HC Deb 25 November 1999 vol 339 cc743-4
7. Mr. Patrick Hall (Bedford)

How much his Department spent on food safety and standards surveys in the last year for which figures are available. [98843]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Ms Joyce Quin)

The Department has a wide-ranging food surveillance programme to protect consumer safety, food authenticity and the nutritional quality of the UK diet. During 1998, it spent more than £10.5 million on those surveys, carrying out more than 190,000 analyses on more than 63,000 food samples.

Mr. Hall

I thank my right hon. Friend for her helpful answer. Does she agree that what she has outlined represents the sensible steps taken by the Government—as promised at the general election and including the establishment of the independent Food Standards Agency—in order to make our food safe and more nutritious, and to restore consumer and producer confidence, thereby strengthening the economy and boosting our exports of food products?

Ms Quin

My hon. Friend makes some important points, particularly on building consumer confidence and ensuring consumers that we are taking the issue of safety standards as seriously as we are. I am delighted that, just before Prorogation, the Food Standards Act 1999 finished its passage in the other place and in the House, after we considered further amendments, paving the way for the agency's early and successful establishment.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)

As the Select Committee made clear in its report, successful establishment of the Food Standards Agency—which the Minister just mentioned—depends very much on effective leadership. Is she able to confirm reports in the Financial Times that Professor John Krebs will be appointed to run the new agency?

Ms Quin

As I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, the appointment is a matter for the Department of Health. We are very confident, however, that the arrangements being made for the agency's establishment will help to ensure consumer trust and confidence, about which the Agriculture Committee and other hon. Members have been very concerned. We are also pleased that both the Government and the agency will be committed to openness and accessibility of information, as the sharing of information is a very important part of building consumer confidence.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)

On the subject of food safety, will the Minister tell us whether it is true, as reported in The Mail on Sunday—[Hon. Members: "Oh!"] Labour Members will undoubtedly be delighted to hear whether it is true that European inspectors have not inspected a single Thai chicken factory. Is it also true that Ministry of Agriculture officials have inspected Thai chicken farms and found problems that have not been resolved? How much longer will British producers have to compete with lower standards overseas, and British consumers have to accept importation of sub-standard products from countries that do not have British standards?

Ms Quin

The hon. Gentleman does not seem to understand that national and Commission experts work closely together, and write reports for each other, so that informed decisions may be taken on suppliers from third countries to European countries. I confirm that our officials and Commission officials have both investigated those issues, to ensure that European consumers are protected. The situation, however, is on-going: we cannot have a once-and-for-all investigation. We have constantly to make checks—not only in liaison with authorities in the countries concerned, but in investigations made by Commission and national authorities—and to monitor, in the interests of our consumers and European Union consumers generally.

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