HC Deb 22 October 1987 vol 120 cc905-7
6. Mr. Pike

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent representations he has received regarding the labelling of food.

Mr. Donald Thompson

I regularly receive comments and inquiries from many sources on a wide range of labelling matters. Most recent representations have been on various aspects of the EC proposals for the amendments to the food labelling directive, and of our guidelines for a voluntary system of nutritional labelling.

Mr. Pike

When will the Minister be able to announce the Government's view on the irradiation of food? If the Government decide in favour of allowing irradiation, will he give an assurance that labelling instructions will make it clear to the consumer whether a product has been irradiated?

Mr. Thompson

I have had much correspondence on the lines of the hon. Gentleman's question. We are currently considering all kinds of representations as well as the advice of the advisory committee on the wholesomeness of irradiated foods. We are also considering a method of detecting irradiation, as without such a system, even with labelling, it will be difficult to prove whether a product has been irradiated.

Mr. Key

Is my hon. Friend aware of the growing concern in the British bee-keeping community about the inadequacy of the 1976 honey regulations to cope with imports, which are not in the interests of consumers or producers?

Mr. Thompson

I was made aware at lunch time by my hon. Friend of the concern of British bee keepers. I fully understand my hon. Friend's difficulties, but I believe that this long-running and complicated saga can best be progressed by correspondence.

Mr. Cryer

I have already been in correspondence with the Minister about this. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that people who are allergic to flavouring in foodstuffs require additional labelling to warn them of the dangers? The Ministry has persistently refused to require this. Partly, through inertia and partly, it seems, through fear that the Common Market will say that it is fobidden. Will the Minister assure us of his determination to help people who need protection in this respect, and will he ensure that there is proper and adequate labelling of foodstuffs?

Mr. Thompson

We have helped the hon. Gentleman's constituent — I think that he received the last letter yesterday—by, this year alone, spending £300,000 on a scheme to find out exactly what people are allergic to. It was an extensive scheme.

Mr. Cryer

Why does the hon. Gentleman not help my constituent in Bradford, South?

Mr. Thompson

Many of us are allergic to the hon. Gentleman.

We have spent £300,000 on that aspect alone. W hat we have learnt must be translated into labelling. We are doing our best not to follow Europe but to lead Europe on such a complicated but important issue.

Mr. Simon Coombs

Is my hon. Friend aware of any restriction or problem with European Community law which prevents the Government from putting forward the finalised nutritional guidelines for fats and other nutrients? If he is not presently aware of any such problem, will he tell the House when he proposes to be so'?

Mr. Thompson

Discussions are still going on in Europe on the fats issue and fats regulations. We have recently published our guidelines on nutritional labelling, which will knit into forthcoming European directives. We hope that, by being first in the field, we can again lead Europe.

Mr. Ron Davies

I press the Minister on the matter of irradiation. Is it the Government's view that labelling will have to be introduced but that, to make such labelling effective, there will have to be a system of tests to allow for independent analysis of products which might or might not have been irradiated? If that is the case, will the Minister give an assurance that before the Government allow any irradiated products to be distributed such tests will be available, and that, unless they are available, approval for irradiation will not be given?

Mr. Thompson

The hon. Gentleman has summed up all the difficulties that we presently have with regard to irradiation and people's fears of it. As he said, if we are to label products, there must be some way of testing whether irradiation has occurred. When we have considered all the representations that we have had, I am sure that we shall be able to consult even further and come up with a scheme that is acceptable to the House.