HC Deb 18 June 1951 vol 489 cc12-4
11. Mr. Gammans

asked the Minister of Food what steps he took to satisfy himself that the crab meat ordered from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and now on sale in this country was fit for human consumption; what quantities have been purchased or contracted for, and if he will make a statement on the position generally.

26. Mr. Edelman

asked the Minister of Food whether he has yet received a report on the Russian crab meat which was allegedly responsible for four cases of food poisoning in Coventry; and what action he proposes to take.

27. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the Minister of Food whether he has considered the statement of the Medical Officer of Health for Coventry, a copy of which has been sent to him, that a number of cases of illness were due to the consumption of Russian crab meat; and what action he proposes to take.

Mr. Webb

I have seen Press reports about cases of food poisoning alleged to have been caused by the consumption of Russian crab meat. The quantity covered by the last contract for this commodity was about 800 tons, all of which has been released. On arrival in this country the goods were examined in the usual way and found to be in sound and perfect condition. No complaints have been received in my Department about this or previous shipments, of which there have been several. Indeed, this tinned crab is most popular and is eagerly bought up when available.

Arising out of the present incident, the Public Health Laboratory Service examined the remainder of the food in the can that was thought to have been the cause of these cases of illness, but as this examination did not take place until some time after the can had been opened, the results were inconclusive. An examination of 20 unopened cans of the same batch showed, however, that they were all perfectly sound. In the light of this report I feel that hon. Members and the public can be reassured about the quality of this product, and the efficiency of the routine tests which are made.

Mr. Gammans

The Minister used the word "alleged." Was it not the Medical Office of Health of Coventry who condemned those tins? Would the right hon. Gentleman say what is the quantity of crab meat of that consignment which has been ordered and brought into the country?

Mr. Webb

I see that the Medical Officer of Health of Coventry said only this morning, as reported in the Daily Mail: People can go ahead and eat the meat. Risk of food poisoning is small. If he himself arrived at that conclusion, who am I to interfere with what he said?

Mr. Edelman

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) is ill-informed on the subject, and that the Medical Officer of Health for Coventry has stated that the remaining quantities of crab meat in Coventry can be released for human consumption? Is it not also the fact that the incidence of food poisoning from Russian imported food is no higher than from similar foods imported from more friendly sources?

Mr. Webb

I think we should all deprecate the intrusion of prejudice into a discussion of this matter. There is a risk of poisoning from all prepared foods, particularly tinned foods, and merely because this particular food comes from Russia should not lead us into exaggerated views of the consequences. This is a most palatable commodity; we are very glad to have it; it is good crab, well packed, and the trade will take every ounce of it that we can get into this country.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

In view of this incident, is the right hon. Gentleman arranging for a special and additional check to be made on any future consignment that his Department may decide to import?

Mr. Webb

We shall carry out all the routine checks that are made from time to time.

Mr. Boothby

Will the right hon. Gentleman make it perfectly plain to the Russians that in future we shall take no more of their very doubtful crab until they are prepared to take an equal quantity of our doubtless herring?