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Declaration Of Feedingstuffs Ingredients

Volume 173: debated on Thursday 7 June 1990

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'For the purpose of protecting and promoting the interests of consumers by means of informing persons in charge of live animals which are food sources from which food in intended to be derived, the Ministers shall by regulations coming into force no later than six months from the day on which this Act is passed provide that compound feedingstuffs may not be marketed unless such particulars as may be prescribed are clearly marked on the packaging or container or on a label attached thereto, including—

  • (a) the species or category of animal for which the feedingstuff is intended,
  • (b) directions for the proper use of the feedingstuff,
  • (c) a declaration listing all of the ingredients in the feedingstuff described by their specific names in descending order by weight,
  • (d) the energy value of the feedingstuff,
  • (e) the date of manufacture and minimum storage life of the feedingstuff and
  • (f) the name and address of the person responsible for the prescribed particulars.'.—[Mr. Ron Davies.]
  • Brought up, and read the First Time.

    With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 13, at end insert—

    `(e) fodder or feedingstuffs for animals, birds or fish intended for human consumption'.
    No. 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 17, at end insert
    `not intended for human consumption'.
    No. 3, in clause 17, page 14, line 10, at end insert
    'provided that regulations controlling the presence of substances in food sources shall not permit the presence in fodder or feedingstuffs for animals intended for human consumption of substances not permitted for use in food intended for human consumption'.
    No. 4, in clause 17, page 14, line 10, at end insert—
    '(1A) In making regulations under subsection (1) above, the Ministers shall take all necessary actions to ensure that fodder or feedingstuffs for animals intended for human consumption be so labelled as to provide full details of the ingredients and origin of the fodder or feedingstuffs.'.

    The purpose of the new clause is to make provision in the Bill to require those who are responsible for manufacturing animal feedstuffs to label the contents in a manner that is clearly understood by the purchasers of those foodstuffs.

    The House will appreciate the need for the new clause. It is common knowledge that the food industry has been shattered in the last couple of years by two instances of epidemic caused by the consumption by farm animals of contaminated feedstuffs. I refer to salmonella infection in the poultry industry and the current epidemic of BSE An our cattle herd, both arising directly—I believe this is beyond disagreement now—from the consumption of contaminated feedstuffs.

    There is no doubt in my mind that beef producers, given the opportunity, would now be feeding their animals nothing but feedstuffs containing vegetable protein. I am equally sure that consumers would be happier if they could purchase beef that had been produced from cattle fed with nothing but vegetable protein. Unfortunately, that cannot be the case because under the present law in Britain cattle can still be fed the rendered remains of pigs and chickens and chicken litter, and various items such as plywood can still be mixed in with cattle feed. I am not sure how a diet of rendered pigs, chicken litter and plywood quite fits in with the theological menu which the current Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would have us believe is suitable for vegetarian cows.

    It is the second time that the hon. Gentleman has made that point.

    That may be so. The hon. Lady has just drifted into the Chamber, no doubt having been entertaining herself in the west end. I agree that it is the second time, and if the opportunity arises, I will make the point a third time—

    and if the hon. Lady continues to interrupt me, I will say it a fourth and a fifth time. It is a valuable point. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is unfortunately obsessed with theology and pays too little attention to the proper running of his Ministry—[Interruption.] The natives on the Conservative Benches must learn when they get restless that if they want to dish it out, they must be prepared to take it. I learnt that early in life. I shall be happy to stay for the rest of the night taking what they have to dish out, but I warn them that I shall give it back with interest.

    The Minister preaches the virtues of feeding vegetarian cows a diet of vegetable matter. But he presides over a Department which has regulations allowing the rendered remains of pigs, chicken litter and plywood to be fed to cattle. That is a fact—[ Interruption.] If Conservative Members do not like it, I am sorry; I do not like it either. That is why we need the new clause. I hope that they will rise in abundance to support it because, according to a poll in today's issue of Farming News, 82 per cent. of farmers believe there should be a total ban on the inclusion of meat and bone meal in animal rations.

