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7 Apr 2005 : Column 1657W—continued


Ms Atherton: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many cetaceans have been reported stranded during the 2004–05 season of the pair trawl sea bass fishery. [219865]

Mr. Bradshaw: The pair trawling sea bass fishery season usually starts in November and continues until April and fishing for sea bass takes place in the south-west Approaches. From 1 November 2004 to 4 March 2005, a total of 90 cetaceans have been reported as stranded on the south coast (Cornwall, Devon and Dorset,). These comprised 47 common dolphins, 31harbour porpoises, one bottlenose dolphin, two long-finned pilot whales and nine unidentified cetaceans.

All strandings found in the south-west cannot be solely attributed to the pair trawling sea bass fishery. These figures include stranded dead cetaceans, live strandings and carcasses seen floating at sea. Only 12 of the 90 cetaceans that were stranded were definitely confirmed as bycatch. The data were obtained under the Defra-funded Cetacean and Turtle Strandings Scheme, carried out by the Natural History Museum in partnership with the Institute of Zoology and Scottish Agricultural College.


Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps her Department is taking to combat fly-tipping. [224977]

Alun Michael: The Department is taking forward a wide ranging strategy for combating fly-tipping, in close liaison with the Environment Agency and local authorities. Some new powers for these enforcement agencies were included in the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. Many more provisions have been included in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill which has now completed its passage through Parliament. These include raising the penalties for the main offence of illegal waste disposal; new powers to stop, search and instantly seize vehicles that are being used for fly-tipping; additional sentencing powers for the courts including a power to award forfeiture of vehicles used to commit an offence; and powers for the enforcing authorities to issue fixed penalty notices for some offences. We will work closely with the enforcement authorities on implementation of all the measures in the Bill.

100 per cent. of local authorities are now registered on the Flycapture database, which for the first time is producing national data on the nature and scale of
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fly-tipping across the country. We are funding the Environment Agency through the Flycapture Enforcement project to provide training for local authority enforcement officers and lawyers on how to enhance their skills. Through the BREW programme, we are providing additional funding for the agency to assist businesses in complying with the legal requirements on the disposal of waste. The Department has also just let a research project that will look in depth at the reasons why people fly-tip and will develop good practice guidance for local authorities on further measures they can take to help reduce the problem.

Food Imports (African Products)

Nick Harvey: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the impact of imports of African food products into western markets on farmers in the UK. [224680]

Alun Michael: In 2003, 4.9 per cent. of the total value of food, feed and drink imports into the European Union were from Africa. For the same year, 6.3 per cent. of the total value of food, feed and drink imports into the United Kingdom were from Africa. Of all of the imported food, feed and drink indigenous to the UK, 3.8 per cent. were from Africa, the corresponding figure for imported non- indigenous food, feed and drink from Africa was 10.3 per cent.

Gangmaster Licensing

Mr. Simmonds: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what guidance her Department has issued to assist legitimate labour providers in complying with gangmasters licensing regulations. [224490]

Alun Michael: The Government are working to ensure that labour provider businesses have robust business systems in place in advance of the introduction of licensing later this year. Regulation of the industry is intended to end exploitation and drive out illegal activity. In parallel to developing the licensing system, we are working to help legitimate labour providers to be successful and robust businesses. To facilitate this process we are working closely with the Ethical Trading Initiative Temporary Labour Working Group to promote the Code of Practice which the group launched in November 2004. Labour providers are being invited to arrange for their businesses to be audited against the code. Those that do will be offered a pre audit business consultancy session to assess their business and offer advice on problem areas. This process has the full backing of the supermarkets, the Association of Labour Providers, the Transport and General Workers Union and the National Farmers Union. To help reduce the cost to labour providers, the Government will be meeting a proportion of the cost of the consultancy advice and audit activities on a first come first served basis. The Chairman of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority has also indicated, that the cost of a licence audit will be reduced where a labour provider has previously been audited against the Temporary Labour Working Group Code by an auditor meeting the competencies set by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.
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In the longer term the Gangmasters Licensing Authority will be responsible for developing regulations setting out the conditions labour providers will be required to comply with under the new gangmaster licensing arrangements. Regulations establishing the Gangmasters Licensing Authority are in place and the authority started work on 1 April. The authority will be consulting on licence conditions over the next few weeks and hopes to have regulations in place establishing the detailed licensing arrangements by the autumn. It is anticipated that the authority will develop best practice guidance for labour providers alongside the regulations.

GM Crops

Mr. Meacher: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what action her Department is taking in connection with the failure of the US Administration to notify the UK before March of the import into the UK since 2001 of GM maize containing an antibiotic resistant marker of a type that the EU had been advised to phase out; and what steps her Department is taking to prevent a recurrence of such an event with reference to (a) regulatory controls in the US and (b) the implementation of controls in the EU. [224888]

Mr. Morley: This relates to the incident in the USA where some batches of Syngenta's GM maize seed intended to be Bt11 actually contained an unapproved GM maize event known as Bt10. We were informed of this incident on 22 March and issued a press release on 23 March. Our understanding is that between 2001–04 approximately 15,000 hectares of Bt10 was grown in the USA and most of the resulting grain was used in the USA. Only 18 per cent. of US corn is exported and the levels of maize exported from the US to the EU are very small indeed. The European Commission has been informed that an estimated 1,000 tonnes of Bt10 food and feed products may have entered the European Union (as distinct from the UK) since 2001. We have no evidence at this stage of any import of Bt10 into the UK.

We are unaware of the original source of the figure of 170,000 tonnes which you quote. There is no evidence that 170,000 tonnes of Bt10 maize has been imported into the UK; and indeed this figure is an order of magnitude higher than the total annual maize imports into the UK from the US, which are in a range of 4,000 to 14,000 tonnes annually.

Following Syngenta's disclosure on 22 March, Defra and the Food Standards Agency have been working with the European Commission and the US authorities to gain information on whether or not any contaminated maize has been imported into the UK. We continue to monitor the situation closely.

We have written to maize importers to remind them of the need to check imports of maize and other crops for the presence of GMOs which have not been authorised in the European Union. It is for EU and UK importers to satisfy themselves that imported maize grain and derived products are approved for use and if material is GM that it is appropriately labelled. Our GM Inspectorate and local authority inspectors oversee this process.
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We understand that the US authorities consider that Bt10 does not present any concerns for human or animal health. Bt10 maize does contain an antibiotic resistance marker gene (which is not present in Bt11). Although the antibiotic resistance marker is in the process of being phased out, the European Food Safety Authority has concluded that this antibiotic resistance marker gene would have minimal, if any, impact on human health if present in GM plants.

I should stress that we take incidents of this kind seriously. We do monitor the supply chain records of GM imports and take immediate action if evidence or information indicates the presence of any unauthorized GM product. Our priority is to protect the consumer and environment and ensure there is informed consumer choice.

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