HC Deb 04 June 1998 vol 313 cc485-6
1. Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

What steps he is taking to improve food safety. [42720]

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Dr. John Cunningham)

We are setting up what will be a powerful, effective and independent Food Standards Agency operating across the whole food chain, clearly focused on protecting consumers. In the meantime, I have already ensured that public health is our first consideration in matters of food safety.

Mrs. Campbell

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that, after 18 years of Tory Government and a disastrous record on food safety, there is still widespread concern and anxiety about food safety, and especially about genetically modified food? Does he agree that it is important that we give consumers real choice in the consumption of such foods, and that labelling genetically modified foods would be an important step forward in giving consumers that choice? What progress has my right hon. Friend been able to make in persuading other countries to agree with us on that important issue?

Dr. Cunningham

My hon. Friend is right to say that there is still a high level of public concern about food safety. We must continue to be vigilant in protecting the public and in bringing to them the best available scientific advice on those matters. On genetically modified food, the British presidency recently negotiated an agreement in the Agriculture Council that will ensure that food is clearly labelled. The labels will say either that food contains a genetically modified product or that it does not. There will therefore be absolutely no doubt in consumers' minds. I was very pleased to be able to negotiate that outcome in the Agriculture Council.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

In looking at the issue of food safety, will the Minister consider, too, the issue of vitamin safety—and, in particular, the safety of vitamin B6? The United States Government allow over-the-counter sales of 100 mg of vitamin B6, whereas the Government are proposing to restrict such sales to 50 mg. The US is the toughest regulatory authority to the world. Is not the British restriction therefore simply another case of the Government acting as nanny state and knowing better than their subjects?

Dr. Cunningham

To the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's assertion, the answer is no, it is not. Neither is it the case, as he asserts, that the United States necessarily employs the toughest regulations. The United States allows, for example, hormone growth promoters, which are banned in the European Union. So the hon. Gentleman is wrong on that point, too. We are still consulting and considering responses to the work on B6 being undertaken by my hon. Friend the Minister of State.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey)

Will the Minister bear in mind the fact that the farmers in my constituency reckon that it costs them 38p a pound to raise lamb, which they can sell at only 43p a pound at Ashford? They see lamb on sale at Sainsburys, Tesco or Asda at £2.78 a pound. Is there a chance that, within the Foods Standards Agency, we could consider having a regulator for supermarkets?

Dr. Cunningham

The answer to that is no.