    Opposition Members have been calling for that for well over a year. If the Government are not prepared to take that fundamental precautionary step, they should at least ensure that livestock producers have the opportunity to follow their own, more sensible, approach and choose not to feed livestock on rations containing meat and bone meal. It is a fundamental question of choice.

    At present, the Government, for all their protestations about consumer sovereignty and the disclosure of information, refuse to take the basic step of requiring the feed compounders to list the ingredients of their rations. The new clause would not require the disclosure of any trade secrets or commercially sensitive information. The exact proportions and nutritional balance of compound feeds, which are the commercially sensitive bits of information, would remain confidential.

    But the compounders would have to disclose what is in the feed. To take a topical example, they would have to disclose whether a high protein cake contained entirely vegetable protein or animal protein, too. Why should not the farmer have that information so that he can make a choice, particularly if the Government refuse to do the sensible thing and ban ruminant-derived protein from all animal feed?

    Almost all the farmers in my constituency have been crying out for some knowledge of what is in their feedstuff and say that they would not feed their cattle animal products if they knew that feedstuff contained such products. I would support the new clause but for the fact that I am aware of an EEC directive and believe that it is probably better that the matter is tackled through the European Community. If that were not the case, I would support wholeheartedly what the hon. Gentleman is saying.

    8.45 pm

    That is not much consolation to the beef producers of Scotland, Wales and England, who are seeing the bottom fall out of their market. If the only answer the hon. Gentleman can offer them is, "Hang around for a couple of years and in 1992 we might get some European legislation, and then all will be okay," I suggest he tells that to the farmers in his constituency. They are crying out for action, not in two years' time but in two days' time. That would enable them immediately to take the necessary action themselves. They would be empowered to take action to help resolve the crisis that is afflicting their industry. I appreciate the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, but we must act with urgency. There is no time to waste.

    The Daily Telegraph said in an interesting article this morning:
    "Eighty two per cent. of the sample—"
    conducted for Farming News
    "said they wanted a compulsory ban on the use of meat and bone meal in all farm livestock rations. These ingredients can still be used in food for pigs and poultry."
    It is abundantly clear that farmers have a greater understanding of public susceptibility in these matters than has the Ministry.

    Is the hon. Gentleman aware that at a meeting in York last week of 300 beef farmers from all over the country, not one was convinced, having listened to the evidence, that there was any scientific backing for what the hon. Gentleman is saying? The animal feed people at the meeting made it clear that, if individual farmers wished to have certain rations taken out of the feed supplied to them, they had only to ask.

    I am enjoying the sight of Conservative Members being almost at each other's throats. I followed with interest what happened at that conference in York. I read the background to it and I appreciate the enthusiasm that existed there. I also know of the enthusiasm on the part of consumers, who are anxious to buy a product in which they have total confidence. Frankly, if we continue feeding chicken litter to cattle and expect to have public confidence in our beef-producing industry, the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) will have to think again.

    The hon. Gentleman might think it rubbish. He should rise and defend his position on this. I quoted from a sample of farmers and the view of 82 per cent. of them. A poll in today's issue of Farming News shows that farmers believe that there should be a total ban on the feeding of meat and bone meal. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was present about a week ago for the debate on BSE. There may be scientific evidence to suggest that there is nothing demonstrably wrong with the practice. But that is not the heart of the argument. There may be dangers about which we do not yet know and, anyway, consumers do not like the practice.

