He added: "All genetically modified foods and food ingredients go through a process of very thorough scrutiny by a committee of experts, the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes, which advises Government and whose remit is to examine all novel foods. They are also scrutinised by equivalent bodies in all other member states, to ensure that no food comes onto the market unless it is safe.
"This committee, which was established in 1988, has members from universities and research institutes who are experts in their fields and are fully up to date with the latest scientific thinking. There are also two lay members whose respective roles are to advise on ethical issues and see that the experts pay attention to the concerns of the wider public. Since May 1997 it has been taking steps to become increasingly open and now publishes all its agendas, minutes and a note of the outcome of each meeting.
"The products which have been authorised have all been through this rigorous process. We are also committed to the principle of consumer choice. The Government is determined that all foods containing GM material should be clearly labelled. We are leading the way in Europe in this area by also requiring the provision of information in catering establishments. We are taking steps to ensure that Local Authorities have all the necessary powers to enforce these requirements.
"In addition we are pressing the EU Commission to bring forward proposals for the labelling of animal feeds as quickly as possible. But choice also means having access to alternatives. This is why we have published a list of 59 companies from whom food manufacturers can obtain non GM soya. We believe that all this adds up to a system in which consumers can have confidence.
"Much of the recent debate has unhelpfully confused the two issues of safety of food and protection of the environment; and there have been many attempts to generalise from findings in laboratories at the experimental stages. GM is a development which has huge potential to benefit society in a variety of ways and scientists should be allowed to pursue experimental work. It is however important that end products are only put on the market after the most careful scrutiny of their effects on human health.
"We believe we have a robust system for ensuring that the consumer is fully protected, but that those who wish can choose whether or not to purchase these products. Above all it is the Government's first priority to ensure that the safety of consumers is fully protected."