HC Deb 12 June 1978 vol 951 cc650-2
26. Mr. Mike Thomas

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will take steps to ensure that soft margarines high in polyunsaturated fats are labelled as such and that vegetable oil products containing saturated fats are differentiated from them.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. E. S. Bishop)

My right hon. Friend the Minister is awaiting a report from the Food Standards Committee on these questions. Its report will be available to all interested parties and its views on the recommendations will be considered before we decide what action is necessary.

Mr. Thomas

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. In the meantime, however, is it not important that it should be drawn to the attention of those who purchase these products that it is incorrect to make the assumption that soft margarines in plastic tubs are always high in polyunsaturates and that many soft margarines sold in plastic tubs are just as damaging from the point of view of cholesterol levels as other margarines sold in other packages? Will he assure the House that steps will be taken to make sure that manufacturers do not try to make margarines which are high among the dangerous products look the same as margarines which are not?

Mr. Bishop

I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern on this matter. He may know that, under the Labelling of Food Regulations 1970, a list of ingredients has to be given for most foods containing fats and oils. The fat or oil ingredient may be described simply as fat or oil, and the manufacturers may give information voluntarily about the fatty acid composition of their products. Any such information or claims will be subject to the general provisions of the Food and Drugs Act 1955. I am sure that the view expressed by my hon. Friend and others will be taken into account in due course.

Mrs. Castle

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is vital to the health of heart cases that saturated fats should not be included in their diet? Is it not of vital health importance that the public should be given clear guidance, so that people under medical instruction may choose their diet carefully?

Mr. Bishop

I appreciate my right hon. Friend's concern. I think that she and the public generally will know that foods which are usually high in saturated fatty acids are butter and other dairy products, cooking fat and red meat. The foods containing a higher proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids are white meat, fish, some cooking oils and some soft margarines.

I hope that this information, given at the Dispatch Box, will be of general interest. My right hon. Friend and the House may recall that the Government's White Paper "Prevention and Health", which was published last December, made recommendations which were very much in line with the comments made, and these factors will be taken into account.

Mr. Robed Hughes

Is there not perhaps a possibility that, if we were to listen to all the reports on diet, the result would be that people would eat nothing at all?

Mr. Bishop

The comments of hon. Members and of people outside the House, including those in the industry, will be considered. These are important matters and we hope to issue a report shortly.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Will the Minister please explain what is meant by the term "polyunsaturated"? Does he agree that it is a meaningless word and can mean nothing at all?

Mr. Bishop

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that polyunsaturated and saturated fats should be more correctly referred to as polyunsaturated fatty acids and saturated fatty acids, since the terms refer to the fatty acid component of oils and fats, which are all compounds of glycerol and three different types of fatty acids. I could say much more. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes, I will willingly write to him on the matter.

Mr. Thomas

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are you aware that I am beginning to be sorry that I started all this?

Mr. Speaker

It was very interesting as we went along.

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