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Food Safety

Volume 175: debated on Thursday 28 June 1990

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he last met the National Federation of Women's Institutes to discuss food safety.

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

Representatives of the National Federation of Women's Institutes were present at the first periodic meeting on 3 April 1990 between my right hon. Friend and consumer organisations. The next meeting is planned for 12 July. In addition, I had a meeting with the women's institutes on 16 January.

The Minister will shortly be receiving representations from the National Federation of Women's Institutes about the problem of bovine somatotropin, when he will be asked to use all his efforts to have the product banned in the European Community and not to grant a licence for its use. Will he take those points on board and respond to them?

I read carefully the motion that was passed at the WI conference, and I have no hesitation in saying that there is no question of the British Government allowing any product, including BST, to be used in this country unless it fully satisfies licensing requirements. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is currently a moratorium on BST imposed by the European Community, which we are content to go along with.

When my hon. Friend next meets that august body of ladies, will he explain that one of the most likely consequences of the BST threat will be an increase of beef imports from countries in South America and Africa, where regulations against diseases such as foot and mouth and tuberculosis are far less stringent than here? Does not that represent the real threat to food safety in this country? Does my hon. Friend agree that Labour Front-Bench spokesmen who have done so much to stir up fears about BST ought to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the high standard of foodstuffs in this country, especially beef. I can reassure him that we do not allow into this country any food that poses a health risk, so the concerns that he expresses about beef from other parts of the world should not materialise. He is also right to condemn the official Opposition, just as they were condemned by every party in the House when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food delivered his statement late on Thursday 7 June, after returning from negotiations in Brussels. They were rightly condemned because they were seeking to create a new myth that, somehow or other, the British housewife is less well protected than the foreign housewife—and that is just not true.

When the Minister meets WI representatives, will he discuss with them the authoritative study by the Audit Commission showing that almost one in eight food premises in England and Wales presented a significant or imminent health risk? Given that it has been deliberate Government policy to reduce support for environmental health officers and that we are now more than 400 officers short, will the Minister announce a reversal of that policy and an increase in the number of trained inspectors and environmental health officers?

If the WI does not put that item on the agenda, I should certainly like to do so. I warmly welcome the Audit Commission's findings on food safety enforcement, and if environmental health officers discover in their survey a certain number of premises that do not come up to standard, they will have the Government's full backing in taking action against them. That is why the Food Safety Bill was passed in another place yesterday. It provides an extra £30 million for enforcement and gives new powers to environmental health officers to take action against the unacceptable minority. We have some of the finest food in the world here and we will not let a minority of filthy, scruffy takeaways or downmarket restaurants or shops destroy the reputation of the majority of our excellent eating establishments.