The Government's independent advisory committee, SEAC, has concluded that there is a probably a problem

25 Jun 1997 : Column: 545

with under-reporting. Other countries face similar problems with this disease. The French Government has recently introduced compulsory slaughter and compensation measures, similar to our own proposals. It is likely that the increase in notifications in Great Britain over the last 18 months has been due to payments being made to farmers by research workers for material from scrapie affected sheep, as in the early 1990s when a research project in force led to a number of cases brought to the attention of the authorities, though at that time the disease was not notifiable.

Mr. Flynn: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on what date his Department plans to introduce compensation for farmers whose sheep are suspected of having scrapie; and if he will make a statement. [4494]

Mr. Rooker [holding answer 24 June 1997]: Agriculture Departments are consulting interested parties on draft measures for the Compulsory Slaughter and Compensation Scheme for sheep and goats affected by Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs). The consultation period ends on 30 June and we will then carefully consider all the comments received.


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