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European Standing Committee A Debates

Marketing of Oilseed Rape Genetically Modified for Glyphosate Tolerance

European Standing Committee A

Tuesday 2 November 2004

[David Taylor in the Chair]

Marketing of Oilseed Rape Genetically Modified for Glyphosate Tolerance

8.55 am

The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): It is nice to see you in the Chair, Mr. Taylor, for what I hope will be an informative but relatively short debate. We are debating an important issue. It might help if I tell the Committee about the background and history of the draft Council decision.

It is proposed that a glyphosate-tolerant genetically modified oilseed rape, from the GT73 line, be placed on the market for use like any other oilseed rape, but not for cultivation. The proposal would permit the import of GT73 oilseed rape seed into the European Union to be used in animal feed. Processed oil from oilseed rape GT73 has been authorised for use in human food in the EU since 1997, under novel food regulation 258/97. It was approved in 1996.

Directive 2001/18 requires that each proposed commercial release of a GM product should be the subject of a detailed risk assessment, which involves careful scrutiny by independent scientists not only here but in each EU member state. The Government take that duty very seriously. The procedure for assessing applications, including a timetable for the various stages, is mandatory. It is a transparent, case-by-case risk assessment, based on sound scientific evidence; it is designed to avoid adverse effects on human health and the environment.

The Government are advised in such matters by the Food Standards Agency in relation to food safety, and by the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment, which in turn seek advice from specialist committees such as the Advisory Committee on Animal Feedingstuffs.

Monsanto submitted a notification to the Netherlands competent authority, which conducted the initial assessment of the application. It submitted a positive assessment to the Commission in January 2003. The application and the assessment were passed to other member states for consideration in January 2003. The UK sought opinions from the FSA—the agency consulted the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes and ACAF—and ACRE, which also consulted ACAF.

In September 2003, ACRE concluded that it could not agree at that stage that consent should be granted. It had reservations about post-market monitoring and animal feed safety, an issue raised by ACAF. The advice from ACRE and comments from other bodies were endorsed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary

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of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and by the devolved Administrations, and consequently adopted as the UK's opinion and submitted to the Commission.

The UK was satisfied that the application, and the safety of the GM products, complied with all the requirements of the directive apart from three—traceability and labelling, post-market monitoring, and animal feed safety. The concerns raised by the UK and other member states were referred back to the applicant and discussed at a meeting of competent authorities in June 2004.

New regulations on traceability and labelling came into force in April 2004, so any products that intentionally contain GT73 oilseed rape will have to be labelled. We take the matter seriously, and argued strongly for such a provision.

On post-market monitoring, the proposed requirement to report any significant accidental spillage to competent authorities was discussed, but an amendment to that effect was not included in the final text. However, that is not a significant concern for the UK, as article 4 of the draft decision includes a requirement for consent holders to inform operators and users of the appropriate management measures to be taken in cases of accidental spillage.

ACAF's concern about a rat-feeding study was not resolved; for that reason, the UK voted against the application at the regulatory committee. The advisory committee's concern hinged on a rat-feeding study that showed increased liver weights in subjects being fed GT73 oilseed rape. A further feeding study was carried out, but with a lower level—10 per cent.—of GM in the feed. In ACAF's view, that did not resolve the ambiguity, and it requested that a further study with 15 per cent. of oilseed rape be carried out before coming to a final decision.

As there were still outstanding concerns, including those of ACAF, the decision was referred to the European Food Safety Authority, as laid down by the directive. EFSA published its opinion in February 2004. Its GMO panel concluded that GT73

    ''is as safe as conventional oilseed rape for humans and animals, and in the context of the proposed uses, for the environment.''

Subsequent to the regulatory committee meeting in June, the ACAF GM sub-group considered the views expressed by EFSA and further information provided by the applicants. The sub-group said that there were probably no safety concerns over the use of the product as animal feed, but that it could reach a conclusion only on receipt of satisfactory data from a further rat-feeding study using 15 per cent. oilseed rape meal.

The UK therefore cannot oppose the product on the grounds of safety and we cannot vote in favour of it until ACAF's concerns are resolved. We therefore propose to abstain in any vote. Six other member states have raised issues related to monitoring measures for seed spillage, and other issues include potential allergenicity, a requirement for toxicological risk assessment, detection protocol, the availability of reference material, flanking sequences and the

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provision of co-existence and liability. The UK is satisfied with the information provided on those issues.

The Commission has organised two periods of mandatory public consultation on applications, their assessment and the right of public access to information about GMOs.

On the previous authorisation of GT73 oilseed rape for food use, only the processed oil from GT73 has such authorisation. The rat-feeding study questioned by ACAF used rape meal, not the oil. Purification of the oil removes DNA and protein, leaving the oil identical to that from its non-GM parental variety. In its consideration of the oil from GT73, the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes concluded that it was safe for use in food and that it was similar in composition and nutritional quality to oil from conventionally bred oilseed.

To conclude, only ACAF had any concerns about the application, and its reservations do not relate to feed safety, so they do not warrant the UK's voting against the application. Neither ACNFP nor EFSA has any outstanding concerns about it, but as you will appreciate, Mr. Taylor, the Government take the advice of our committees very seriously. Although ACAF believes that the product is probably safe for animals, the published study was not to its satisfaction, so we cannot vote in favour of the application in respect of the EU.

The Chairman: We now have until 9.55 am at the latest for questions to the Minister. I remind hon. Members that questions should be brief and asked one at a time. There is likely to be ample opportunity for all hon. Members to ask several questions.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Taylor. I begin by apologising on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) who, sadly, is ill. I am substituting for him this morning, and I think that we all wish him a speedy return to health.

I am intrigued to hear the Minister say that the Government will abstain. What will the other votes on the Council be? What will the consequences of the Government's abstention be for this country?

Mr. Morley: It very much depends on what view other member states reach. The application will require a qualified majority in the Council to achieve approval, but if no qualified majority is forthcoming, approval will not be given. However, there is a procedure for resolving situations in which a qualified majority cannot be achieved in relation to Commission processes.

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): We are here to debate one particular application, but does the Minister agree that hon. Members need a more general debate, rather than coming occasionally to European Standing Committees and Statutory Instrument Committees to debate piecemeal, decision-by-decision, incremental changes in the Government's

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approach to GM? No doubt he is aware of the cross-party early day motion on the issue in my name and that of other hon. Members, which is listed as No. 24 on today's Order Paper. Has he considered it and does he agree that we need to debate the wider issue of GM policy?

Mr. Morley: It is important that there should be maximum transparency for such things as GM foods and their approval process. The Government have worked very hard to ensure that there is transparency. I have no objection to scrutiny and debates—there have been a number in Westminster Hall and in the House, as well as in Select Committees such as the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and in the Environmental Audit Committee, which took a close interest in the procedures and approval process relating to GM foods.

The Government's view, which I strongly endorse, is that each GM product should be treated on its merits. Therefore, each application should go through a thorough scientific and environmental review. A generalised GM debate is not going to deal with individual applications. As each application comes into the EU, it is proper for it to be looked at by the range of special advisory committees that has been set up and by Committees such as this. This application is undergoing that scrutiny.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Is my right hon. Friend able to say what is happening elsewhere in the EU? If we are effectively abstaining on this, the way in which it will be handled will depend on what happens in other countries. Are other countries likely to abstain? More particularly, will there be countries that oppose the proposal?

 
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