HC Deb 08 March 1990 vol 168 cc986-7
1. Mr. Livsey

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a statement on the present state of the poultry industry.

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

The market for poultrymeat remains firm and producer prices for eggs are at a very high level.

Mr. Livsey

Does the Minister agree that it is extremely difficult for consumers to identify British eggs among imported eggs? Is he satisfied with the arrangements for the marking of British eggs? What is he doing about imported eggs that do not meet the same standards as British eggs in respect of salmonella, for example? British producers have suffered greatly as a result of the impositions that have been placed upon them.

Mr. Curry

The British Egg Industry Council is conducting a programme to mark individual small packs of eggs, which is legal. There would be nothing to stop us marking packs of eggs with regional characteristics, for example. We cannot mark individual eggs. I am advised that when that was done in the past, it tended to denote that the product was not absolutely fresh. There is not a good case for that form of marking in marketing terms.

As for imports, we have discovered only eight incidents of infection in over 500 consignments that have been tested over the past 10 or 11 months. There is not a high enough incidence to justify the taking of emergency action, even if that were not to be illegal. I believe that the British consumer knows that he or she is well advised to purchase eggs that have the best guarantee of having gone through vigorous testing procedures.

Mr. Colin Shepherd

I know that my hon. Friend is anxious to ensure that the poultry industry is not disadvantaged. Is he aware that there is substantial concern in the poultry trade that the British producer may be disadvantaged because of the different standards of hygiene that are being applied in the United Kingdom and the European Community? What steps has he taken to ensure that there are uniform standards of hygiene in operation throughout the Common Market?

Mr. Curry

I accept my hon. Friend's point. The industry is concerned, although it is co-operating well with the measures that we have introduced. We are seeking to obtain from the Community proposals that will be on the table by May. The proposals will set down a programme for achieving standards across the Community that are equivalent to those that prevail in the United Kingdom. We may not necessarily have to reproduce in every detail what we are doing. We shall be looking for something that gives just as strong a guarantee to the housewife, and which will be applicable and enforced throughout the Community.

Dr. David Clark

Does the Minister accept that it is grossly unfair that British egg producers have to produce eggs that conform to high standards while other egg producers are allowed to import contaminated eggs that are sold to the British consumer? The hon. Gentleman has conceded for the first time that there is a possible course of action. Will he invoke clause 36 of the treaty of Rome and hold up at the port of entry the contaminated eggs until imported eggs have been found to be clear?

Mr. Curry

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is categorically no, because he is wrong on all counts. First, the action that he suggests would be illegal. At a time when we are lecturing the rest of the Community on legal behaviour, we can hardly engage in illegal actions ourselves. Secondly, the level of infection is not enough to justify such action. Thirdly, the correct course of action is to obtain a sensible and enforceable EEC-wide standard that protects all the housewives in the Community.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Is my hon. Friend aware that it is no good having common regulations if they are not enforced equally, and until that happens, will Her Majesty's Government consider putting a mandatory notice on imported eggs that are not subject to the same safety standards, to the effect that they have not been produced in accordance with British regulations on consumer safety?

Mr. Curry

No. That would be illegal. We would not contemplate that course, but my hon. Friend is right to say that we must ensure that whatever is agreed is enforced, and we shall pay particular attention to that when we come to the negotiations.

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