HC Deb 17 December 1998 vol 322 cc1079-80
1. Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley)

If he will make a statement on the marketing of farm—fresh turkeys. [62985]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Jeff Rooker)

The number of traditional outlets available to the trade has declined over the years but the traditional farm-fresh turkey sector does have a loyal base of customers who continue to look for high-quality fresh birds. Farm-fresh turkeys give consumers a choice and the Government would like to see that traditional production continue.

Early this morning, I visited a traditional farm-fresh turkey farm to see the production methods at first hand. To avoid any doubt, I can tell the House that the writers of recent press stories in The Times, the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard were all guilty of telling porkies about turkeys. Farm-fresh turkeys are not under threat and their production and marketing have our full support.

Judy Mallaber

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I am very much looking forward to eating traditional Welsh turkey on Christmas day. Will my hon. Friend explain exactly how those press reports arose and why there was confusion about whether European Union regulations would mean that farm-fresh turkeys would not be allowed? Will he confirm absolutely that the traditional British turkey is safe?

Mr. Rooker

Farm-fresh turkeys, marketed correctly in the traditional way, are a very small share of the turkey market, but customers can be assured that traditional farm-fresh turkeys are all British; they are never frozen; there are no added chemicals; they are dry plucked with no water drenching and, furthermore, they are not found on sale in supermarkets—customers go to a proper, traditional butcher to buy them.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

Will the Minister tell the House what representations he has received from the turkey industry about the poultrymeat hygiene regulations and his efforts to gold-plate them? Will he tell the House what proportion of turkeys are now imported instead of being produced in this country, as a result of the excessive regulation that he is now making worse?

Mr. Rooker

The hon. Gentleman has it completely wrong.

Mr. Jenkin

indicated dissent.

Mr. Rooker

No, the hon. Gentleman is completely wrong. Unlicensed farm-fresh turkeys, under the limit of 10,000 slaughtered a year, are not affected by EU regulations. They are not affected, we have no proposal to bring them under EU regulations—indeed, we have no proposal to introduce further regulations for small producers on farms.

We are holding consultations about an issue that was left unchecked by the previous Government: the small, unlicensed slaughterhouses, mainly in urban areas, of which there are only about three dozen. Those slaughterhouses are not covered by the regulations, although they should be. The Conservative Government neglected to deal with that matter and that is why we are holding consultations. The traditional farm-fresh turkeys that are the subject of the question are not affected in any way by any change in the regulations.