HC Deb 08 February 1990 vol 166 cc994-5
4. Dr. Moonie

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the incidence of salmonella contamination in imported eggs.

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

Eight consignments of imported eggs have been found to be contaminated with invasive salmonella since April 1989, and on each occasion we have asked the member state concerned to take remedial action. In addition, my right hon. Friend pressed the European Community at the last Agriculture Council speedily to introduce on an EC wide basis measures similar to those adopted by the United Kingdom.

Dr. Moonie

That sounded a most impressive answer, but I am sure that the Minister will agree that the welcome increase in standards of egg production in Britain has not been matched by a fall in the number of cases of salmonellosis in humans. Will he therefore consider introducing a regulation similar to the one that the Germans are applying to stop imports of our beef?

Mr. Maclean

We have no justification under EC law to slap a ban on all imported eggs, just as other countries did not slap a ban on our eggs when the salmonella crisis was at its height.

Mr. Alexander

I accept all that, but if a farm in this country shows the slightest trace of salmonella, is not it the case that its entire flock must he destroyed, yet testing at the ports of entry is minimal and by the time we have decided that there is salmonella in eggs, they have already been distributed?

Mr. Maclean

My hon. Friend points to the absolute necessity of an EC wide regime. That is why we have accepted the advice of the Select Committee on Agriculture and redoubled our efforts in Europe to achieve a system of salmonella testing across the EC.

Mr. Morley

The Minister well knows that the Germans have used article 36 of the treaty of Rome to stop British beef entering Germany. Why cannot he use the same article to hold imported eggs until they have been proved to be safe? Our producers are suffering from the rightly strict safeguards and assessments while imported eggs are being let off scot-free.

Mr. Maclean

The one little point that the hon. Gentleman did not mention was that the Germans used the treaty illegally, contrary to the advice of the standing scientific committee and contrary to the view of the European Commission. It is not appropriate for Britain to try to use EC rules illegally to place a totally unjustified ban on eggs.

Mr. Lord

Nevertheless, when all the explanations are given, does my hon. Friend agree that for too long, we have been playing the game straight? Is it not true that we must either learn to bend the rules in the way that the foreigners are doing, or otherwise—[HON. MEMBERS: Play the game.

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Lord

In a nutshell, are not our farmers entitled to feel angry? The bottom line is still that eggs may be imported to compete with our eggs, but our quite acceptable beef is banned from Germany.

Mr. Maclean

The bottom line is that we should learn from other countries how to market produce. We have all seen the words of the Select Committee that British eggs are safer than imported eggs. We all know that, as the Select Committee pointed out, it is perfectly legitimate for every producer in this country to mark on the pack where the eggs have been produced, whether in Britain, Scotland, England, Wales or any county. That is a marketing initiative that our producers can take.

Forward to