HC Deb 19 March 1998 vol 308 cc1399-401
8. Mr. Hoyle

If he will launch a campaign to promote the safety and quality of British farm products. [33760]

Mr. Rooker

The safety and quality of British foods are second to none. My colleagues and I take every opportunity to publicise that fact, and to stimulate the effective marketing of our products. Promotional campaigns are really a matter for the trade, as they are far more expert at them than are the Government. However, we do what we can to support the various and many trade initiatives.

Mr. Hoyle

I am slightly disappointed by that answer—although it might help a bit if the Minister were to take on board the fact that the oldest agricultural show is staged in my constituency of Chorley. There are many agricultural shows across the country, at which MAFF has exhibitions. What better opportunity could there be to ensure and promote the safety and quality of our good British products? With a little imagination, which I know they have, the Government could raise the profile of safety and quality by promoting them at those shows. Such promotion is all the more important as some people, such as the French, continue to block British beef products but are not sorting out their own house.

Mr. Rooker

I understand and share my hon. Friend's concern. MAFF has travelling exhibitions which visit most of the shows and major exhibitions, such as the food fair that will soon be held in London. We have also sponsored a major British specialities exhibition at the food and drink expo—which I visited on Monday—at the national exhibition centre, in Birmingham. Although we shall continue our exhibitions, it is for the trade to push the matter. Ministers will give what support we can, and we shall visit as many shows as possible—especially targeting shows that Ministers have previously avoided.

Dr. Julian Lewis

How can the Minister justify the continuing ban on sales of beef on the bone in the light of the advice given by his own Ministry to the landlord of the Elm Tree pub in Swanwick that it is perfectly legal for him to cook beef on the bone if he strips it off the bone after it is cooked in the kitchen and before he serves it to his customers? How do the Minister and his colleagues, having introduced the legislation, feel to be the first Labour Ministers since Ramsay Macdonald—who earned the title from Winston Churchill, in 1931—to be boneless wonders?

Mr. Rooker

The hon. Gentleman and most of his colleagues have not quite got the message: the decisions that we took last December have enabled us to start to secure the beginning of the lifting of the beef ban. If what the hon. Gentleman said about the cooking of beef on the bone is accurate, it is contrary to the regulations. It is an offence to cook beef on the bone. As we have repeatedly made it clear, the danger will be in the juices—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] Oh, yes; and we will not be the first Government knowingly to put infectivity in the food chain. Fairly soon, Conservative Members will get that message.

Mr. Hanson

Does my hon. Friend accept that farmers and consumers in my constituency realise that one of the best ways of promoting the safety of British food is by establishing the Food Standards Agency? Will he perhaps tell the House how he will promote that agency, so that producers and consumers understand the importance of promoting and improving our food?

Mr. Rooker

Yes. The consultation round on the White Paper "A Force for Change" concluded on Monday, and more than 400 representations were made. We expect to produce draft legislation for the House to consider by the early summer, to produce a Bill for the next parliamentary Session, and to have the agency up and running in the second half of next year.

Mr. Swinney

Once the date-based scheme is secure, will the Minister and the Government consider launching a campaign based on the safety and quality of United Kingdom beef, to ensure that our farmers can reclaim some of the export markets that have undoubtedly been jeopardised by the beef ban of the past two years?

Mr. Rooker

Yes. It would be useful to the House. Recently, Professor Philip James, having been asked about the safety of British beef, said in evidence to the Agriculture Committee: From my analysis of the BSE issue, I am embarrassed to tell you that…not just myself, but many members of our steering committee"— the European Commission's scientific steering committee— believe that meat and meat products from Britain are safer than in most other European countries.

Mr. Soames

Will the hon. Gentleman join me in applauding the work of Food From Britain, which does an extraordinarily good job of promoting British food abroad? Does he agree that farmers need to do more to sell food directly to the consumer? What plans does he have to encourage farmers' markets, which are such a success in the United States of America and could do so much to bring farmers closer to consumers, to the benefit of both?

Mr. Rooker

Question Time is not the time to go into great detail, but when I was at the expo on Monday, I saw the excellent way in which Welsh beef farmers have been marketing pink beef and veal. They never thought of or needed to do such marketing before and they have the full support of my Department.

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