HC Deb 29 June 1989 vol 155 cc1093-4
2. Mr. Nigel Griffiths

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects to discuss food irradiation with other EC Agriculture Ministers.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John MacGregor)

I expect discussions on the draft directive on food irradiation to start later this year.

Mr. Griffiths

Has the Minister had an opportunity to study the report of the Consumers Association on food irradiation in this month's "Which?", which warns that food irradiation removes nutrients from food but increases the likelihood of toxins and radiolytic products being left in it? Does he agree that we need firm Government action to improve standards throughout the food chain and not irradiation?

Mr. MacGregor

On the latter point, over the past few months we have taken a number of steps, where necessary, to deal with food safety and standards throughout the food chain. One should not take decisions on food irradiation on the ground that it will solve all food safety problems. Food irradiation has a part, but only a part, to play in the total process of dealing with food safety. It is right to give consumers and manufacturers freedom of choice on that process, given the beneficial effects that it can have for some food products. As to the report of the Consumers Association, food irradiation has been studied by more scientists than almost every other food process. It has no greater effect on nutrition than the other processes through which food goes, including cooking. Food irradiation is neutral in its effect on toxins.

Miss Emma Nicholson

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, contrary to the scare stories put forward by the Opposition, food irradiation cannot by some extraordinary miracle turn bad food good? It leaves bad food bad, but gives good food a longer shelf life, thereby increasing the housewife's freedom of choice.

Mr. MacGregor

As so often on these matters, my hon. Friend talks good sense. I agree with everything that she said.

Dr. David Clark

Does the Minister recall telling the House last week that if he introduced irradiation he would ensure that the public were made aware of whether food had been irradiated? As the majority of irradiated food will be sold in restaurants, will he give a categorical guarantee that restaurants will be required to display a notice in a prominent position stating that they sell irradiated food? Alternatively, it should be clearly stated on the menu that they are selling irradiated food.

Mr. MacGregor

As the hon. Gentleman knows, it will be some time before the ban on food irradiation in this country can be lifted.

Mr. Home Robertson

Answer the question.

Mr. MacGregor

I am coming to the point. This is relevant. It will be some time before the ban is lifted. We will wish to consult and take decisions on a range of details including precisely what is included on labels. The point made by the hon. Gentleman is one of those details. Precisely how we ensure that the consumer knows that food in restaurants has been irradiated will be a matter for detailed consultation and consideration. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I firmly believe that consumers must have informed freedom of choice. His point will be dealt with.

Mr. David Martin

When was food irradiation first patented? How much scientific evidence has been accumulated since then?

Mr. MacGregor

From memory, I think that the first food irradiation process was permitted in 1921.

Dr. Moonie

The Minister remembers that, does he?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not have to be alive to remember everything that I have read. From my historical education, I can remember other things.

For more than 40 years food irradiation has been studied by scientists. Provided that the proper control framework is operated and the right levels are used, the safety aspects have been fully approved by scientists internationally in many scientific bodies and by many organisations that have considered food irradiation, including the advisory committee in this country.

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