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Food (Quality)

Volume 87: debated on Thursday 21 November 1985

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to improve the quality of food.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mrs. Peggy Fenner)

There is already a comprehensive range of legislation regulating the safety, quality and labelling of food. Regulations are kept under review so as to take account of new developments.

What does the Minister intend to do about those families in receipt of family income supplement or supplementary benefit who do not have enough money to buy food that conforms with the Government's nutritional guidelines?

The issuing of nutritional guidelines is a matter for the Department of Health and Social Security, and I am certain that it is balancing those factors.

Will my hon. Friend make it clear that food in Britain is of far better quality and worth than the food that is available in many other countries? Will she also make it clear that we should not put any more labels on food, as they only distract the attention of ordinary housewives?

I wholly agree with the first comments made by my hon. Friend, but we have accepted the recommendations of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food report, ensuring that food will be labelled with its fat content. We are looking at a non-statutory format for nutritional labelling, too.

Is the Minister aware that one of the ways in which the quality of food is enhanced is through the valuable work done at Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food research centres? In the light of that, is it not a scandal that the Government are proposing to close Shardlow Hall in the east midlands by 6 March next year, all for the sake of £1·6 million, yet they can find £252 million to balance the books of the Common Market, and we find that fraud amounting to £600 million has gone on in the Common Market? If the Government can find money for that, why can they not find the money to save the jobs at the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service and make sure that the taxpayer does not have to find more money to finance the dole queue?

The hon. Gentleman knows that that matter does not arise out of this question. We have spent about £200 million on agriculture and food research, and the Government are still contributing greatly to research. However, the food industry also does a great deal in research.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the potential threat to the quality of food because of the contraction of competition, caused, among other things, by the practice of discriminatory discounting and other trading practices by the large retail chains? Will the Department take an interest in that matter, although it does not come directly under its responsibility?

I can assure my hon. Friend that my Department has taken a considerable interest in the matter, but he will be aware that the Office of Fair Trading is the organisation that looks at it. Recently, it considered exactly that point. It found that current practices are not against the public interest, but, of course, it will look at any cases that are brought before it.

Will Ministers be taking the parliamentary opportunity on Monday of explaining in detail precisely why they find it necessary to cut 27 posts in the Soil Survey of England and Wales and other agricultural research, which has its effect on the quality of food?

I notice that the hon. Gentleman added the bit about food at the end of his question. I am sure he will agree that that area of research is not wholly applicable to this question, which is about the quality of food.