The Government's GM advisory body, the Agriculture and Environment
Biotechnology Commission (AEBC) is holding its first public consultation meeting at the Royal Horticultural Halls in London on:

Thursday 7th December.

The purpose of the meeting is to develop a dialogue between the Commission, stakeholders and the public about its initial priorities for work and to engage people in a productive debate about decision-making on biotechnology. It is the Commission's important first step in trying to improve communications with the public on these issues.

The meeting will be a consultation on the Commission's draft Work Plan, which proposes three priority themes:

  • The first is strategic implications of decision-making on
    biotechnology, which will be explored through two case studies: the
    current Farm Scale Evaluations and gene transfer.
  • The second is the issues around animals and biotechnology and the
    appropriateness of the decision making machinery for handling them.
  • The third theme is future biotechnology developments and their
    possible impact on society.

The Commission will also explore the issues of consumer choice and public attitudes to biotechnology; bioremediation (biotechnological approaches to cleaning up contamination); and legal liability for environmental damage.

Established in June this year, the AEBC has been set-up to provide independent advice to the government on biotechnology as it affects agriculture and the environment. It will look at the broad picture, taking ethical, social and public acceptability issues into account as well as the science.

AEBC Chair, Professor Malcolm Grant said:

'We have been set up to provide a strategic overview of this technology, something that has so far been missing from the debate.

"We are committed to openness and transparency and we are aiming to engage as many people and organisations as we can in forming our views. The meeting on the 7th is the first step in what will be a continuing process of consultation."

Admission is by ticket only.

Free tickets are available from the AEBC Secretariat.

Contact details are:
Room 1 /5, Albany House, 94-98 Petty France, London SW1H 9ST

Notes to Editors

1. Meeting details

The Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission is holding its first public consultation meeting on 7 December in London at the Royal Horticultural Halls Conference Centre, Victoria. The meeting starts at 10am and doors open at 9.30am. Admission is by free tickets. Space is limited, so tickets are being issued on a 'first come first served basis' and initially limited to one per organisation.

2. AEBC terms of reference

The AEBC was launched in June this year to give independent advice to the UK Government and the devolved administrations. As part of a new strategic framework, established following a Government review of the advisory and regulatory framework for biotechnology during 1999, it works together with:

  • the Human Genetics Commission (which advises on genetic
    technologies and their impact on humans); and
  • the Food Standards Agency (which includes within its
    responsibilities all aspects of the safety of genetically modified

The 1999 review concluded that current regulatory and advisory arrangements worked well in granting approvals for individual processes or products, but that a new approach to the provision of strategic advice on biotechnology issues was needed, to:

  • be more transparent and easier to understand;
  • be more able to deal with fast moving biotechnology developments;
  • take on board clearly the views of all potential stakeholders, and
    broad ethical and environmental considerations.

The AEBC's remit is to:

  • offer strategic advice to Government on biotechnology issues which
    impact on agriculture and the environment;
  • liaise closely with, but not duplicate the work of the other two
    bodies which together with the AEBC form the new strategic advisory
    framework i.e.:
  • the Human Genetics Commission (HGC) which will advise on genetic
    technologies and their impact on humans; and
  • the Food Standards Agency (FSA) which will include within its
    responsibilities all aspects of the safety and use of genetically
    modified food and animal feed.
  • keep under review current and possible future developments in
    biotechnology with actual or potential implications for agriculture
    and the environment;
  • advise Government on the ethical and social implications arising
    from these developments and their public acceptability; and
  • consider and advise on any specific issues relating to relevant
    aspects of biotechnology as requested by the Government.

As part of this process the Commission is expected to:

  • identify any gaps in the regulatory and advisory framework;
  • consider the wider implications of the lessons to be learned from
    individual cases requiring regulatory decision;
  • advise on any changes which should be made to Government guidelines
    which regulatory bodies are required to follow;
  • make recommendations as to changes in the current structure of
    regulatory and advisory bodies;
  • co-ordinate and exchange information with the relevant regulatory
    and advisory bodies;
  • seek to involve and consult stakeholders and the public on a
    regular basis on the issues which it is considering; and
  • operate in accordance with best practice for public bodies with
    regard to openness, transparency, accessibility, timeliness and
    exchange of information.

The Commission will:

  • in carrying out its work take into account European and global
  • nationally, adopt a UK perspective taking appropriate account of
    legal and other differences between England, Scotland, Wales and
    Northern Ireland; and
  • draw up a work programme.

The Government may also ask the Commission for advice on a particular
issue and, if necessary, direct it not to become involved in an area if this could be better handled elsewhere.

  • In the context of the work of the Commission 'Government' comprises
    the UK Government and the devolved administrations.

3. The Work Plan document was launched on 27th September in Edinburgh
this year. It will form the basis of a rolling programme of
consultation and work.

4. The three themes are being tackled by Sub Groups of the Commission. These Groups will make regular reports to the full Commission and have the following remits:

Group A proposes to undertake its first Case Study on Farm Scale Evaluations (FSE) with the objective of evaluating the role of FSEs in the regulatory process and in appraising the impact of GM plant technology on the environment.

This objective will be appraised by:

  • reviewing the reasons for setting up the trials;
  • reviewing the extent of governmental, commercial and public
    consultation and decision-making processes used in agreeing the
    objectives and the implementation of the trials;
  • understanding the agreed objectives of the trials, and the
    protocols used to carry them out;
  • reviewing the parameters and extent of the data available to reach
  • reviewing the public's opinions and perceptions of the FSEs;
  • identifying the significant gaps in information that may remain
    following the conclusion of the FSEs relevant to appraising the
    impact of GM plant technology on the environment taking into account
    the public's continuing concerns about the application of GM plant

Group B on animal modification will brief the Commission on the issues around animals and biotechnology, in terms of the technologies involved; their goals; the animal welfare, environmental, social and ethical implications; the regulatory framework and current policy; and any gaps in regulation and policy.

Group C has the remit of keeping the AEBC well informed about current and future national and international developments relevant to fulfilling its strategic remit.

This will include providing information on:

  • trends in biotechnologies, in agricultural practice and policy,
    and in environmental issues;
  • trends in other technologies, where these may interact with
  • relevant social, economic, legal and political trends i.e. those
    that will have a bearing on how biotechnology is shaped and on how it
    is received by society.

Issued on behalf of the AEBC by COI Communications London & South East. For press enquiries please contact:
Matthew Freear