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Nutritional Food Labelling

Volume 79: debated on Thursday 16 May 1985

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will invite the London Food Commission to participate in consultations on nutritional food labelling.

Our consultation document on draft guidelines for nutrition labelling of food has been circulated for comment to over 700 organisations. The London Food Commission is amongst this circulation and we shall welcome any response that it cares to make.

I accept that the Minister wants to improve the linkage between food and health, although we might disagree about the speed of action. Does she accept that the new body in London is plainly a broadly based and well funded body which will be able to contribute to making people understand the benefits of nutritional food labelling and help in the educational process? Will she involve it in the closer consultations in which she is involved with organisations such as the Consumers Association?

That organisation now has our document, and it has been invited, with the other 699 organisations, to make any comments that it wishes. I am sure that, as a responsible body, it will do that.

Will my hon. Friend explain why the nutritionists and other experts who serve on committees to do with food labelling, such as the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy, are required to sign the Official Secrets Act? Is food labelling not a subject where maximum publicity is needed, not maximum security?

The Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. I shall draw his attention to my hon. Friend's comments.

Can nutritional food labelling, valuable as it is of itself, adequately compensate the British consumer for the ever-rising cost of food products in the Common Market?

Fat labelling is a recommendation of COMA. There are other questions on the Order Paper today which may refer to food prices.

When my hon. Friend is considering these problems and the future of labelling, will she turn her attention to the unfairness of confining this to certain food products such as milk and meat? If it is successful for those products, why should it not be successful and wise for all products? Will it not have a damaging effect on the dairy industry?

Fat labelling is a recommendation of COMA and will be on all products. It is the nutritional labelling which will be voluntary. We are considering the best format which would be meaningful to the consumer. Nutritional labelling was not a recommendation of COMA whereas fat labelling was.

We welcome the Government recommendations so far as they go to achieve a healthier diet for our people. Would the Minister accept that if these recommendations are to be of any value, food labelling must be both uniform and easily comprehensible so that when consumers go to the shops they know what the code means?

We are involved in a survey, in collaboration with the National Consumer Council and the Consumers Association, to discover exactly the perception of consumers to labelling. I agree wholly with the hon. Member that the labelling must make sense to consumers if they are to accept advice.