Select Committee on European Communities Second Report - Written Evidence

Letter from the John Innes Centre

  1. The appropriateness and efficiency of current regulation at European Union level of:

    (a)  Research;

    —  The EU has funded research on GM organisms in agriculture to make safety assessment more scientifically informed (e.g., BAP, BRIDGE programmes). The research has tended to be fragmented across the EU member states, and because of the complex method of choosing and managing research projects within the EU, research programmes have sometimes lacked the optimum level of co-ordination and unity of purpose.

    (b)  release into the environment;

    —  The procedures at EU level have been very poor, and have frequently disregarded agreed timetables. There has been considerable political interference in decision making.

    (c)  novel foods and their labelling;

    —  At EU level assessments and decisions have been slow and subject to considerable political pressures. This is principally because of the frequent difficulty the regulators have in deciding whether judgments should be based principally on scientific evidence or on public feelings and perceptions.

  2. The appropriateness and efficiency of current regulation at the level of the United Kingdom and other/member States.

    —  Within the UK the regulatory process governing the release and food use of GM organisms has proceeded satisfactorily. ACRE and ACNFP and their Secretariats have generally performed well and efficiently within the constraints of the current EU regulatory procedure. There is some variation in the interpretation of the EU Directives in different EU member states. Some member states place more emphasis on a consideration of potential benefit (in addition to assessing risk) than others. There are some concerns that the regulation should pay greater attention to impact on agricultural practice and wildlife diversity in the agricultural and wider environment.

  3. The most appropriate jurisdictions, for decisions on genetically modified organisms:

    —  Within the UK the current system of committees, made up of independent experts advising Government on decisions, works well. Some member states send release proposals to many different organisations for comment. These are then analysed by the appropriate Secretariat (Competent Authority) and they come to a conclusion on the evidence presented. The merit of an advisory committee (as in UK) is that members can debate the issues in detail, and their thought processes can evolve with advances in the science and application.

    —  Decision making at the EU level is likely to remain demanding for some time, where there is heterogeneity in the decision making process in each member state (all apply the same EU Directives). It is important that agreed timetables are adhered to within the EU regulatory process, otherwise decisions often take an inordinate length of time.

    —  Harmonisation at a scientific risk assessment level is progressing reasonably well. Often delays arise because of the different weighting applied in member states, to matters of public perception and opinion.

  4. The effect of regulation on different sectors of the industry and on competition:

    —  The indecision at EU regulatory level is having a very considerable inhibitory effect on the development of GM crops for agriculture. The list of GM crops approved in USA is about as long as the list of GM crops submitted for regulatory approval in the EU. The difference is that the decision is pending for most applications on the EU list. Research in the UK is at the cutting edge of scientific development. The sluggishness of application within the EU seriously risks jeopardising the competitiveness of our agriculture in the foreseeable future.

Professor R B Flavell


Dr P Dale

Senior Scientist

19 June 1998

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