HC Deb 19 December 1991 vol 201 cc435-6
1. Mr. Skinner

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is now in a position to reveal the latest survey regarding dioxin levels in milk in the Bolsover area; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Gummer)

I have already published all the results available to date. The results of the further survey—which involves complex and time-consuming testing—will be published as soon as possible.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Minister aware that on 10 December the National Rivers Authority told me, by letter, that it had taken two samples from the river—above the Coalite plant and below—and that the sample from the river above the plant showed a low level of dioxin, the one below the plant showed considerably higher levels of dioxin and that it is now certain that the dioxin is corning from the Coalite plant? As the Minister has said that the polluter must pay, will he give a guarantee that the polluter, Coalite, will pay compensation to the farmers concerned? Will he also hold a public inquiry so that the matter can be sorted put?

Mr. Gummer

My action in support of those farmers is well known to the hon. Gentleman. I am concerned that they should have all the help that they can get. The tests that we are carrying out are not yet complete. The tests done by the National Rivers Authority are different from those that we are doing. We shall provide all that information to the public so that decisions may be made. The decisions to which the hon. Gentleman refers are largely not for me.

Mr. Colvin

Is my right hon. Friend happy that the monitoring systems in Bolsover are as good as those in my constituency? There are a number of petrochemical plants in my constituency, as well as the Rechem International plant, which disposes of toxic waste, where Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution and the local district authority carry out extensive monitoring. What additional monitoring does my right hon. Friend's Department carry out to ensure that toxic emissions cannot enter the food chain?

Mr. Gummer

Our survey programmes have been extensive and we have found nothing of a type similar to that which has been found in Derbyshire. We continue to conduct dioxin surveys. My job is to ensure that dioxin does not enter the food chain and we have a full programme of surveys to ensure that that does not happen. It was as a result of those surveys that we pinpointed two and, later, three farms and that is where the detailed tests are being carried out. In fact, we discovered the problem and acted immediately so that there would be no danger to public health. That is the role of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Mr. William Ross

As it appears from the information published to date by the Minister that it is almost impossible to determine the exact source of the dioxin that is causing the problem, what comfort does that provide to farmers? If the source cannot be discovered, how can the polluter be forced to pay? Given that these are insidious and dangerous chemicals that have wide-ranging and far-reaching implications for the food industry, is not it time that the Government thought again about compensation in such circumstances?

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman should not overstate the position. We have carried out and are carrying out extensive tests throughout the United Kingdom and have found that only three farms are affected. We are conducting detailed trials on those farms. As soon as we have the results of the trials we shall publish them. That is a perfectly reasonable statement of the position. I do not believe that it is helpful to suggest that the problem is widespread or in any way worrying, either for the consumer or for the farming industry as a whole. What I am concerned about is the specific effect on these three farms, which is extremely serious.

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