HC Deb 16 February 1989 vol 147 cc470-2
1. Mr. Wray

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the contamination of food supplies in the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Richard Ryder)

Expert and comprehensive monitoring work is undertaken by a large range of scientists, academics and others. This surveillance work ensures that, if action is needed to ensure or enhance safety margins, it is taken swiftly and on a firm basis of scientific study and assessment.

Mr. Wray

Is the Minister aware that the London Food Commission considers that the Government have acted deplorably by their cover-up of food poisoning? According to its statistics, one in 12,000 eggs is contaminated and since 30 million eggs are distributed every day in Britain, 2,500 eggs per day must be contaminated. Will the Minister take into consideration that the average person eats 151 eggs a year, so one in 79 people in Britain will eat a contaminated egg and the average person will eat two infected eggs in a year—[Interruption.] Does the Minister agree that the Government have failed to face up to the problem and that he should resign?

Mr. Ryder

There has been no cover-up. Clearly we take this matter very seriously, but it must be seen in perspective. The hon. Gentleman fails to do that.

Sir Hal Miller

Will my hon. Friend confirm the stand taken by the Foreign Office arid by the Minister for Trade during last night's debate on the EEC position on hormones in beef, that the Government act only on the basis of scientific evidence, unlike the Labour party spokesman who claimed that we should act without evidence? In that context, how does he rate the evidence from the London Food Commission about a multiplier of 12,000, as we have just heard?

Mr. Ryder

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Beggs

Speaking on behalf of the United Kingdom, will the Minister make it absolutely clear, and not leave it to the Minister responsible for Northern Ireland, that food products from Northern Ireland have an excellent health record?

Mr. Ryder

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Robert Hicks

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is the obligation of any responsible Government to inform and not to alarm, and that the recent allegations about the desirability of eating certain foodstuffs are misplaced and in many cases irresponsible? Will he respond to those allegations, made without scientific evidence, in a very robust manner?

Mr. Ryder

The Government will continue to answer those charges in a clear and robust manner. The problems must be put into perspective but the Government take their responsibilities for food safety extremely seriously.

Mr. Martlew

Does the Minister agree that, in 1983, the Government failed to ban the sale of so-called green top mil—untreated milk—whereas they banned it in Scotland? Does he accept that, as a result of that inaction, eight people, including a baby, died in the Calder Valley area of west Yorkshire? Is it not a fact that the Government have waited six years to ban such milk because of pressure from the farming lobby?

Mr. Ryder

On 3 February, my right hon. Friend the Minister announced that, under the Food Act 1984, we will consult to see whether a ban should be imposed. The consultation document will be made available early next week.

Mr. Charles Wardle

As well as ensuring the highest standards of hygiene in animal husbandry and food processing, has it not become essential to emphasise the importance of hygiene in the preparation of food in the home, in case the normal commonsense standards of preparation do not always prevail?

Mr. Ryder

It is precisely because of that matter that, next month, the Department of Health and my Department will launch a joint food hygiene in the home campaign to ram home the points that have been set out by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Geraint Howells

Does the Minister agree that too many contradictory statements about food poisoning have been made by various Government Departments over the past month? Does he further agree that it is time for the Prime Minister to make a statement to the House to allay the fears of consumers and producers alike?

Mr. Ryder

In his speech on Tuesday my right hon. Friend the Minister stated that there is no complacency and no conspiracy. The Prime Minister, in answering questions later that same day, set out in precise detail the Government's view on pasteurised and unpasteurised milk.

Mr. Paice

Does my hon. Friend take comfort from the fact that nearly a week has passed since the last scare story about British food? Does he agree that much of the furore has been blown out of all proportion by the press, which has sensationalised a genuine but tiny problem?

Mr. Ryder

My hon. Friend makes his point effectively.

Dr. David Clark

If there is no cover-up or complacency about food contamination, will the Minister confirm that the application by the Monsanto drug company for a product licence for bovine somatotropin-produced milk has been rejected on safety grounds, not once, but twice by his own scientifically composed veterinary products committee?

Mr. Ryder

This question is about the contamination of food. The veterinary products committee has said that there is no evidence that milk from BST-treated cows is dangerous.

Mr. John Marshall

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the standard of hygiene in food factories in this country is second to none? Does he agree that it is high time for those who speak on this matter to show a sense of responsibility rather than to create hysteria?

Mr. Ryder

It is precisely because we are not complacent about this issue that the Government have been preparing a major food Bill since October 1987, when my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary issued a press release on the matter. More than 500 organisations have been consulted about what should go into that new food Bill. The new food Bill will be set before Parliament as soon as is practicable. There is no doubt that there are no grounds for complacency, and the Government are showing that to be the case.