Select Committee on European Communities Report


Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Angela Eagle MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

  Your Explanatory Memorandum of 23 March 1998 on this document has now been considered by Sub-Committee C (Environment, Public Health and Consumer Protection). Concurrently with that, Sub-Committee D (Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) is currently drawing up terms of reference for an inquiry into genetic modification in agriculture, especially in relation to European Community regulation of genetically modified plants and foods. Since this inquiry necessarily involves consideration of controls relating to the release of GMOs in the context of food and agriculture, as well as issues to do with competition or consumer protection (eg labelling), it has been decided to transfer Document 6378/99 to Sub-Committee D for continuing scrutiny, in liaison with Sub-Committee C, as part of the wider inquiry.

  It is expected that Sub-Committee D will, among other things, wish to review relevant developments since the Thirteenth Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (The Release of Genetically Engineered Organisms into the Environment), published in 1989 under the Chairmanship of Lord Lewis of Newnham, as well as issues outstanding from the Science and Technology Select Committee's 1993 Report (Regulation of the UK Biotechnology Industry and Global Competitiveness).

  Meanwhile Sub-Committee C has expressed concern on a point of principle, on which we would be grateful for the Government's comments—either separately or as part of your evidence to Sub-Committee D's inquiry. The Sub-Committee considers that there is a non sequitur between paragraphs 15-16 and paragraph 17 of your EM: it cannot follow the logic of saying that because the proposal is an amendment to an existing Directive, "risk assessment and scientific justification does sic) not appear applicable"—especially when you have said, in the previous two paragraphs, that the Government is concerned that the present Directive "does not provide the framework necessary to address the increasing concerns of the public and industry"; and that the proposal needs amending to ensure that it "meets growing public concerns regarding ethical, environmental and social issues, and achieves a more transparent regulatory regime".

  In the Sub-Committee's view it is vital to the interests of the consumer that the release of GMOs into the environment should be subject to common standards of risk assessment and monitoring, and that the scientific basis of the regulatory regime should be transparent and therefore open to independent evaluation. This viewpoint is already explicit in the Commission's own Explanatory Memorandum.

23 April 1998

Letter from Angela Eagle MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  I note your comments on paragraph 17 of the Explanatory Memorandum and am grateful for the opportunity to clarify the meaning of this paragraph. I agree with you and Sub-Committee C that the proposed amending Directive deals with the risk assessment of specific GMOs under the Directive, and that consideration of this and the scientific evidence used in support of a release application is both applicable and important.

  Confusion may have arisen because the heading "Risk Assessment and Scientific Justification" in Explanatory Memoranda is intended to cover an explanation of the case for regulation, based on scientific risk assessment, such as one might make when regulating something for the first time. As the principle of regulating the deliberate release of GMOs is not brought into question by the proposed amending Directive, and the proposed Directive merely amends an existing regulatory regime, our text attempted to say that there was no need, at this stage, to make a case for regulation.

  I accept however that the heading and the contents of paragraph 17 are confusing, and in the interests of clarity, and as its contents were of little importance, we should have omitted the paragraph.

15 May 1998

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