§ 8. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle)
If she will extend the period of the Government-sponsored public debate on genetically modified organisms. 
§ The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Elliot Morley)
The public debate was announced last July, and we have already extended the timetable by three months at the 431 request of the steering board. The public can, of course, continue to debate the issues surrounding GM after GM Nation has formally concluded.
§ Gregory Barker
We have heard in the House this morning that there is still a great deal of interest in this debate, as well as a great many unanswered questions. I simply do not understand why the Minister cannot extend into the autumn this clear channel for the public to focus their remarks, given that so much more research is being produced. The university of Manitoba has undertaken an evaluation for the Canadian wheat board of Monsanto's GM Roundup Ready wheat, which concluded:Under current conditions the release of Roundup Ready wheat in western Canada would be environmentally unsafe.When this quality of research is coming through, why close down this very useful channel of public feedback?
§ Mr. Morley
It is because this is a formal process. The independent GM public debate steering board under Professor Grant has done a good job in encouraging public participation. That is why so much has been written about the subject recently and there is much debate in Parliament. That has been the spin off from that debate. However, we cannot keep a formal structure going indefinitely. That does not mean that the opportunity will be closed off for people to comment and to raise issues, for those issues to be examined, and for answers to be given by our independent specialist bodies, but we do not need a rolling, formal public debate with no end.
§ Norman Baker (Lewes)
The public want more time to make their views known. The Food Standards Agency's report yesterday stated:The potential impact of GM crops on the environment was the issue that gave rise to most concernamong consumers. In answer to the previous question, the Minister talked about the many hurdles to cross. Does he accept that the most important hurdle to overcome is the complete absence of an environmental liability regime? It would be quite improper to allow any commercial planting until such a regime was in place. Will he guarantee that a regime will be put in place before any commercial planting is allowed?
§ Mr. Morley
There are EU agreements on environmental liability. We have also asked for advice from the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission on how we should structure a particular liability regime in this country. I suspect that existing law provides recourse in relation to liability, but that is a matter for legal opinion. Liability is but one issue that is not yet resolved. We cannot have commercialisation until we have examined a range of issues and established a proper framework to ensure that, as the bottom line, if people do not want to buy and eat GM produce, they do not have to. That consumer choice should be protected, which is our intention.
§ Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)
Has the Minister noted that it is possible to produce valuable new species without resorting to genetic modification? Is he aware that F. B. Parrish Farms in Chicksancls in Bedfordshire has produced a new species of onion called 432 the "supasweet", which is tear free and a valuable addition to the healthy-eating salad market? Will his Department do all it can to promote that product?
§ Mr. Morley
I have heard about this new onion development, and I am very impressed. I do not know whether it also helps with breath odour after eating onions, which would be a particularly impressive breakthrough. There have been an awful lot of advances in conventional agriculture. Although, understandably, people focus on GM, the report from the strategy unit stressed that GM is but one approach, and that there are conventional ways of achieving advances in agricultural technology. The hon. Gentleman has given us a good example of that.