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Food Safety

Volume 116: debated on Friday 15 May 1987

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what measures the Government have taken since 1979 to ensure the safety of food.

[pursuant to his reply, 8 May 1987, c. 564]: The Government attach great importance on the need to ensure the safety of food and have taken appropriate action whenever a need to do so has been identified.As part of its ongoing programme of food surveillance, my Department has, through the steering group on food surveillance, continued to monitor the incidence of food contamination and, where necessary, remedial action has been taken. Legislation has been introduced to limit the amount of vinyl chloride monomer contained in food contact plastics that may migrate into food. Also more stringnt statutory limits have been set for levels of lead in canned food. Other action has included a voluntary agreement with the trade intended to limit the amount of aflatoxin occuring in nuts and nut products. A statutory limit is currently being considered. We have examined instances when the constituents of food packaging materials may migrate into food, such as with cling film, and we have issued the necessary advice and guidance to consumers and others. In 1985 following contamination of imported wine with the chemical diethylene glycol we took action to alert the trade and enforcement authorities and obtained their co-operation in withdrawing stocks of suspect wines. Prompt action prevented the import of wine containing high levels of methanol.The Government have made regulations to strengthen public health controls over the production and importation of meat and introduced arrangements for monitoring meat for the presence of veterinary residue.In 1982 the Government gave their strong support to a private Member's Bill, which became the Food and Drugs (Amendment) Act 1982, which stiffened the penalties available to the courts to deal with traders in unfit food, particularly meat. and allowed more time for enforcement authorities to prepare sufficient cases.The Government have continued to attach importance to the independent advice provided by the Food Advisory Committee (before 1983 it was the Food Additives and Contaminants Committee) and in November of last year strengthened this committee by the appointment of two additional members. The use of food additives has been kept under constant review during this period and several reports have been published. Where necessary, amendments to food additives regulations have been made including those controlling sweeteners, emulsifiers and stabilisers, and miscellaneous additives and, most recently, proposals to amend the Colours in Food Regulations have been made. It continues to be our policy that additives are not permitted for use by regulations unless Ministers are satisfied that on the basis of the committee's advice they are both safe and needed.Immediately following the accident at Chernobyl, the Government instituted a comprehensive testing programme for home-produced foodstuffs and agricultural materials. In June 1986, movement and slaughter restrictions were imposed under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 on sheep in certain areas of Cumbria in order to ensure that animals containing unacceptably high levels of radioactivity did not enter the food chain. Parallel measures were taken to deal with sheep in certain areas of Wales and Scotland.The Government have issued a number of publications designed to encourage higher standards of food safety. These include a food hygiene code of practice for United Kingdom manufacturers of canned low acid foods, together with an advisory memorandum for overseas canning companies intending to export to the United Kingdom and a memorandum on the testing of novel foods. In addition, Goverment Departments have actively participated in the preparation of various food safety codes of practice produced by the food industry.So far as food served in hospitals is concerned, health authorities are now legally required to ensure that the provisions of the Food Hygiene (General) Regulations 1970 are met. Ministers have agreed that the provisions in the food hygiene regulations relating to temperature controls should be reviewed.Through liaison with the communicable disease surveillance centre and developments in the identification of food poisoning organisms, hazardous foods have been more easily identified. DHSS has evolved a system for the co-ordination of control action to ensure the speedy removal from sale of foods which are a risk to health.