SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS
(a) Scientists and
research institutions must recognise that they can have a major
impact on public opinion, particularly when novel products are
being considered. It is right that scientists should warn of possible
health hazards but they must accept that such influence needs
to be wielded with the utmost responsibility (paragraph 27).
(b) We recommend that
directors of research establishments and university departments
should take steps to ensure that all scientific staff are able
to respond effectively and competently to media pressure. This
is clearly not the case at present (paragraph 28).
(c) We recommend media
coverage of scientific matters should be governed by a Code of
Practice which stipulates that scientific stories should be factually
accurate. Breaches of the Code of Practice should be referred
to the Press Complaints Commission (paragraph 29).
(d) GM technology
and its potential benefits may be permanently lost to the UK unless
there is rational debate. The Government must provide leadership
in this debate but it is also incumbent upon scientists to present
findings clearly and in a manner not open to misconstruction and
on the media to report accurately (paragraph 31).
(e) To reduce the
risk of fraudulent use of GM free labels we recommend that the
Government obliges retailers not to claim GM free status unless
a full audit trail from seed to supermarket shelf is in place
(f) It is important
that threshold levels for the labelling of GM foods are established
and are understood by the public. Thresholds should be open to
review as the technology to test for GM material improves. We
recommend the Government pursues these objectives in its negotiations
with European partners on labelling and thresholds and in other
international fora (paragraph 34).
(g) The Government
should press for international agreement on regulations requiring
the separation of GM from conventional crops. These requirements
should also be extended to include animal feed and meat products
(h) We recommend that
the Government seeks to ensure that EU regulations permit local
discretion in relation to specific farming practices and habitats
in any particular region (paragraph 41).
(i) We recommend that
the Government seeks to establish international agreement on what
constitutes a 'valid' scientific reason; and that the definition
of validity is based on the precautionary principle. We further
recommend that the Government should press for Codex to find a
means of reconciling the US, EU and UK approaches to GMO regulation
(j) We recommend that
the Government avoids circumstances where large changes in the
membership of scientific advisory committees are required at the
same time (paragraph 46).
(k) We recommend that
the Government rejects calls to include, as a matter of course,
representatives of any particular interest on scientific advisory
committees concerned with genetic modification technology (paragraph
(l) We recommend that
the Government rejects proposals to bar employees of biotechnology
or food companies from serving on scientific advisory committees.
It is vital that appointments to scientific advisory committees
should continue to be made by selecting people with the most suitable
and relevant expertise (paragraph 48).
(m) We condemn the
unjust attacks that have been made directly or indirectly against
public-spirited scientists who have served the community well
on both ACRE and ACNFP. We endorse Mr Meacher's view that the
current members of ACRE who are employed by the biotechnology
industry have acted properly and with integrity as have members
of ACNFP (paragraph 50).
(n) We reject any
suggestion that scientists' integrity is automatically compromised
by association with industry. If scientists from academia or the
public sector with research connections to the biotechnology industry
were to be barred from the Government's scientific advisory system
relating to GM crops and food the Government would be deprived
of some of the best scientific expertise available. We agree with
Mr Rooker that this would be "totally inappropriate"
(o) We agree with
the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists (IPMS)
which argued that "serious thought ... needs to be given
by Government to establish clear guidelines on disclosure of interest
[for members of advisory committees] backed by active policies
of annual disclosure, clear and transparent procedures for review
of disclosures and clear criteria for decisions on whether interests
are material" (paragraph 52).
(p) The Chief Scientific
Adviser to the Government has explicitly set out the need "to
involve at least some experts from other, not necessarily scientific,
disciplines, to ensure that the evidence is subjected to a sufficiently
questioning review from a wide ranging set of viewpoints".
We agree. We recommend that such individuals should make up
a fifth of the membership of advisory committees (paragraph 53).
(q) We recommend the
use of the term lay member to refer to experts from other disciplines
serving on scientific advisory committees (paragraph 54).
(r) We recommend that
Government continues to drive for further openness by publishing
ACNFP and ACRE papers and data (in full and summary form) and
negotiating similar treatment of material from similar committees
in other EU states. Such information should be published on the
Internet for speed and accessibility as well as by conventional
means. Summaries should be provided in plain English. We further
recommend that, unless applicants can demonstrate that disclosure
would cause commercial harm, all future meetings of ACRE and ACNFP
should be held in public (paragraph 56).
