asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the Report of the Steering Group on Food Freshness on the Open Date Marking of Food.
The Interim Report of the Steering Group on Food Freshness has been published today and copies are available in the Library of the House.The Government take the view that consumers should be able to buy food in the peak of condition. The responsibility for this rests primarily with food manufacturers and distributors.Open date marking systems undoubtedly have an important part to play. Voluntary systems covering a wide range of foods have already been adopted by both food manufacturers and retailers. The Government agree, however, that in order properly to protect the consumer it will be necessary to introduce a statutory system of open date marking and intend to do so.The interim report, which has been published today, recommends that this statutory system should be based on a "sell by" date. Other date marking systems are, however, under discussion. For example, all the member States of the European Economic Community wish to see the open date marking of food, but the system under discussion in the Community is based on telling the consumer that the food will keep at least until the date specified on the container provided that any storage instructions are followed. The Steering Group points out in its interim report that our views and those of our partners in the Community need to be co-ordinated before any open date marking regulations are made. The Government fully accept this view since there are obvious advantages in trying to ensure that the same system of open date marking applies to food irrespective of whether it is sold in the United Kingdom or in Europe. This will be all the more important if we remain within the Community. The Steering Group's report is, therefore, published for comment, in particular as to the system finally to be introduced in the United Kingdom.We shall now have urgent discussions with organisations representing consumers, food manufacturers and distributors and with the Community so as to arrive at a generally acceptable statutory system of open date marking.