HC Deb 19 April 1990 vol 170 cc1536-7
4. Mr. Hardy

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has met poultry farmers to discuss the problem of salmonella poisoning during the last six months.

Mr. Maclean

Ministers and officials at my Department have, on a number of occasions, met and corresponded with individual poultry farmers and organisations on matters relating to salmonella.

Mr. Hardy

Is the Minister fully aware of the serious anxiety and vulnerability of most egg producers? Is not their critical position compounded by the importation of foreign eggs, which may be dumped? Although they are subject to testing, is he aware that the rest of the batch of eggs not taken for testing will have been eaten long before the results of the test are known? Is not that ridiculous?

Mr. Maclean

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, as has been stated many times in the House, we do not have the power to ban the importation of foreign eggs. Nevertheless, we have followed—and are keen to follow—the Select Committee's advice that we should redouble our efforts in the EC to achieve EC-wide salmonella controls. I am pleased to tell the House that those negotiations are proceeding apace. We expect to hear proposals from the Commission in May with a view to their being completed this year. That is the best safeguard that we can give to our producers and consumers.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

Notwithstanding my hon. Friend's excellent efforts to achieve EC-wide safeguards against salmonella, will he bear in mind the fact that other European countries have a far lower standard of overall hygiene than we have? Will he ensure that nothing in the harmonisation process weakens the effects of the Food Safety Bill or the ability of the Government to safeguard our people against food poisoning?

Mr. Maclean

The criticism at present is that we are making too strenuous efforts to control aspects of food poisoning. We do not intend to weaken our efforts to protect our consumers, irrespective of what products they are eating. We shall be stressing in Europe the need for Europewide controls to be placed as effectively in other EC countries as they are placed here.

Mr. Lofthouse

What is the point of testing the eggs if the vast majority have already been eaten?

Mr. Maclean

Because we can take up the matter immediately with the Government of the egg-producing country concerned—as we did when we found salmonella in eight consignments of eggs—and that Government can take the necessary action. That is the extent of what we can do under existing salmonella controls and that is why we want better ones. I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that in the first two months of this year egg imports represented only 4 per cent. of eggs consumed. That is a small proportion of our egg supply.

Miss Emma Nicholson

Will the Minister reassure me that rare breeds of hens will be safeguarded? They may require a special regulation. Their gene banks are very important.

Mr. Maclean

I am delighted to give my hon. Friend that reassurance. There is no question of a special rare breed of bird being exterminated. However, I also give the House the assurance that anyone who sells eggs to the public for profit, whether those eggs come from rare brids or others, cannot expect to be exempt from the salmonella controls or from our public health measures.