asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action he proposes to take about the reports which he has received from his Veterinary Laboratory during recent months, describing the poisonous properties of certain batches of groundnut meal fed to farm animals; and what steps he is taking to ensure that such contaminated batches of groundnut meal are not being used in foodstuffs for consumption in this country in the form of margarine, peanut butter or coconut oils.
It would be difficult to answer briefly all the matters raised in the hon. Member's Question. I will therefore, with permission, circulate a detailed reply in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I can, however, assure the hon. Member that groundnut meal is not used in the manufacture of the products mentioned in the second part of the Question. It is refined groundnut oil which is used in making margarine and cooking oils and I am advised that the toxin is not present in it. With regard to peanut butter, I would refer the hon. Member to the reply which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for Science gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Sir W. Teeling) on 27th February.
In view of the serious nature of the article which appeared in the British Medical Journal a short time ago, can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that every possible step is being taken in order to avoid the possibility of toxic effects from the use of these materials?
Yes, Sir. Considerable research has been carried out on this question, and it is continuing at present. An inter-departmental working party has been set up by the D.S.I.R., the Medical Research Council, the Agricultural Research Council, the Department for Technical Co-operation and my Department, to keep under review all the current research relevant to this toxicity.
Following is the information:
The work on toxicity in certain batches of groundnut meal which has been done by the Ministry's veterinary staff at Weybridge, in collaboration with the Tropical Products Institute of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, has been described in a series of articles in the Veterinary Record starting last April.
A great deal has been done by the Ministry's Veterinary Service, with the co-operation of the feedingstuffs trade, to reduce losses in livestock. Turkeys and ducklings are notably more susceptible than other species, but the incidence of the reported attacks among poultry has fallen from 410 cases in the first twelve months from the spring of 1960 to 69 cases in the nine months up to 31st December. Some of the younger farm animals are also susceptible, but during the twenty-one months for which records have been kept there have only been about 90 incidents.
The toxic factor is not inherent in the groundnut itself and it has been shown that it is produced by a strain of the mould Aspergillus flavus. The conditions under which this develops are being studied in producing areas, with a view to recommending methods of cultivation, handling and storage which will avoid contamination. Research has produced a method of detecting the toxic factor, and sampling and testing are being carried out to ascertain the incidence of the toxin in imports.
There has been the fullest co-operation in the necessary research and investigatory work among the Ministry's research staff at Weybridge, the Tropical Products Institute of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, the Medical Research Council, the Agricultural Research Council and the laboratories of the commercial firms concerned.