HC Deb 20 June 1991 vol 193 cc456-7
13. Mr. Cox

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent discussions he has had with the Consumers Association about improving food hygiene and safety in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Maclean

Representatives of the Consumers Association were present on 20 February 1991 at the fourth periodic meeting between my right hon. Friend the Minister and the office-holders of consumer organisations. The next meeting is planned for 25 June 1991.

Mr. Cox

The Minister must be aware of the deep concern of the Consumers Association about the ability of trading standards officers to detect irradiated products, especially if they are publicised in an inadequate and misleading way. What does the hon. Gentleman suggest to trading standards officers? To protect the consumer, why does not the Ministry set up an independent food standards agency?

Mr. Maclean

We have some of the most detailed regulations in Europe. Our standards are among the highest of all the European countries that have irradiated food and our regulations are as detailed as those of other countries. We have much detail on the policing of irradiated food. So far, we have received only one application to irradiate food and that was in respect of herbs and spices. The licence was granted and last week the Ministry published full details of the conditions to which the company must adhere. We already have independent experts who assess food and guarantee food safety. The hon. Gentleman is making yet another promise that a Labour Government will spend more of taxpayers' money on setting up quango after quango.

Mr. Soames

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is some concern that these food hygiene matters have been carried too far and that they are interfering with the activities of legitimate small organisations, which are unable to cope with the demands made upon them? Will my hon. Friend carefully consider any representations made to him in that regard and take care that he does not drive many valuable small organisations out of business?

Mr. Maclean

That is absolutely correct. In the pursuit of food safety, we must ensure that we do not drive out of business many of the excellent producers of high-quality, tasty food. My hon. Friend does not seem to have been deprived of a good supply of food.

Mr. Ron Brown

Food hygiene and safety are important, so why is the Minister blocking grants to fish processors and curers such as Kelly of Newhaven? Such companies want to invest in new equipment for a future which, we hope, will bring better herring stocks to this country so that people can benefit.

Mr. Maclean

My Ministry will be happy to consider any specific proposals from the company that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.