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Food Labelling

Volume 172: debated on Thursday 17 May 1990

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he has any plans to make further changes to the present regulations covering the labelling of food.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. David Maclean)

There are in various stages of development, both here and in Brussels, proposals covering date marking, lot identification marks, nutrition labelling, quantitive ingredient listing, ingredient listing for alcoholic drinks, controls on claims and the labelling of irradiated food. The Food Advisory Committee is also carrying out a review of food labelling at my request.

Is the Minister aware that concern has been expressed by British-based exporters of meat that they are not on a level playing field? Is he further aware that a company in my constituency recently had a load of pigeon breasts condemned by the Italian authorities on grounds that had not been previously advised—that is, that the labelling was not in Italian, although it had not been requested, and that there was not a full veterinary certificate, even though the company had met all the British requirements? Is the Minister satisfied that other members of the European Community are offering trade on equal terms?

If any of the hon. Gentleman's constituents encounter certification problems on the export of meat or meat products, my officials will be ready to give all the help and advice possible. The hon. Gentleman demonstrates the importance of having a regime for such matters with common standards and well-understood rules throughout Europe, which are enforced equally by all member states, and that is our policy.

Now that our egg industry is probably the most carefully controlled and hygienic in the world, will my hon. Friend give further consideration to the possibility of stamping individual eggs, as we used to do with the old British lion? We are all well aware that it is possible to stamp boxes, but boxes marked "Packed in Britain" may be full of imported eggs. Bearing in mind the privations that the egg industry has had to put up with in recent months in order to reach its present position, is not it time to identify individual eggs for the benefit of consumers and egg producers alike?

I partly disagree with my hon. Friend. It is contrary to the rules to stamp individual eggs and the last time that that was done consumers believed that they were not as fresh as unstamped eggs. I commend to my hon. Friend and to the House the excellent campaigns being run by British egg organisations to draw to consumers' attention the benefits of British eggs. I also commend the report of the Select Committee on Agriculture, which made some excellent comments about the quality of British eggs.

Does the Minister now regret not having introduced fuller regulations on the labelling of animal feedstuffs? Does he agree that many farmers would not be using many of the feedstuffs that are fed to pigs and poultry, which contain the rendered remains of scrapie-infected sheep and BSE-infected cattle, if they knew the contents? Why does not he introduce a compulsory labelling scheme so that producers know what they are using?

In addition to producers and consumers knowing what they are using, the hon. Gentleman should know what is happening on the European front. In January this year agreement was reached on the draft directive on ingredient listing for animal feedingstuffs. We are negotiating fuller details on animal feedingstuffs, which will apply throughout Europe. It is not possible, and it would be wrong, for me to try to act unilaterally.