HC Deb 08 June 1995 vol 261 cc311-2
8. Mr. Alan W. Williams

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what initiatives his Department is taking to improve the diet of children. [25819]

Mrs. Browning

We are preparing advice to parents about healthy diets for pre-school children and we are considering a version of our booklets written especially for school children. We continue to provide substantial funding to the British Nutrition Foundation for its teaching pack for schools entitled "Food: A fact of life".

Mr. Williams

I am pleased to hear about the advice prepared for parents and children, but what about the manufacturers? A survey by the Minister's Department and the Department of Health published earlier this year showed that children under five consumed double the recommended intakes of salt and sugar. Children are daily bombarded with advertisements for chocolates, sweets, crisps and junk food, with the result that there has been a deterioration recently in their dental health. Every year, 25,000 children under the age of five have a tooth extracted. What is the Department doing to persuade manufacturers to cease some of their advertising of junk food for children?

Mrs. Browning

I deplore the term "junk food", which implies that all convenience and snack foods are not healthy. That is not true. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, however. The Department is working hard, in conjunction with other Departments—especially the Department of Health—to make sure that we put the information in the public domain so that people can make informed choices.

Children of school age have quite a bit of disposable income, in terms of pocket money and earnings. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be reassured to know that the Ministry and manufacturers have worked with the nutrition task force to put information packs into schools, up to key stage 4, to ensure that children are taught about diet and nutrition. I hope that, in this way, we shall be able to influence the next generation to make informed choices.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my hon. Friend agree that the most effective way of improving children's diets is to ensure that the prices of fruit, vegetables, cereals, fish and other commodities in the shops are kept as low as possible? Does she agree that that can best be achieved by discarding the nonsensical aspects of the common agricultural policy that cover those commodities?

Mrs. Browning

My hon. Friend will have heard my right hon. Friend's reply about the task force which is looking at the best way of reforming the CAP. His point about fruit and vegetables is important. I suggest that people buy seasonal fruit and vegetables, rather than what are often the more expensive fruit and vegetables, now fortunately available to everyone but not necessarily the most economic. People should buy the more traditional fruits and vegetables which are in season and which constitute good value for money, thereby contributing to children's and adults' diets.

Mr. Salmond

Does the Minister agree that one of the key aspects of the diet of children is keeping them safe from infections such as listeria? Is it therefore a sensible Government policy to propose the closure of the Torry food science laboratory in Aberdeen, which has a reputation of excellence in this and a number of other areas? Does she accept that the overwhelming body of opinion in the north-east of Scotland favours saving that vital scientific facility? On precisely what date did the proposal to close it appear on her desk or the desk of the Minister?

Mrs. Browning

I know that the hon. Gentleman has had an opportunity to discuss that with my right hon. Friend. I cannot today give him the exact date, but he will know that the work carried out by the laboratory will be continued elsewhere, so there is no threat to human health or food safety. My right hon. Friend will have heard the hon. Gentleman this afternoon, and I shall ensure that he is kept informed as soon as a date is known.