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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): Depleted uranium is no longer used in the manufacture of ordnance. The regulators are fully aware of the issues that need to be addressed in the regulation of the storage or disposal of depleted uranium. The Government do not presently see a need for guidance on this issue.
Lord Whitty: Decisions on the commercial importation or cultivation of GM crops are taken at EU-level. Approval will not be given unless the relevant authorities are satisfied that all appropriate measures are being taken to avoid adverse effects on human health and the environment.
In relation to liability for environmental damage, there are specific provisions in Part VI of the Environmental Protection Act giving powers to the courts and the Secretary of State to remedy harm that results from the commission of an offence. Further
For liability in respect of economic loss, currently there are no specific provisions under UK law in relation to GMO releases. Depending on the circumstances, however, a claim for redress could be made through the courts under existing general legal principles. In addition, the Government are awaiting a report from the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission on co-existence and liability issues in respect of GM crops. We will consider our policy further in the light of that report.
Lord Whitty: The ultimate goal of genetic modification and conventional/traditional breeding is fundamentally the same in that they aim to produce more desirable genetic traits in plants and animals. Conventional plant and animal breeding harnesses the natural variation in organisms by crossing sexually compatible relatives. The varieties produced will contain a random mixture of genes from the two parents from which offspring with the desired characteristic are selected. Genetic modification differs in that gene manipulation can be achieved across species boundaries in a specific and targeted approach and as a result can introduce new traits into
Both genetic modification and conventional breeding can result in varieties which exhibit beneficial and/or non-beneficial effects. Therefore, all products undergo extensive testing at the early stages of development to select those which have desirable traits and reject those that do not. It is recognised that genetic modification presents a novel method of introducing new genes and traits into plants and animals which has the potential to introduce valuable traits but may conversely present new risks. It is for this reason that legislation is in place to ensure that all GM plants and animals must undergo a thorough risk assessment for human health and the environment before any approval for use is given.
Lord Whitty: I understand there is evidence that some varieties of maize genetically modified for insect resistance may contain more lignin in their stems than non-GM counterparts. Similarly studies carried out in America have identified an increase in deformed and lost cotton bolls in herbicide-tolerant cotton when grown under certain environmental conditions.
Potential effects of lignin content and cotton boll formation in GM maize and cotton are taken into account in consideration of the risk assessment carried out by advisory committees and regulatory authorities in the approval of genetically modified plants. Variations in lignin content and cotton bolls may not necessarily present a safety issue but may affect the agronomic performance of the plant and consequently have an affect on crop yield.
A soil bacterium (agrobacterium) is, in some instances, used as part of the process of producing genetically modified plants, but the bacteria are removed at the very earliest stage of the process. This means that genetically modified, herbicide-tolerant plants are not likely to contain any additional bacteria. All plants, including crops, naturally contain large and diverse bacterial populations.
Regarding the genetic material that is inserted into crops to make them more tolerant to particular herbicides, some of these sequences are obtained from bacteria and viruses. Genes conferring herbicide tolerance are sometimes obtained from bacteria, while sequences from plant viruses are used to ensure that these genes function correctly within the plant.
Lord Whitty: The effect of any crop, including GM crops, on the supply of food to wildlife will vary according to the characteristics of the particular crop, its management, such as weed and other pest control measures, and how much the crop itself is utilised as a source of food by wildlife.
The effects on the supply of food to wildlife from the cultivation of each particular GM crop would be carefully assessed on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the criteria set in European Directive 2001/18 on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms.
In the specific case of GM herbicide-tolerant oil seed rape, beet and maize, the effect of the management of these crops on the supply of food to wildlife is being studied in the GM crop farm-scale evaluations. We expect the results of this government-funded research study for spring-sown crops to be published in September 2003.
Lord Whitty: The GM public debate ("GM Nation?") is one strand of the GM dialogue announced by government in July 2002. The debate is being managed by an independent steering board at arm's length from government. The Government have provided funding of £500,000 for the debate, which includes contributions from the devolved Administrations. The public debate steering board is due to submit its report to the Government in September, and no further funding is anticipated.
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