HL Deb 14 July 1954 vol 188 cc979-81

2.35 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government: (1) whether tests have been made of the white bread now being produced, without employing any chemical bleachers and improvers such as agene, by high-speed mixing machines built in Scotland and used extensively in the south of England and Scotland; and (2) whether this aeration process provides a suitable substitute for agene, and, if so, whether Her Majesty's Government will now abandon the use of agene in accordance with the undertaking given in this House by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries on June 10, 1953, and confirmed by him on May 12, 1954.]


My Lords, bread, in which improvement has been produced by high-speed mixing, has been included in the recent tests on flour improvers. As I told the noble Lord on May 12, we are at present awaiting the recommendations of the sub-committee of the Interdepartmental Standing Committee on Medical and Nutritional Problems on the results of these tests.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for his Answer, may I ask this supplementary question? Has not this unagenised bread been tried on the famous dogs which, when given this food of the people, developed hysteria?


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, whether he thinks that it would be wrong to ban the use of agene until a suitable substitute has been found, and whether he would not also agree that the reaction of human beings to this substance may be different from the reaction of dogs?


I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for his supplementary question, with which I agree. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, I realise that he has been waiting some considerable time now for a definite answer on this question, but I think it is very important (and I know that he will agree with me) that we should have the fullest possible scientific information before we decide to ban agene.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that reply, and while fully agreeing with him about the importance of full scientific tests, may I ask whether Her Majesty's Government are aware that this method of aeration of bread—mechanical aeration without any chemical improver—has been in existence for more than two and a half years? Are they aware that for more than two and a half years such bread has been sold by the largest bakery in Scotland, and that it is now, and has been for some time, in use in Glasgow and in Dundee, where a special factory has been built for its production and where all the bread is made on this system; and also in Exeter and the surrounding district, in Plymouth and in St. Austell? I believe that other places also have it, but the places I have mentioned I have verified. My Lords, might not the Government have bought a loaf and sent it to Hampstead to be tried out, in order to get some idea?


I think all your Lordships would agree that it would be a mistake to try to force this committee to do its work at a faster pace than it can properly be done. I think that if the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, will read the Answer I gave to his original Question, he will see that the bread to which he is referring has been included in the tests made on flour improvers.


Is the noble Lord, Lord Carrington aware that at least twenty-seven years ago a departmental committee on the treatment of flour with chemicals predicted the ill-results of using agene and similar substances, and recommended that flour should be untreated and should have no chemicals added to it? Why the delay? What interest stands in the way of public health?


The noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, has asked me whether I am aware of this. I most certainly am aware of it, because he has told me so on the last two occasions on which this problem has been raised.

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