    If that is not enough, and if the 35 per cent. drop in the British beef market is not enough to convince the hon. Member for Ryedale of the true position, I can only say that I care more for the £250 million interest that the farmers of Wales have in the beef industry. The hon. Gentleman might think it satisfactory to feed chicken litter to cattle, but there are dangers in doing that. For example, an article in the June 1990 issue of Agscene says:
    "Australian beef producers were shaken in the new year by a mass botulism outbreak among cattle from two feedlots in the Queensland area. 5,000 animals destined for the lucrative Japanese grain-fed beef market have reportedly died after consuming chicken manure mixed in feed causing the fatal attack of food poisoning."
    The hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) may say that they do not enjoy the protection of the European Community and that that could not happen in the Community or in Britain. I refer the hon. Gentleman to an article in the Veterinary Record of 27 May 1989. It states:
    "A major outbreak of type C botulism in cattle has recently been reported from Northern Ireland … Eighty animals from a herd of 150 housed beef cattle were affected and 68 of them died. It was the largest outbreak of bovine botulism recorded in Europe and the first to be caused by feeding ensiled poultry litter to cattle, a practice which is common in Northern Ireland and in many other European countries. In view of the risk of botulism from this feed source, and because of the severity of the outbreak, some additional laboratory findings relating to the incident are presented in this paper and their implications are discussed."
    There is no doubt that there is a major problem with our food producing industries. One way to start to restore confidence is to ensure that farmers can buy with certainty products whose labels have a legal basis so that if the farmers wish to produce organically or to give a guarantee that their animals have consumed nothing other than vegetable protein they should he able to do so.

    If consumers want to go to the butcher with some certainty that the animals with which he has been supplied have been fed only vegetable protein, they should be entitled to do that. It is wrong for anyone to suggest that those fundamental freedoms in the production and consumption of animal products should not be afforded by legislation. The National Farmers Union endorses that view. Notwithstanding the comments of its president at the conference in York last week, that is now the official view of the union. In correspondence to me on 5 June the union said:
    "For over a decade the NFU have been calling for an obligation on suppliers of compound feedingstuffs for farm livestock to declare the specific ingredients of those feedingstuffs so that farmers can know more precisely what they are feeding to their animals. We believe that such a requirement is important for the confidence of both farmers as producers of animals for the food chain and for consumers as the farmers' customers".
    The Country Landowners Association also contacted me and asked to go on record. It wishes to have its support recorded for the campaign for compulsory labelling of feedstuff ingredients. The association says that fanners and landowners will not be impressed by the argument of the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West that the United Kingdom can simply wait for the EEC directive on feedingstuffs and should not act before the due date.

    The Government have an excellent opportunity to show that they can respond positively to the consumer's need to know what is in feedstuffs. By accepting the amendment the Government would bring United Kingdom law into line with the objective of the EEC directive. What could be a better position to defend in Europe in view of the situation in the past couple of years when the practices in this country unfortunately brought our agriculture into disrepute?

    The four amendments in my name and the names of my hon. Friends are quite far reaching in their implications because, as well as having labelling requirements a nd requirements that labels should show ingredients and the country of origin, they bring feedingstuffs for animals designed for human consumption into the definition of food within the Bill. That is a radical concept which is worth looking at when one thinks of the objectives that the Government themselves have set and the need to establish the kind of confidence that the industry deserves.

    I represent a prime beef-producing area. It is in the interests of farmers in my constituency that standards should be brought up to those that they keep rather than pulled down by the bad practice that occasionally arises. I do not find support for the idea of feeding animal protein to herbivore ruminant animals, nor do I find confidence in the idea that what is unfit for human consumption is somehow fit for consumption by animals which we will eat. Those issues arouse increasing feeling among consumers and increasing recognition by farmers of the need to maintain the high standards to which many work and to which more are beginning to work. I hope that the Minister will look sympathetically at the approach that we have suggested. I hope that he shares our objective.

    It is a major item of Government policy that the consumer should exercise informed choice. In this case the consumer is the farmer who wants to be able to exercise choice that is informed by accurate labelling of what he is buying. This is in line with mainstream Government policy and I trust that the Government will accept the new clause for which I shall certainly vote.

