HC Deb 25 November 1999 vol 339 cc744-5
8. Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds)

If he will make a statement on the labelling of imported agricultural products. [98844]

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

Food labelling rules are harmonised at European Union level and apply to home and imported produce alike. We are pressing for a number of improvements in European Union rules and consulting on improved national guidelines aimed at clamping down on labels that mislead consumers about country of origin.

Mr. Ruffley

Following discussions that I had last Friday with pig farmers in my constituency, at Battisford, I shall ask the Minister a simple question. Will the Government reform food labelling regulations to make it illegal for labels to describe food as British when that food has not been reared or grown in Great Britain?

Ms Quin

The hon. Gentleman should know that we are going through that process now, in consultation with the industry and the European Commission. Labelling is partly a matter over which we can have national influence, and partly one where there is European Union responsibility. I pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Minister and the Ministry in promoting clear and accurate labelling. I have discussed this matter with the pig industry recently, and we are determined to clamp down on misleading labelling and to make sure that food that is described as British actually is British.

Gillian Merron (Lincoln)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of my constituents would like to buy British products in recognition of the higher quality and higher welfare standards of British food producers, but find it difficult to do so because of labelling that implies that a product is British when it is not? What can we do to assist consumers in my constituency and across the country?

Ms Quin

We hope and expect that the verification officer we have appointed precisely to deal with this issue will be successful in his work. He has already had important meetings with supermarkets and others in the food supply chain. The Government's record on labelling is excellent and contrasts strongly with the lack of effort of the previous regime to get labelling systems in Europe or to consolidate labelling systems at home.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk)

Will the Minister confirm that much of the meat sold in this country—whether it is poultry meat from the far east, pigmeat from Holland or Denmark or meat from illegally fed cows from France—is produced under conditions which are against the law here? Why do the Government not think it necessary to draw that to the attention of consumers on the label?

Ms Quin

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman checks on the rules because he does not seem to know them. Meat coming into Britain has to conform to European standards. I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman on the "Today" programme a couple of days ago, and he simply does not seem to understand the moves that have already taken place in the European Union on the labelling of beef, for example. I suggest that before he asks other questions on this subject, he checks out the facts first.