HC Deb 19 January 1971 vol 809 cc712-4
29. Mr. David Steel

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to forbid the sale of tuna fish in the event of continuing evidence of possible contamination by industrial effluent.

Mr. Prior

I have now instituted a scheme of monitoring for certain heavy metals, initially methyl mercury, in canned and fresh fish and certain other foods important in the national diet. I am circulating a detailed note on the scheme in the OFFICIAL REPORT and have made copies available in the Library. If, on the results obtained, my expert advisers consider that action is needed, I have adequate powers to protect the consumer.

Mr. Steel

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for letting me have a copy of the document. Is he aware that the public will welcome this reassuring step in view of the increasing anxiety about the side effects of industrial pollutions? This is a very good step forward.

Mr. Prior

The primary sample will be of about 3,000 items annually. I hope that this will reassure public opinion. But if I think that further measures are necessary, I will take them.

Following is the information:

I have now organised, in consultation with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Social Services, Scotland and Trade and Industry, a scheme of monitoring of canned and fresh fish and of a proportion of other foods which are important in the national diet.

A primary sample of about 3,000 items annually will be analysed by the Laboratory of the Government Chemist, by the Government Fisheries Laboratories and by the Plant Pathology Laboratory. The sample will be supplemented by further tests undertaken through offers of co-operation from local authority analysts. Some food research institutes and research associations may also be undertaking research in this area and will be invited to make results available for consideration with those resulting from the monitoring scheme.

The monitoring scheme will concentrate on methyl mercury, but the opportunity will be taken to make checks for the presence of certain other heavy metals. The selection of these additional metals will be made when I have the advice on this of the Pharmacology Sub-Committee of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy. The results obtained from the monitoring will be co-ordinated by the Ministry's scientists and associated with statistical information about the proportion of particular foods in the national diet which is available from the National Food Survey.

The main monitoring scheme will be supplemented in two ways. In the first, there will be a random check of foodstuffs which are of minor significance in the national diet where it is nevertheless desirable to confirm from time to time that the presence of methyl mercury is at levels which cause no concern. The second approach will be to seek to establish the possible existence of small local areas of pollution which might affect levels of mercury in food and make special checks at such places.

The results obtained by the main monitoring and by these supplementary checks will be submitted to the Pharmacology Sub-Committee and to the Food Additives and Contaminants Committee. The results will be published with the observations of these Committees at half-yearly intervals, and a first report should be made public by the autumn. If the monitoring scheme revealed cause for concern either in general or in a local area I should, of course, bring this information to the attention of my expert advisers immediately and announce the action which I was taking to protect the consumer if this proved necessary.

Mr. James Johnson

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, we have reached the end of Questions to the Minister of Agriculture today and, as he will shortly be leaving the Chamber, may I ask your advice? He said nothing in his White Paper yesterday about the future of the White Fish Authority. He has consistently refused to give any answer and, in the unhappy event today of the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) not being here to ask Question No. 9, we still have no answer. Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to make a statement on the future of the White Fish Authority, which is so vital to the fishing industry?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order, but no doubt the Minister heard what the hon. Gentleman said.