    If the Government refuse to accept the new clause, it will be symptomatic of their whole approach to these matters. They are in the 11th hour, under siege in Europe, with a 35 per cent. reduction in beef sales and are seeing the world caving in around them. If they resist the new clause they will be exhibiting a head-in-the-sand attitude.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) has already mentioned representations from the National Farmers Union south of the border and from the Country Landowners Association. I wish to put on record the support of the National Farmers Union of Scotland. In order to answer the points raised against the new clause by Conservative Members, I reiterate that, although the EEC directive has been approved, it does not take effect until January 1991. The Scottish NFU quite specifically addresses that point by saying that under the new clause the opportunity arises to bring forward by 18 months what has already been acknowledged should happen at that time. The union states:
    "In view of the widespread public concern on this particular issue, the Union would ask you to support this initiative on an issue which is of such importance to producers and consumers alike".
    In Scotland the impact is being felt although the herds are almost exclusively free from this affliction. Scottish farmers want the protection of being able to say to the world, "We are doing the most rather than the least"." However, the Government refuse to address that.

    The point made by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) is dismissed in the union's letter. The Scottish NFU would not write to every Scottish Member asking us to argue in favour of the new clause if its membership was opposed to it or complacent about it. The Scottish NFU treats it as a matter of urgency because it at least knows what is happening in Europe and in the shops and is aware of the views of its members. The Scottish NFU wants the Government to act. It wants the Government to be seen to be doing the most rather than the least to meet the urgent threat that exists.

    I am sorry about the way that this debate has been conducted because I do not think that there is any difference of opinion in the House about the long-term goal or the need for improved labelling of the ingredients of food rations. Far from helping farmers and beef producers, the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) indulged in the continuing scaremongering that is emanating as much from the Opposition as from the British press. That undermines what our beef producers are trying to achieve.

    I went to the meeting in York, which is close to my constituency, and listened for three hours to what farmers had to say. The hon. Member for Caerphilly is right. There is widespread concern about the future of agriculture as a consequence of what has been said in the media about BSE. There is no scientific advice to back up much of what the hon. Gentleman said.

    Last week, I went to a major feed manufacturer—one of the biggest in the north of England—in my constituency. I discovered that, whereas the Government banned the use of ruminant protein in cattle feeds in 1988, this feed manufacturer voluntarily stopped using it in 1986 in response to requests from farmers. I have spoken to several feed manufacturers today and they have asked me to make it clear that if a farmer is not happy with the food ration, there is an opportunity for him to say that he does not wish certain ingredients in the feed for cattle, pigs or poultry. This is happening more and more often.

    We all want to see labelling of foodstuffs, but there is a problem, apart from the need to ensure that any action is on a European Communitywide basis. If there is one lesson that we should learn from what has happened in the past two or three days and our efforts to get the French and German ban on English beef lifted, it is that there are higher standards on husbandry, animal welfare and food hygiene and animal feed hygiene in Britain than on the continent. There is no point in our legislating without bringing the rest of the European Community with us. That is why it is important that we have a European Communitywide arrangement.

    My second point has not yet been made. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues at the Ministry will consult widely over the arrangements. There are major difficulties in dealing with some of the matters that have been raised. There is no disagreement on what we wish to see achieved, but when the hon. Member for Caerphilly starts scaremongering, he destroys the British beef farmer.

    9 pm

    I sympathise with the mood of the House and its wish to ensure that food producers are provided with the detailed information that they need on important inputs such as animal feedingstuffs. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) used a good phrase, "informed consumer choice". That appeals to me and to the Government. However, I have made it clear in earlier debates, first, that such matters are properly dealt with in regulations made under the Agriculture Act 1970 rather than in a food Bill dealing with human food, and, secondly, that in this sector, conditions are being introduced for the European Community as a whole. My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) was right to stress that point.

    The new clause specifies six categories of information that should be required of feedingstuff manufacturers. For the benefit of the House, I shall set out both existing arrangements and the provision of the recently-approved EC directive. I think that it will be seen that we have either already introduced or are well on the way to introducing practically all the requirements of the new clause.

