HC Deb 08 February 1990 vol 166 cc1003-4
12. Mr. Charles Wardle

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what response his Department has made to the women's institutes' representations on irradiation.

Mr. Maclean

Detailed replies have been sent to all the women's institutes that have contacted me. In addition, I and my expert officials, together with a member of one of the independent scientific committees that advise the Government, had a most useful meeting with representatives of the National Federation of Women's Institutes where all their questions were fully discussed.

Mr. Wardle

My hon. Friend will already have reassured some of the women's institute members who supported the conference resolution about irradiated food not long ago. Is not world scientific opinion almost unanimous about the safety of irradiated food? If there is clear labelling, cannot the consumer choose whether to buy it?

Mr. Maclean

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. All world expert scientific opinion that has examined irradiation, along with the independent expert committee advising the British Government, has determined that irradiated food is absolutely safe. The crucial point is the consumer's right to choose. We have every bit as much right in this country to select irradiated food as French housewives have.

Mr. Alan W. Williams

Although there is no test to show whether food has been irradiated, and much concern that irradiated products may be harmful, the Government are thinking of introducing maximum doses 10 times those used in the United States. Why do not the Government listen to public opinion which is overwhelmingly against irradiation?

Mr. Maclean

We are taking public opinion into account. The hon. Gentleman's comment about doses 10 times greater than those in the United States is absolutely untrue. The doses recommended are perfectly in line with what the EC Commission has recommended. World scientific opinion states that irradiation is safe. Since only 2 per cent. of the public have the right—for which we fought—to buy green top milk, surely the 66 per cent. who might want to buy irradiated food have a similar right.

Mrs. Ann Winterton

My hon. Friend will be aware of the genuine fears and concerns of consumers about irradiated food. Does he agree that stringent labelling will, to a large extent, dissipate those fears, enable the consumer to make an informed choice and provide the marketing opportunity for good, fresh food?

Mr. Maclean

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to stress that the crucial factor is our right as consumers to select a product based on informed choice. The Government are determined that any irradiated food should be clearly marked with the words "irradiated" or "treated with ionising radiation"—[Interruption.] Since we are determined that the labelling regime will be enforced and workable—[Interruption.]—consumers' fears are groundless.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I ask the House to listen to agriculture questions and stop private conversations.