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Hormone-Implanted Meat

Volume 570: debated on Thursday 28 March 1996

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Whether they continue to support banning the importation of meat from countries which allow the implantation of hormones and what action they propose if such a ban is found to be in breach of the rules of the World Trade Organisation.

My Lords, the import from third countries of meat and meat products derived from animals treated with hormonal growth promoters has been banned since 1988, as has the use of these substances within the European Community. The UK has consistently opposed these bans on the grounds that there was no scientific evidence to justify their imposition. It would not be appropriate to anticipate the outcome of the World Trade Organisation dispute proceedings notified by the US authorities. Consultations started in Geneva yesterday and I hope they will lead to an acceptable negotiated settlement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. If athletes are banned from using growth promoters, why are the Government prepared to accept them for the rest of the population?

My Lords, it is quite clear, based on extensive scientific testing, and is agreed by all European countries that the growth hormones we propose should be allowed have no effect whatsoever on humans eating the resulting meat products.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that this is a most interesting Question, coming at this particular time? Will he tell the House under what treaty provisions the hormones are banned? At the same time will he say under what treaty provision the European Commission yesterday banned the export of all beef products to the whole world? What other products and goods may be involved? What do the Government intend to do to regain the sovereignty of this country in respect of trade overseas, and indeed our home trade?

My Lords, I probably have the information, but I cannot find the exact number of the EC regulation that bans the use of hormones. I assure the noble Lord that it is a widely used and perfectly accepted one. Nor can I answer the noble Lord on the second point that he raised about the authority for the European worldwide ban on British beef exports. It is a little wide of this Question. However, I invite him to consider the transfer of sovereignty from the European Commission to the World Trade Organisation which is implicit in its possible victory in the dispute on hormones. I wonder whether the noble Lord finds that a good thing, and if it is not rather inconsistent.

My Lords, if the European Union ban is lifted, will there be a system of labelling to reassure people that these hormones are in fact harmless, as I believe them to be? If the ban is not lifted, can the noble Lord give some idea of the penalties that are likely to be imposed by the United States in tariffs against European goods?

My Lords, I think we are all in favour of labelling. It is certainly one possible outcome of the discussions between the European Community and the World Trade Organisation. So far as penalties are concerned, I am sure my noble friend is aware that there is already some element of revenge being taken by the United States which is, thankfully, not having a great effect on the British producers of any particular product. If the European Union continued with a ban which had been ruled illegal by the World Trade Organisation we should expect that to have trade consequences.

My Lords, I declare an interest. In the past, when it was legal, I have used hexoestrol on my bullocks. Does my noble friend agree that if we, as farmers, have to rely all the time on media hype to decide what we should or should not feed our cattle, at the end of the day we shall find that we use no drugs at all, including antibiotics, and this country will surely revert to the state of health that we had, say, in the 1920s and 1930s? Is that what the Opposition wish?

My Lords, I am sure we are right in insisting that we take a great deal of care in getting the science right, taking the best possible advice and spending everything that is required to understand and prove that a particular substance is harmless to human health. I am sure that we are right then to insist, so far as we possibly can, that we abide by that scientific advice and do not allow ourselves to be swayed by pressure groups or scare stories.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it might be as wise a precaution to ban meat with implanted hormones as it is to ban feed that contains animal remains?

My Lords, I understand that these growth hormones are based on steroids. Will the Minister explain why vets have not been allowed to use therapeutic doses of steroids on animals that have lost their appetites, when in the past they have proved extremely beneficial to the health of the animals? Why have the Government accepted that stricture when they are so against the implantation of hormones?

My Lords, we are all in favour of the therapeutic use of hormones where these have no harmful effect on humans as a result of their use and where they have a beneficial effect on the animal. We are at present somewhat hobbled by the European Union taking a different view, not based on science but based purely on decisions it believes it should take on behalf of consumers, rather than allowing consumers to take their own decisions.

My Lords, if the Government decide on a cattle slaughter policy as a result of the BSE crisis, it will be against the advice of their scientific advisers, who have not recommended a slaughter policy. If the Government are prepared to override scientific advice where BSE is concerned, why can they not do the same for hormone-implanted beef to ensure consumer confidence?

My Lords, I fail to see the connection at all between something that is admittedly of possible potential danger to human beings and something that is provably of no potential danger to human beings.