HC Deb 15 February 1973 vol 850 cc1428-31
3. Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he now has to implement the Report of the Food Standards Committee on the date stamping of foodstuffs, in the light of the comments he has received from interested parties and consumer organisations; and if he will make a statement.

42. Mr. Lamborn

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is now in a position to make a statement on the Report of the Food Standards Committee on the date stamping of foodstuffs.

50. Mr. Edward Taylor

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he intends to implement the Report of the Food Standards Committee on the date stamping of foodstuffs.

Mrs. Fenner

The Government accept the recommendations of the Food Standards Committee that there should be regulations on open date marking to come into effect in 1975 but that in the meantime date marking should be developed as fully as possible. The coming year will see the start of, or experiments in, "sell by" date marking of almost all products whose freshness is of most concern to the housewife.

Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

Is my hon. Friend aware that the whole House will welcome that statement? It is particularly satisfactory to those of us who have pressed this matter in the House that it is a Conservative Government who have announced their intention to make these excellent regulations. Will she say whether the regulations are likely to include the recommendations of the Food Standards Committee with regard to temperature control of perishable food during transport, storage and display?

Mrs. Fenner

We recognise that not only date stamping will help consumers to keep prepared food in the best condition. There are other items, such as better labelling and the encouragement of a monitoring process in all related activities, including the point raised by my hon. Friend. I have set up a small steering group under the chairmanship of Mrs. Patricia McLaughlin, founder of the Housewives Trust. She will be assisted by leading figures from food distribution, processing, consumer organisations and enforcement authorities to examine the whole subject.

Mr. Kaufman

Does the Minister not agree that instead of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Sally Oppenheim) seeking to make party capital out of this issue, the congratulations for this advance towards date stamping should go to the Sunday Times, which conducted a brilliant campaign upon it and which was responsible for highlighting this issue, demonstrating, as it did in the case of the thalidomide children, what a valuable institution a campaigning newspaper is?

Mrs. Fenner

I should like also to thank the Food Standards Committee, because it has done a very good job in its task of encouraging the development of open date marking.

Mr. Kinsey

Will my hon. Friend keep a sane head on her shoulders on this matter? There is a need for date stamping in certain directions, but will she bear in mind that some long-life foods would be handicapped by date stamping?

Mrs. Fenner

We recognised—and the Food Standards Committee made this clear—that there would be complex areas which would produce difficulties for some foods. It is because of the complex nature of the subject that the committee recommended that the regulations should not come into force until 1975. In the early period we are concentrating on short-life foods, because we feel that these are of most concern to the housewives. There are certainly difficulties in the marking of long-life foods. The steering group will have all these factors in mind.

Mr. David Clark

Hon. Members on this side of the House very much welcome this step, but may I ask the Minister whether the other half of the problem—unit pricing—is also to be dealt with by the Government? Is she aware that we feel that this matter is of such importance that it should have been dealt with by way of a statement, so that we could have had a full discussion on it?

Mrs. Fenner

If the hon. Gentleman will table a Question dealing with unit pricing I will be happy to deal with it. It is entirely outside the scope of the present Question. On 1st February, in answer to a Question, I announced that I would be ready, in the light of the observations received, to make some statement within a fortnight. In the interim period three Questions were set down on the Order Paper and it seemed proper to answer those.