Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (D3)



  1.  The only GM crops in line for possible commercial growing in the UK are those in the Farm Scale Evaluation (FSE) trials. These involve three spring-sown crops (beet, maize and spring oilseed rape) and one autumn-sown crop (winter oilseed rape). These are all herbicide-tolerant varieties.


  2.  In effect, several separate regulatory approvals are needed before a GM herbicide-tolerant crop can go into commercial production. Looking at each of these in turn:

(a)   EU Directive on GMOs

  3.  This is the specific legislation that provides for GMOs to be approved for release after an assessment of the risks to human health and the environment. There are two types of release approval—for research purposes and for commercial marketing. The FSE beet and oilseed rape have research consents and are in the blocked EU pipeline for marketing approval. We do not know when the marketing decisions for these crops will be taken. The FSE maize ("T25") already has a marketing consent for cultivation and for use as an animal feed.

(b)   Seeds legislation

  4.  A new agricultural crop variety, whether GM or non-GM, cannot be marketed until it has been added to the National List of plant varieties or the EU Common Catalogue (a compendium of Member States' National Lists). Addition to the National List is dependent on satisfactory completion of a minimum two years of listing trials, to establish that the variety is Distinct, Uniform and Stable, and that it has a Value for Cultivation and Use.

  5.  A variety of the T25 maize in the FSE trials, "Chardon LL", is proposed for addition to the UK National List. This is subject to a public hearing as provided for in the legislation, and it is not clear when Chardon might complete the UK National List process. Another T25 variety, "Sheridan", has completed listing trials but has yet to be formally proposed for addition to the UK List. Ministers will be invited to make a decision on Sheridan once all of the arguments on GM safety made at the Chardon hearing have been considered by the Government's independent GM advisory committees.

  6.  Chardon is already on the Dutch National List as a result of which it could be added to the EU Common Catalogue at any time, as could a number of other GM varieties (unrelated to the FSE crops) on the National Lists of other Member States. If this happens the varieties in question will then be cleared under seeds legislation for marketing throughout the EU.

  7.  Varieties of the FSE oilseed rape and beet crops have entered the UK National List system but are not so far advanced as the T25 Chardon maize. Most have have completed the required trials but cannot be formally proposed for addition to the National List until they have marketing approval under the GMO release Directive. Again, there is no firm estimate for when these varieties might complete the seeds approval process.

(c)   Pesticides legislation

  8.  For the growing of the FSE crops to be commercially viable they will have to be used with the herbicide to which they are tolerant. The commercial use of herbicides requires approval under pesticides legislation. The companies concerned (Aventis and Monsanto) have yet to apply for the herbicide approvals relevant to the FSE crops and the timing of the possible approvals is uncertain.

(d)   EU Novel Foods Regulations

  9.  In addition to clearance of the crop itself, any foods obtained from a GM crop have to be approved under the EU Novel Foods Regulations. The Foods Standards Agency is the UK competent authority for this legislation. Food ingredients produced from T25 maize are already cleared for use (its main intended use is as an animal feed), as is the oil that would be processed from the GM oilseed rape in the FSE trials.


  10.  The results of the FSE trials for the spring-sown crops are expected to be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal in the summer of 2003. For the winter oilseed rape crop the results are expected to be published in 2004. The results will be considered crop-by-crop by the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment and the Advisory Committee on Pesticides. The Government will then take a view based on the committees' advice and this will feed into appropriate regulatory decisions. For example, if the results were to show that the GM crop herbicide-management has an adverse environmental impact, the Government would have to take that into account. It could take action under the GMO Directive to restrict the existing marketing approval (in the case of T25 maize) or would not support the outstanding applications for marketing approval for cultivation of the beet and oilseed rape. If the conclusion is that the FSE results do not demonstrate an adverse effect on the environment then the Government would lack the basis for such action. If a GM crop variety were to lose its marketing approval under the GMO Directive then it would also lose any marketing clearance it has under the seeds legislation.

27 May 2002

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