HC Deb 10 February 2000 vol 344 cc393-5
6. Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

When he will establish the Food Standards Agency; and if he will make a statement. [107883]

10. Mr. Tony Colman (Putney)

When he will establish the Food Standards Agency; and if he will make a statement. [107889]

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

We successfully completed the legislation to establish the Food Standards Agency in November last year. We are on course for the agency to begin work in the spring and it will be accountable to this House through the Secretary of State for Health.

Helen Jones

I know that consumers will welcome the establishment of the Food Standards Agency. Given the widespread public concern and confusion about genetically modified food, can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the agency will make sure that proper advice and information, including proper labelling, are available, so that consumers may make an informed choice about whether or not they wish to eat products containing GM food?

Ms Quin

Even in advance of the establishment of the agency, the Government have been active on labelling with relation to GM food. The legislation has ensured that the Food Standards Agency will be the competent authority for authorising GM foods. It will be assisted by the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes, and the existing arrangements within Government. We are happy that, with the establishment of the agency, we will have an excellent regulatory system in which the consumers of this country can have confidence.

Mr. Colman

I am pleased with that answer, but it is my view that there should be a UN-based, not a World Trade Organisation-based, world food standards agency. What discussions have my right hon. Friend's officials had, in setting up the UK Food Standards Agency, with the officials at the Codex Alimentarius, which is administered by the World Health Organisation and the FAO?

Ms Quin

Officials regularly meet with WHO officials and those specifically involved in the Codex Alimentarius outfit.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk)


Ms Quin

Yes. We are making a positive contribution to the Codex Alimentarius system. My hon. Friend raises an important point because, although the establishment of the Food Standards Agency here is important, it is also vital that this country's knowledge and expertise in some areas is channelled into the wider UN system and the WHO.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

In major cases of food poisoning in meat in the future, who will be held publicly responsible—the Meat Hygiene Service or the Food Standards Agency, which will be simultaneously policing the Meat Hygiene Service as well as administering it?

Ms Quin

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the interesting Third Reading debate held in the other place, he will see that my noble Friend Baroness Hayman, who leads for the Government on the issue, went into detail about the relationship between the Meat Hygiene Service and the Food Standards Agency, so that they are able to work with each other, while having their separate responsibilities and functions.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire)

Will the powers of the European food authority—which we assume that the Government support—override those of the UK Food Standards Agency? If it does not take precedence, why cannot the Government go ahead unilaterally with a scheme for simple, clear and honest labelling of food products? Does it not speak volumes about this Government's track record of saying one thing and doing another that, although they pay lip service to labelling, they cannot bring themselves to support the private Member's Bill soon to be proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien)?

Ms Quin

The Government support in general terms the proposals of the European Commission to establish a European Union food standards authority. We will work with the Commission and our partners in the Council of Ministers to try to make sure that the final system that comes out of the consultation process is as effective as possible.

We have had the Commission's support in recent food safety disputes because we have accepted our responsibilities in the European Union framework and ensured that our national system complements it. We believe that we can have a system whereby we benefit from the strength of the EU acting together and make a constructive input to that system through our own Food Standards Agency. When there is clear agreement at European level to take certain action and enact certain policies we shall abide by it, by contrast with certain other EU countries at present.