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Volume 164: debated on Thursday 11 January 1990

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assessment he has made of the feasibility of completely eradicating salmonella enteritidis from the egg production process.

The Government accept that complete eradication of salmonella enteritidis is unlikely to be feasible. The measures that have been adopted are designed to reduce the level of infection to the minimum that can reasonably be achieved.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. I ask my question on behalf of the chicken farmers in my constituency who are extremely worried about Government policy on salmonella enteritidis. As we have already slaughtered over 1 million of our domestic chickens, and given that this form of salmonella is ineradicable—it is as much a part of chickens as their feathers are—when will my hon. Friend decide that enough is enough, and realise that our national flocks are threatened with total extinction and that, between Gummer and Gumbro, we will not have a chicken industry any more?

Not unnaturally, I disagree with my hon. Friend's concluding comments. I cannot tell her when the present scheme will end. We shall consider all the scientific evidence. My hon. Friend is a doughty fighter for the British chicken industry. I invite her now to use her considerable presentational talents to help to market the British egg like never before and to use that wonderful slogan which the Agriculture Select Committee has given us—"British eggs are safer than imported eggs." If she turns her attention to that, I am sure that she will do a marvellous job for the British chicken industry.

Does the Minister agree that there is little value in reducing the salmonella content of British eggs if we allow salmonella to be imported wholesale? Will he confirm the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) that salmonella has been found in imported Dutch eggs but that, by the time that tests reveal the presence of salmonella, the eggs have been distributed and are adorning the breakfast plates of Britain? Why does the Minister not use the available EEC regulations on contaminated food and stop the distribution of imported eggs until they arc tested and cleared?

It is nonsense for the hon. Gentleman to talk about salmonella being imported wholesale. That is an outrageous allegation. Had he bothered to read the Select Committee report on Tuesday, he would have seen that the Agriculture Select Committee has also agreed that the incidence of salmonella in foreign eggs and the risk from them is remarkably low—the same as in this country. The hon. Gentleman knows that it is dishonest to suggest that we could use powers in this country to delay for ever and a day until they are approved imports of eggs that have no salmonella. That is not the correct approach. I agree with the approach of the Agriculture Select Committee. We will intensify our efforts in the EC to get a salmonella control order across the whole of Europe, because that is the proper and sensible solution.