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Mr. Yeo: What about Professor James?

Mr. Rooker: The advice on eating raw potatoes is exactly the same as it is on eating raw chicken--do not do it; cook it first. That is the official scientific advice that was given to the House of Lords Select Committee, which spent six months investigating the issue. It does not matter whether the potatoes are genetically modified or not, that advice remains the same. For the avoidance of doubt, no GM potatoes are being trialed or marketed in this country.

We publish the advice we receive, and we are opening up food policy in a way that was unheard of three or four years ago. I hope that I have satisfied hon. Members on labelling. We shall publish the statutory instrument by the end of the consultation period next week. I am not a business manager, but we have no problem about debating that legislation on the Floor of the House to show what we have achieved on labelling since we came to power.

The hon. Gentleman's last point was about the failure to segregate. I accept that that is a difficulty; it causes a problem. When we came to office, companies complained to me about the failure to obtain segregated soya produce from America because it had been mixed up. We considered the legal position, which is that we cannot, either as a country or as a member of the European Union, force segregation under the rules of the World Trade Organisation, because we do not have a medical reason for it.

However, we did not rely on that, because we wanted a consumer-choice reason for segregation. We called in all the leading players in the industry--large and small manufacturers--to ask what the Government could do to assist in getting non-GM supplies. The result of our inquiries was a list of 59 non-GM suppliers. We were told by those companies that we had missed the boat on segregation by about 18 months. They told me that in January 1998, and I plead guilty to missing the boat 18 months before that date.

I do not know--because I have no access to the papers--whether the last Government tried to press or negotiate for the segregation of such crops at the same time as they approved their sale in this country.

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North): Does my hon. Friend agree that Opposition Members are suffering from late-night reading of John Grisham novels? Is he prepared to convince the House that scientists in Norwich who are working in the John Innes Centre, the Institute of Food Research and the Sainsbury laboratory will be able to conduct their researches into viral resistance using such crops and nutritious foods, which is their aim?

Those scientists have always collaborated with the agencies mentioned by my hon. Friend, and they should be encouraged to do so. Good science will produce the answers to some of the questions--as will the honesty and openness shown by this Government, which contrasts

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with the Conservative Government's attitude to the problems of BSE. People died because of their incompetence; no one has yet died because of genetically modified food.

Mr. Rooker: We are attempting to operate on the basis of the best science, but we go beyond that. Our doors are still open to receive the views of scientists who might be described as being outside the loop.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Surely the core issue is not whether there is a conflict of interests in the case of one Minister, but whether there has been a complete lack of interest on the part of a succession of Ministers over the past decade or so.

The Minister asked what happened under the Conservative regime when the issue of segregation arose. I think that I can tell him, because I asked his Conservative predecessor, the then food Minister, what the Government were doing about the segregation of genetically modified organisms in soya and other crops. The answer was that the Government had washed their hands of it: they felt that it was not worth bothering about. I put it to the Minister's predecessor that the horse had bolted, and that it would now be incredibly difficult to ensure that there was accurate labelling so that our constituents, the consumers, could make an informed choice, because the Tory Government--whom these folks on the neighbouring Benches still apparently represent--had failed in their public duties to those consumers.

On 3 February 1997, the then Minister told me specifically:


I ask the present Minister to ignore the humbug of Conservative Members--but two wrongs do not make a right. I am sure the Minister will agree that there is widespread concern about the issue; does he also agree that the science of surveillance is not keeping up with the science of development? Does he agree that, in particular, the issue of labelling is becoming incredibly difficult to manage? When I met representatives of the Food Safety Agency in Brussels yesterday, it was clear that they too were dissatisfied with the progress being made. Does the Minister agree that, in view of the widespread concern, it is time for a new statement of Government policy to reassure the public?

Mr. Rooker: I hope that I have been able to go some way down that road this afternoon. With regard to Brussels, it is true that there are gaps in the labelling proposals, but we expect a European Union proposal shortly to deal with additives and flavourings that are not covered by the current regulations, and we expect a de minimis level to be negotiable from March this year. We need to close the gap. I hope that, by the time we have introduced the statutory instrument to cover labelling--which will include the catering industry, in relation to which we are going beyond the EU directive--we shall be able to show that we are taking the matter seriously.

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As for segregation, as I said the other day, proper, effective labelling with a claim that can be tested in laboratories, and the availability of alternatives, will enable consumers to vote with their feet. Ultimately, market forces will prevail.

Mr. Alan W. Williams (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): Many people will be very concerned about what happened to Dr. Pusztai at the Rowett research institute in Aberdeen. Within days of giving a television interview about his work he was forced to retire, with a gagging clause. Given that it is a Government-funded research institute, will the Minister use our influence to remove that gagging clause, so that Dr. Pusztai can explain exactly what his work proved, or demonstrated in his mind, and his own anxieties? In that way, rather than being perhaps shifted to one side, his work can be thoroughly researched, with 10 times the resources being devoted to finding out if there are any problems with GM foods.

Mr. Rooker: I remember that example being raised last August. The fact is that we cannot check on the result of the research because it has not been published. There has been no peer-group review of the research. I understand that, as I stand here, the audit of Dr. Pusztai's work and the comments on that audit are being made available by the Rowett research institute, which has asked the Royal Society in London and Edinburgh to conduct a review; but no one can do a review until the scientists publish their research, so that other scientists can try to repeat the experiments.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton): Does the Minister accept that the only danger from genetically modified foods that are on the market at the moment is that they seem to turn some politicians, scientists and journalists into headless chickens? Can he try to continue what he has done from the Dispatch Box: to get some common sense into the issue?

Of course some genetically modified foods were approved under the last Conservative Government. As the former Minister for Science and Technology, I am proud that they were. Of course, we had talks with companies such as Monsanto and Zeneca. It was of interest to the then Government to know what those companies were doing. Of course we encouraged them to talk to the research institutes. We have spent years trying to get industry to open its research to research institutes. It is foolish now to start pointing them out as case studies of the opposite direction.

Will the Minister please make it clear to the public that there is no such thing as safe food, or completely clear scientific evidence? There is always an element of risk. If more politicians, journalists and scientists put what their findings are at any given moment on some sliding scale of risk, so that the public could understand, we would not have ludicrous scare stories such as have appeared in the past few days.

Mr. Rooker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who as the former Minister for Science and Technology speaks with some experience. He is right. Some of the stories have been pure scaremongering. A headline yesterday said:


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    The reality is that 70 sites were being used to test GM crops, four were found to be a problem, and, with two, there is a prosecution tomorrow. There were thus no safety fears at 70 sites testing GM crops; so information is always useful to put across the case.

We will do our best to harness the best of science. We are leaders in Europe in this sector, but we will not take risks with public safety. The foods that are on sale are as safe as the non-GM equivalents. Everyone who has examined them is satisfied that those foods already on the market are as safe as equivalent foods. There is no equivocation about that, notwithstanding the degrees of risk that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Nothing is safe: even crossing the road is not safe. [Interruption.]


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