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Citrus Fruits (Thiourea)

Volume 526: debated on Wednesday 7 April 1954

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asked the Minister of Food if he has considered the letter sent to his Department by the town clerk of West Ham, dated 26th March, concerning the use of thiourea on citrus fruits; and what action he has taken in connection with this letter.


asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that, following his circular of 25th January, in respect of the possibility of citrus fruits being contaminated by thiourea, the Leyton Corporation has discovered that oranges sold in Leyton are so contaminated; what evidence he has of similar contamination elsewhere; and what action he proposes to take to prevent the importation of fruit affected by this toxic fungicide originally used as a preservative.

23 and 24.

asked the Minister of Food (1) what action he has taken with regard to the letter sent to his Department by the Town Clerk of West Ham, dated 26th March, 1954, suggesting the prohibition of importation of citrus fruit treated with thiourea:

(2) whether he is aware that an analysis of samples of oranges imported from Spain and on sale to the public in the borough of West Ham has revealed traces of thiourea; and what steps he proposes to take to protect the public from the toxic effects of consumption of citrus fruits treated with thiourea.

I have seen the letter to which hon. Members refer. I am advised that the sale and importation of any article of food containing thiourea contravenes the Preservatives in Food Regulations or the Imported Food Regulations, respectively, and that such sale and importation are therefore prohibited. Food and drugs authorities and port health authorities were so informed last January. The matter has also been brought to the attention of the Governments of the exporting countries.

I am obliged to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. Will he consult his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade with a view to taking some action? In the East End of London, and particularly in West Ham, these oranges are being sold at the moment and children are sucking the orange skins, which he will agree is very dangerous. I am informed that, unless he and his right hon. Friend implement the banning of these articles, the local authorities have not the powers to take action. Will he implement the banning?

I am naturally most concerned about this, because it is a matter of some seriousness. At the moment the local authorities and the health authorities have full powers to deal with this because thiourea is a preservative which is not allowed. Therefore it is a matter for the courts to decide whether an offence has been committed. The prohibition on imports is an important matter, and I am looking into it urgently to see what can be done if these regulations are not sufficient.

Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that oranges are being sold in the streets of my constituency and in West Ham and that therefore the danger is spreading and requires urgent action? Can he not do something more than giving the information and prohibit any further importation together with issuing strict instructions regarding the consumption of this important and valuable fruit?

I am very much concerned with this. I am looking at the matter to see whether the regulations regarding importing are sufficient. I am bound to say that I circularised all local and health authorities on 25th January, pointing out the danger of this particular spray. They have full powers to deal with it. All the information which I have received from various parts of the country has come from local authorities.

Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman see that General Franco gets a pound of these valuable oranges?

May I ask whether any cases have occurred from thiourea, and what the approximate fatal dose is?

I am afraid that I could not tell the hon. Gentleman that. As far as I can remember thiourea is the result of the action of hydrogen sulphide on cyanamide, which is not a very pleasant mixture, I should think. I am very much alive to the seriousness of this and assure the House that I shall take every action I can.