HC Deb 17 October 1972 vol 843 cc18-9
22. Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he intends to take following the Report of the Public Health Inspectors Association, which revealed that 11,500 items of bad food, comprising stale, unfit and unclean food, were discovered by the inspectors in shops last year, especially in view of the fact that this figure shows a considerable increase on previous years.

Mr. Peter Mills

The Food and Drugs Act, 1955, makes it an offence to sell food in unsatisfactory condition. The report shows that local authorities are enforcing its provisions with the help of complaints by consumers.

Mrs. Oppenheim

Does not my hon. Friend agree that it is very disturbing that it would appear that standards are falling rather than rising, and that this highlights the urgent need for the implementation of the Food Standards Committee report, not only on date-stamping but on temperature control, and that obviously such hygiene regulations as now exist are not being effectively enforced?

Mr. Mills

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing the matter to the attention of the House. It is true that the number of complaints has increased, but the 11,500 refers to foreign matter, and mouldy food accounts for another 4,500. Therefore, it is an important point. The report has alerted members of the public to the need to be on their guard and to the fact that when they bring such matters to the attention of public health inspectors action is taken. Certainly we must not be complacent.

Mr. Marks

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Medical Officer of the Department of Education has also expressed great concern at the increase in dysentery and food poisoning of children, and will he take a more active interest in the matter?

Mr. Mills

I understand what the hon. Gentleman says. I can assure him that we take the matter seriously, and we must certainly not he complacent about it.

Miss Quennell

Does my hon. Friend realise that the report of the Public Health Inspectors Association is most alarming? Will he do everything in his power to accelerate the date-stamping to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Sally Oppenheim) has referred not necessarily so that the consumer, the housewife, can see the date on food but so that the proprietors of the establishments in question can see it for themselves and get rid of the food in time?

Mr. Mills

I would not go so far as to say that the report is alarming; it is disturbing. The other point I would like to make is that it is only a very small proportion of the total food sold. We are listening to the views of people about date-stamping. When the time comes, of course action will be taken.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

Would the Minister agree, whether the figure is alarming or disturbing, that if local authorities had the requisite number of public health inspectors they should have, the figure would be a lot more alarming or disturbing?

Mr. Mills

I should like to pay tribute to the public health inspectors. They are carrying out a first-class job in difficult conditions. What I like about all this is that there is the helpful development that consumers are taking notice of things and bringing them to the inspectors' attention.

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