(s) We believe that
there should be a presumption in favour of public disclosure unless
applicants can demonstrate that disclosure would cause commercial
harm (paragraph 57).
(t) We do not believe
that it would be either appropriate or practical for ACRE and
ACNFP to do anything other than use an applicant's own data in
their assessments. We agree with Novartis that "regulation
by review of companies' risk assessments works well in pharmaceutical
and pesticide regulation" and this is accepted by the public.
Where inadequate information is provided, it is acceptable that
further research is commissioned and paid for by the applicant
(u) We recommend that
when ACNFP moves under the management of the Food Standards Agency,
an appropriate part of MAFF's research budget be transferred to
the Agency. Formal links should be established between DETR, the
Foods Standards Agency, the Foresight programme and Research Councils
so that ACNFP's and ACRE's longer-term basic research requirements
can be considered. We recommend that the Minister for Science
plays a strong role in ensuring proper coordination between the
various research funding agencies and Departmental research programmes
in this area (paragraph 59).
(v) We recommend that
the Government works with its European partners to investigate
new approaches to the safety assessment of novel foods and commission
appropriate research (paragraph 61).
(w) We welcome the
Government's decision to extend ACRE's remit to include consideration
of the cumulative impact of GM crops on biodiversity (paragraph
(x) We believe that
Directive 90/220 should be amended so that the cumulative effects
of GMOs and their management on the environment and on biodiversity
are assessed as part of all approvals for deliberate release (paragraph
(y) We welcome the
increase in publicly-funded research into the environmental impacts
of GMOs. However, the Government's research programme should also
take into account the concerns of organisations such as English
Nature. It is disappointing that this is not yet occurring and
Mr Meacher has undertaken to address this point (paragraph 65).
(z) There is already
a de facto moratorium on commercial planting in place.
GM crops may not be released into the environment without the
necessary consent from the Government and no such consents have
yet been issued for commercial growing. Government must make it
absolutely clear that commercial growing will not be permitted
without adequate information from farm-scale trials (paragraph
(aa) We recommend
that the Government supports efforts to find valid ways of monitoring
any long-term impact on health of consuming GM foods (paragraph
(bb) Individuals have
a range of personal preferences and practices regarding food,
some based on ethical or religious grounds. The Government must
have a mechanism for addressing these issues; the scientific advisory
system does not do so at present nor it is appropriate to require
or expect it to (paragraph 71).
(cc) Ministers should
obtain advice on these other, non-scientific, issues but should
not seek such advice from the scientific advisory system. The
Human Genetics Advisory Commission, charged with reporting on
"issues arising from new developments in human genetics that
can be expected to have wider social, ethical and/or economic
consequences", provides a good model (paragraph 72).
(dd) We recommend
that ACRE and ACNFP are merged to form an integrated committee
which considers all scientific issues relating to GM food and
crops and advises Ministers, Departments and, in the future, the
Food Standards Agency. The specific functions of ACNFP and ACRE
could then be delegated to sub-committees (paragraph 73).
(ee) The integrated
committee should have a joint DETR, Office of Science and Technology,
Department of Health and MAFF secretariat (with MAFF's role moving
to the proposed Food Standards Agency when it is established)
with a joint budget and joint departmental responsibility. Departmental
Ministers should continue to be responsible and the Minister for
Science should have a coordinating role (paragraph 74).
(ff) We therefore
recommend that the Science Minister, with support from the Chief
Scientific Adviser, bring forward proposals for a process audit
procedure monitoring the work of all the scientific advisory bodies
relating to genetic modification, not only in terms of ensuring
that the system works cohesively but also auditing the functions
of particular committees from time to time (paragraph 75).
(gg) We find this
observation worrying, especially as Professor Beringer's concerns
on this matter had apparently not been drawn to the Minister's
attention. We recommend that the Government looks closely at the
staffing arrangements for scientific advisory committees and commits
itself to providing large enough secretariats to ensure the efficient
working of the Committees. The cost of extra staffing will be
small compared with the cost of failure of the advisory system