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Foodstuffs: Radioactive Contamination

Volume 476: debated on Tuesday 17 June 1986

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2.45 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware of the widespread anxiety concerning the possibility of the radioactive contamination of foods, including liquids, and their sale to the public; and whether they will take steps to secure the effective monitoring of such foods, including those imported prior to their being offered for sale.

My Lords, in order to ensure that there is no risk to the safety of food in the United Kingdom from radioactive contamination, we have set up an extensive monitoring programme of milk and other foodstuffs, including those imported from abroad. The purpose of the monitoring is to ensure that there is no risk to consumers from food on sale in the United Kingdom. Our monitoring programme will continue for some time yet.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that his reply will give some measure of reassurance to the public at large? But can he say how extensive is the monitoring? As equipment to monitor radioactive substances is comparatively cheap, might not an extension of the network to an extent which we cannot yet know of be desirable? Will he indicate whether the monitoring procedure covers fish taken from the Irish Sea?

My Lords, there has been monitoring of milk, vegetables and meat since the Chernobyl disaster. The monitoring of milk and meat is continuing. The results of the monitoring efforts have been published as frequently as has been possible, in particular on 6th, 10th and 15th May, with a publication recently on 30th May. With regard to the Irish Sea, as a matter of habit the Ministry of Agriculture has monitored the areas around nuclear power stations. The reason that the public hears nothing about that is that there has been nothing to report.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that what he said in reply to my noble friend's question about monitoring is very welcome? But what steps will be taken if it indicates serious contamination of foodstuffs? What warning will be given? How will foodstuffs be withdrawn from stores and how will other contaminated foodstuffs be prevented from finding their way on to the table of the ordinary family?

My Lords, although I wish to underline the importance of the matters referred to in the Question, may I ask the Minister to seize this opportunity to tell the British public that the principal sources of radiation to which they are exposed come not from the sources referred to but from diagnostic X-rays, many of which are performed not for necessary clinical or medical reasons but for medico-legal and other extraneous purposes? Will he ensure that patients are told that they are not serving their best interests when they press their GP to send them for unnecessary X-rays and that GPs in their desire to be helpful are not serving the best interests of their patients if they accede to such requests?

My Lords, I am extremely interested to hear that, but it is a matter for the medical profession.