HC Deb 16 March 1989 vol 149 cc522-3
9. Mr. John Townend

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the present position in the egg industry.

Mr. MacGregor

Contacts with major packers indicate considerable variations in sales but overall these may be about 75 per cent. to 80 per cent. of levels experienced in November. Packing station throughput has fallen by about 13 per cent. The balance is going for export and into egg products. Total returns to producers, including bonuses, are about 34p per dozen—still considerably below production costs, which are currently rather more than 40p per dozen.

Mr. Townend

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the slaughter policy for salmonella-infected chickens, which was advocated by me and by many of my hon. Friends, has been warmly welcomed by the industry?

Is he further aware, however, of the serious anomaly in the compensation scheme whereby the compensation for laying birds is the same as for breeding birds, although the latter are worth four times the former? That seems most unfair. Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the matter with a view to increasing the compensation for breeding birds?

Mr. MacGregor

I confirm my hon. Friend's first point and I am grateful to the industry for welcoming the slaughter policy. On the second point, my hon. Friend will know that under the Animal Health Act 1981 the Government are required to pay compensation whenever compulsory slaughter is imposed. We propose that compensation will normally be assessed by reference to a scale of values which takes into account the fact that the birds are from a flock known to be infested with salmonella. I do not wish to raise any expectations on the part of my hon. Friend, but I shall be happy for him to write to me on the point about which he is concerned.

Mr. Tony Banks

Will the Minister give a clear, unequivocal guarantee that it is okay to eat Cadbury's Easter eggs this year without having to boil them first?

Mr. MacGregor

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Knapman

Does my right hon. Friend agree that eggs remain a very valuable source of protein at a modest price?

Mr. MacGregor

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I can assure him that my family and I—like the large number of families that I have met in recent weeks—continue to eat eggs in the way that we always have done, taking into account the chief medical officer's advice about raw eggs.

Mr. Mallon

Does the Minister agree that when setting up the working party to examine all aspects of egg production and hygiene it was a mistake not to include someone from the Department of Agriculture of the North of Ireland? Does he agree that it would make sense to learn from the experience of Northern Ireland, where egg production has been kept salmonella-free and has left us able to say that we in Northern Ireland are the good eggs?

Mr. MacGregor

The working party was considering what further information and research on salmonella was required. As that related to the position in England, Scotland and Wales particularly, it was right to draw the working party's members from each of those areas. I assure the hon. Gentleman, as I think that I have done on other occasions, that we try to learn what we can from the experience of Northern Ireland, which, as he says, is salmonella-free.

Dr. David Clark

Will the Minister confirm that the egg and poultry industry has failed to provide funds for the continuation of research into reducing salmonella at the Institute of Food Research at Bristol? Does he not agree that it is a scandal that the three members of staff working on the competitive exclusion project at Bristol will be made redundant as from tomorrow?

Mr. MacGregor

We have made it clear many times that the decisions about that project were made before the recent concern about salmonella, and were based on the view that the fundamental research work had been completed. As the hon. Gentleman knows, some companies are using that research to develop projects in the market place, and I hope that others will continue to look at it. That is the present requirement.

We spend considerable sums each year on more general salmonella research. The money that will no longer be provided for the Bristol research project that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned will be applied to other types of microbiological research where it is needed, and I am now actively reaching my final conclusions on the working party's recommendations on further research into salmonella.

Forward to