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Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that I did not manage to deal with all the questions raised by the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) and I am grateful to him for repeating some of them. As he rightly says, some of them are of some importance.

The hon. Gentleman asked about experience in the United States. The Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment is looking at the most recent suggestions made about changes in herbicide use. Many of the other issues to which he alluded were very much part of the assessment of the science review, which tried to look at all the scientific evidence from across the world. He particularly referred to contamination, but some of that evidence is not wholly germane as, for example, there are few, if any, co-existence measures in place in the United States. However, I can assure him that both the scientific review and our advisory committees have looked at and taken into account all the various evidence.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether decisions for thresholds for organics would be made before the first planting. We anticipate that that will be the case, although as I pointed out in my statement, little organic maize is grown in the UK, so the issue is not of major importance. However, we anticipate that the decisions will be in place. Furthermore, we intend, as soon as possible, to issue guidance on the establishment of voluntary GM-free zones, if that is what people want. We propose to address all those issues. Similarly, I have said that we will be holding consultations on compensation issues, and we shall do so.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the management of the trials and what we meant by the new conditions that we were putting in place. In the short term, the use of atrazine will continue to be allowed, although we anticipate that it will be phased out. The wording means that a range of other management regimes can produce equivalent effects without using that herbicide; it is intended to convey that we should be confident that we are not running a regime that is any more damaging to biodiversity than the regime that was trialled—that is why I have written to the lead authority, which is the French Government, on the issue—and there are a variety of ways of doing that, as the trials showed.

Jean Corston (Bristol, East) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement. May I refer her to the part about public consultation? She stated that as the public learned more about GM, their hostility deepened. May I suggest that we ignore that hostility at our peril and remind her that the fastest growing part of

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the food sector is organics? Ten years ago, it was worth £1 million; last year it was worth £1 billion. People are very concerned that organic production will be compromised by association with GM contamination. Will she accept that many of us feel that the presence of atrazine in the comparator crop severely compromised the research? Finally, may I remind her that science is not neutral, is not always right and is almost never definitive?

Margaret Beckett: I am very mindful of that, but I have reported—faithfully, I hope—what was reported in the statement on the outcome of the public debate and dialogue. However, although that is what was said in the report of the public debate and dialogue about what was called the narrow but deep polling among a smaller group—as those in the group became more informed, their concern deepened—my hon. Friend may not be aware that the overall outcome of the debate was independently evaluated by a study. That study, which I recall was performed by Leicester university, reported that an independent evaluation of the public debate, as opposed to its being written up by the people who ran it, suggested that, although there was genuine concern—it is right that we are properly respectful of that genuine concern—it was perhaps not as deep and widespread as the outcome of the debate and dialogue report suggested. There was a greater range of views, although, of course, there is a very considerable degree of concern.

I take the point that my hon. Friend makes. She is entitled to say that, in her judgment, the presence of atrazine in the trials invalidates them. All I can say to her is that that is not the judgment of either our independent advisory committee or the different group of scientists who assessed that aspect of the trials' outcome. Indeed, that view was peer-reviewed and not endorsed.

My hon. Friend is right to say that people are particularly interested in organic production. I made the point a moment ago that little, if any, organic maize is produced and that organic production has grown substantially, perhaps not least because the Government have put millions of pounds into supporting and endorsing it. No one wishes to jeopardise organic production, but if my hon. Friend's argument is that we should completely ban the use of genetic modification in crops on the basis of the concerns that she expresses, that is not supported by the science. Much of the organic produce that is bought in this country comes from countries that grow GM crops in parts of their countryside.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): Will the Secretary of State apologise for her discourtesy to the Environmental Audit Committee in deciding to make an announcement when she knew perfectly well that its report would be published 24 hours later? She referred to the Nature research. Who paid for that research, and how does a sample of four half-fields not treated with triazine make a valid basis for decision taking? Is it not the case that the scientific evidence for her decision today is at best equivocal; that the public remain implacably opposed to GM and will not be spun by the Government into acquiescing; and that where there is no demand, there is no market and therefore no reason for her decision today?

Margaret Beckett: No, I do not believe that. If the Environmental Audit Committee felt that I was

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discourteous, I would, of course, regret that, but I do not believe that I have shown discourtesy to the EAC. I was asked whether we would announce the outcome of the discussion on an earlier date, and the answer is no. It was always envisaged that the decision would be announced now, following further consultation and discussion.

I do not know who paid for the Nature study, but I deplore few things more than the growing tendency to point the finger at people and say, "X paid for this; Y paid for that. Everyone is corrupt." The Nature study was conducted by independent scientists who had no interest in the outcome of the field-scale trials because, in fact, they did not conduct them. The study was peer-reviewed and would not have been published in Nature unless it was thought to be valid, so that issue ought to be put on one side.

I think that I heard the hon. Gentleman incorrectly say on the day of publication, when he so speedily rushed to judgment on the Nature report, that a handful of fields were part of the assessment that underlay the Nature article. In fact, there were about 26 fields, with different kinds of management, and the implications of all those patterns of management were assessed.

Finally, attempting to spin issues has never been a habit of mine, and I simply put it to the hon. Gentleman that, of course, he is right to say that there is little, if any, demand for GM produce to be bought or marketed at present—so why do we need to ban it?

Diana Organ (Forest of Dean) (Lab): Why did the Government hold the consultation when they so clearly ignored the outcome of that debate? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that, if that GM crops go ahead, meat products from animals that may have been fed on GM maize are fully labelled so that consumers may choose not to eat that meat?

Margaret Beckett: For reasons that I have already made crystal clear, I do not accept that the Government have ignored the outcome of the debate. It was never intended that the debate would do more than explore the range and nature of the public's concerns. That is what it did, and it did so well. It identified the fact that the public want caution and that they want regulation and monitoring, which the Government have put in place or are putting in place, but it also confirmed that many members of the public accept that there may be circumstances in the future when this technology could be of value and that there is perhaps not the same pressure to turn one's back completely on the technology as there is from some other quarters.

On labelling, the science review referred to how one can study whether and what material ends up in the human gut. My hon. Friend will find that there is no evidence whatever to suggest that such material survives all the way through the human digestive system. She will certainly find, if she inquires, that although few animals are fed on GM maize, many animals are fed on GM soya. We have in place a strong traceability and labelling regime. We should do everything that we can to make it relevant to people's real concerns.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I do not disagree with the precautionary principle that the Secretary of State will exercise in introducing the

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crop and I appreciate that little organic maize is grown in this country, but has she taken advice on where the legal liability would lie if an organic crop were challenged by a GM crop? Would it lie with the grower of the GM crop, with the producer of the GM seed or with the Department that issued the licence?

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