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Volume 172: debated on Thursday 17 May 1990

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what factors affect monetary compensatory amounts on pigs.

The 9ยท8 per cent. devaluation in the pigmeat green rate that we obtained for the United Kingdom at the price fixing will, at current rates of exchange, eliminate our pigmeat MCAs.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will accept the thanks of the industry for that. Will he take this opportunity to thank the pig industry for its fight against Aujesky's disease and the way in which it has funded the fight with such successful results?

I am pleased to confirm that. I think that I was the first Member to raise the question of Aujesky's disease in the House in the first year of this Government. I am pleased that I am the Minister who will probably be the first to say that the disease is finally removed from Britain.

Why did the Minister fail to take the first opportunity to alert the public to the problems arising from feed contaminated with cyanide being fed to pigs in Yorkshire, which resulted in the slaughter of more than 1,200 pigs? Is not that another example of the secrecy and cover-up tactics adopted by this Minister, which have led to such a lack of trust in his Ministry?

The hon. Lady should not suggest that there has been a cover-up. If ever a Ministry announced everything and gave all the information, it is this Ministry. She makes that suggestion because she does not know the facts. She does not know that the French feed was discovered and that Bibby's did the work necessary to withdraw it, or that it presented no public health hazard whatever. She should stand up and congratulate my officials who did the work, rather than insult them.

Bearing in mind the fact that the cyclical nature of the pig industry reflects the size of the national herd, does my right hon. Friend think that it is desirable to introduce greater stability through a tighter EEC regime, or that that area of agriculture is better left more open to market forces?

My hon. Friend is right to say that we must be particularly generous in eliminating the MCAs for the pig industry because it has so little support under the present common agricultural policy. In the end, the British industry will do much better if it can regain a large proportion of our home market, which has been taken over by competitors.

Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), it appears that on 3 May the Minister was aware that pig feed was contaminated with a cyanate product, Cyanox 425, as well as the insecticide Isofenphos, yet it was not until 9 May, through parliamentary questions from my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), that the information was made known. When the Minister goes round the country making silly speeches about such matters as vegetarianism being an unnatural activity, while suppressing important information on contamination of pigmeat in Yorkshire, Humberside, Durham and Nottinghamshire, is not his personal credibility damaged in dealing with public anxiety about food safety?

What the hon. Gentleman says would be true if it were right. The press was fully informed of that matter long before the question was raised in the House. It recognised that as there was no threat whatever to human health, it was not even worth putting into the press. It is not surprising that no one but the hon. Gentleman seems to think that it is a matter of secrecy. It can hardly be secret if the press has been told.

Will the Minister remind the Opposition that cabbage contains cyanide and that it is a natural part of the human diet, although that may worry vegetarians? Will he also remind the Opposition that scare stories about food are quite unwarranted? We have some of the safest food in the world.

I have to admit to my hon. Friend that I have not advised the public about the cyanide that is in cabbage. If the press feels that it would like to take that up, no doubt we can discuss it. I keep nothing from the public and I am prepared always to tell the public the truth. It is only because the Opposition want to find a conspiracy that they are determined to say that, largely because they have very little else to say about agriculture.