    The first two requirements set out that the species or category of animal for which the feedingstuff is intended should be stated and that directions for the proper use of the feed should be given. Both these matters are existing requirements of the Feedingstuffs Regulations 1988. Further categories of information covered by the new clause are the date of manufacture, the minimum storage life and the details of the person responsible for the accuracy of the information. The present regulations already require the latter to be set down and, while declaration of the date of manufacture and storage life are optional, the recent directive will make it obligatory to supply this information also. In the case of four of the six categories, therefore—categories (a), (b), (e), and (f)—the information sought is either already obligatory or well on the way to being made obligatory.

    We are left with ingredient listing and a declaration of energy value, and the latter is difficult and complicated. My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale alluded to that. There is no agreement in the Community on the best approach to the necessary calculations, but I assure the House that the UK is in the forefront of the work that is proceeding and we shall be pressing urgently to continue the work at all speed. However, it would be unrealistic, and I do not want to give the House the impression that it would be possible, to expect that early agreement that would allow for the declaration of energy values on a uniform basis will be achieved.

    The essential element, in any case, is ingredient listing. Here a considerable step forward was taken when the new directive was agreed in January. It provides for obligatory listing, either of specific ingredients or of categories of similar ingredients.

    We all know about the directive and know that it is taking effect from 1991, but the precise point of organisations such as the National Farmers Union for Scotland, and its English counterpart, getting in touch with Opposition Members is to say that that is not good enough, as there is an 18-month gap. The NFU at least recognises the urgency of the position, having said:

    "The declaration of ingredients of manufactured livestock feeds has to be made compulsory as soon as possible."
    Is the Minister saying that 18 months is "as soon as possible"?

    If the hon. Gentleman knows all about it, why table an amendment to the Bill? This is largely a matter of EC competence, and a matter for the Feedingstuffs Regulations 1988.

    As I have said, a considerable step forward was taken when the new directive was agreed in January. It remains for the experts to work out the categories that may be used to draw up the necessary reference list of ingredients that will permit manufacturers to make their declarations on a common basis across the European Community.

    The Opposition should appreciate that there is a great deal of complex technical work involved. It is not a matter of sticking the names of half a dozen ingredients on a bag; hundreds of ingredients could be used and named. We must get the definitions correct if the legislation is to mean anything, is to be enforceable, and does not disadvantage Great Britain in relation to other countries.

    I can assure the House that, like my colleagues in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I want to be sure that the work is given the impetus that it deserves. We shall be actively pressing for rapid progress, so that ingredient listing can be introduced as early as possible.

    I urge the House not to accept the new clause. Regulations on animal feed are a matter for the Agriculture Act 1986, and we shall use the powers in that Act to implement the labelling requirements in due course. In view of the assurances that I have given tonight, we shall press ahead with the details as soon as possible. This Bill is not an appropriate place for animal-feed labelling regulations—much as we want them—and I hope that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) will not press the new clause to a vote.

    I shall make two brief points. I am sorry if the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) thinks that our comments about public confidence in the food industry are equivalent to scaremongering. Opposition Members argued that the Government should ban bovine offals for human consumption nine months before such a ban was introduced. We argued 12 months in advance that 100 per cent. compensation should be given for infected animals. However, despite pressure from Opposition Members, the National Farmers Union and others, the Government took 12 months to be persuaded of the rightness of such a move. I resent the attitude that implies that drawing attention to matters of public concern and pressing the Government to adopt policies to safeguard the public interest is equivalent to scaremongering, and I hope the hon. Member for Ryedale will reconsider his views.

    I understand the wisdom of seeking Europewide measures, if only to prevent a recurrence of the practice that, until last month, we were carrying on in our trade with France. I am sure that the Minister is aware that every month we were sending boat loads of meat and bonemeal from this country. That very meat and bonemeal was banned from ruminant feed in this country, but it was being incorporated in the rations being fed to French cattle. Under our trading arrangements with France, there was nothing to prevent the products of those cattle being shipped back to this country. That was happening until last month. That, if anything, demonstrates the need for Europewide action.

    Having said that, let me add that the Minister gave a generous—and, I believe, genuine—assurance that he recognises and shares our concern, and intends to treat the matter with urgency. As I take his assurances at their face value, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

    Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.