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Food: Pork and Bacon

Volume 707: debated on Wednesday 4 February 2009


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what responses they have received following the public sector procurement initiative in respect of the proportion of British pork and bacon purchased in Britain.

My Lords, my department published a second report in November on the proportion of domestically produced food used by government departments, hospitals and prisons. It shows a rise overall from 64 to 66 per cent in UK produce used. In relation to pig meat, overall the use of UK-produced bacon rose from 25 to 29 per cent and for pork from 65 to 74 per cent.

My Lords, those rises are substantial but is it not true that, prior to that, Whitehall departments were using 71 per cent of imported bacon and 39 per cent of imported pork? When I wrote to the departments to ask this question, I got constructive replies from all of them except the Home Office, which refused to reply because of the cost involved. I wonder whether it is using any British bacon at all. What resources are devoted to the public sector procurement initiative? Are we increasing those resources or are they the same, and will we continue to keep up the pressure in this regard? Does my noble friend agree that we should follow the example of the Commons in using only British bacon in all our refreshment outlets?

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees wishes that he were here to respond on the question of the House of Lords policy not to serve British bacon for breakfast. My understanding is that it is down to the deadly combination of price and competition between the Lords restaurant and the Commons Strangers’ café for custom in the morning. My noble friend’s general point is that, since the new initiative, there has been an improvement. At the moment, we are on a level playing field with regard to resources, but the unit in my department receives huge support from procurement officers across government and the public sector and in the regional offices of government.

My Lords, speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference a month ago, the Secretary of State, Mr Benn, proudly announced that Defra was using 100 per cent British pork, but there was no mention of bacon or ham. What percentage of these meats does Defra use and how can any government department justify buying meat from sources with lesser welfare standards than our own?

My Lords, the figure that I have for British bacon used by Defra is 75 per cent. The department has undoubtedly improved its performance. The noble Lord is absolutely right to point out that the welfare standards for British pigs are very high. There has been concern that there is a disadvantage because of the standards in the rest of Europe, and that is a point well made. The EU directive which comes into place in 2013 will level that up to an extent, but it is important to emphasise the very high welfare standards for British pigs.

My Lords, the directive will in any event be inadequate, but will the Minister acknowledge that 2013 is too long to wait for harmonisation of animal welfare standards throughout the EU’s so-called single market? What steps are the Government taking to press for more rapid movement in that direction? According to NFU figures in recent years, our production costs for pig meat are some 20 per cent higher and, although there has been some adjustment as a result of accountancy changes, the situation is still disproportionate. Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain are all much cheaper because their standards are lower. Does the Minister acknowledge that consumers and producers have a common interest in higher standards and therefore in buying British pork and other pig meat?

My Lords, it is clear that British consumers appreciate the high quality of the pork and bacon from British pigs. However, I was rather surprised by the tenor of the noble Lord’s question concerning Europe, coming as he does from the Liberal Democrat Benches. He will know that we would have much preferred the new provisions to come into being long before 2013, but he will also know that negotiations in Europe on the matter were very difficult. Of course, we will continue to press for the highest welfare standards in Europe and for a level playing field between the rest of Europe and the UK.