HL Deb 15 June 1961 vol 232 cc327-82

4.51 p.m.

LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH rose to draw attention to the contamination of food by pesticides, herbicides, preservatives and synthetic additives and alterations in its quality by processing, chemical treatment and abstraction of nutritive elements; to the insufficiency of the measures taken at present to protect consumers; and particularly to the need for adequate labelling which will disclose the content of foods offered for sale; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is now some ten years ago since I first ventured to draw attention to this matter in your Lordships' House. I was then greatly concerned about the danger to health arising from the use of chemicals in the growing, storing and processing of food. Now I am much more alarmed. Many more chemicals have been brought into common use without adequate knowledge of their effects on human beings. More information has become available to show that chemicals previously thought harmless are in fact dangerous. But very little has been done to safeguard the consumers. The British Medical Journal said recently that The effect on human health of 'processing' foods has received scant attention", and it added: The sophistication of foods has become such a fine art that few of them reach the family table without some chemical treatment designed to improve their appearance, taste, keeping qualities and ease of preparation.

One could go further and say that many foods reach the consumer after having received not one but many chemical treatments. In the growing of food poisonous chemicals are used at every stage. Considerable amounts may remain in the soil from spraying of earlier crops and may be taken up into the circulatory system of the plant. Some are deliberately applied so that they may find their way into the sap with a view to protecting the plant against fungi or insects. Who can say how much of these poisons will reach human beings or what their effect may be?

Chemical sprays are used in great profusion for the purpose of killing weeds, or as insecticides or fungicides. They are blown from powerful pumps, or spread by aeroplanes. They may drift for hundreds of yards, or even for miles, tainting crops for which they were not intended, or killing bees and other useful insects, or contaminating flowers and the honey derived from them. In fruit-growing, particularly, multiple sprayings are given at various stages of growth. Almost all, if not all, the chemicals used are poisonous. Many of these substances are very persistent, or are combined with other chemicals to make them adhere, and are not removed by rain or by washing. It is hardly safe to eat the peel of any fruit, for there is no certainty that some chemical has not been used which penetrates into the peel, and even, in some cases, into the flesh. Mercuric compounds are an example of one of these things which is known to penetrate into the interior of tomatoes, and hence may be found in tomato juice. Some years ago in the United States it was found that oranges were being treated with thiourea as a preservative. The Food and Drug Administration tested them by feeding the juice to mice. Next morning the mice were dead.

Oranges are one among many examples of multiple treatment. Not only are they sprayed with pesticides while growing, but they are treated with chemicals after they are picked. In this country we permit them to be treated with diphenyl as a preservative, although its safety has been called in question; and in order to enhance their appearance they are dyed and waxed. Paraffin waxes are prejudicial to health; dyes may be cancer-inducing. There is nothing to warn the consumer about all this. And I need hardly point out that, even if none of these things passes through the skin, yet the peel of citrus fruits is extensively used in marmalade and for other culinary purposes.

Animals, as well as plants, are subjected to chemical treatments during growth. Synthetic sex hormones, such as one known as diethylstilboestrol is used in the rearing of chickens for table birds, and it is now almost impossible to buy a chicken which has not been subjected to this dangerous drug. The effect of it is to alter the function of the sex glands; it renders the male bird sterile and gives it female characteristics. It has been authoritatively stated that it may have something to do with causing cancer and leukæmia. If that is so, the ingestion of even the smallest dose may be dangerous, for it now appears that there is no minimum safe dose of cancer-inducing chemicals. There is also, of course, the chance that, through carelessness or lack of skill, larger doses may be taken. Some years ago the United States Department of Agriculture advised mink growers to feed their animals on the necks of Chickens which had been implanted with pellets of this hormone. The mink ceased to breed. The growers suffered severe losses, and in the end Congress compensated them at the expense of the taxpayers. Who is going to compensate the human victims of these drugs?

Hormones have also been used extensively in beef production in the United States. How far they are used in this country, no one knows. Another common practice is to give antibiotics to pigs and other animals being reared for food. As these substances are distributed through the circulatory system, it is fairly certain that some residue will reach the human consumer. It is well known that the extensive use of antibiotics may lead to the proliferation of bacteria more dangerous than those which the antibiotic is designed to destroy. A similar problem has arisen in the use of pesticides, where the more susceptible pests may be killed, but new and more resistant varieties arise. The bacteria and the insects are thus able to save their species by their adaptability to new conditions and by the rapidity with which generation follows generation. Man, however, will not be saved in this way from the consequences of his own folly. The time required for a more resistant race of men to evolve—if that be even possible—is to be measured in the millennia and not in the very short periods in which new varieties of micro-organisms or insects may emerge. Positive action is therefore needed now.

As one more example of the accidental results of toxic sprays, I may mention that it has recently been found in British Columbia that D.D.T. was used to kill a worm which affects the bud of the spruce tree. But the D.D.T. finds its way into the rivers and may kill the salmon. Even if the fish survive, they will store the poison in their fat, to the detriment of human consumers. Not only are D.D.T. and other even more toxic chemicals used in agriculture; they are also used in storehouses, in the garden, in shops and in the home. The opportunity of getting small doses from many quarters is therefore rather high.

It must be remembered also that the pesticide itself is not only extremely poisonous, but it is usually suspended in some vehicle which is a poison also. Aerosols are being sold freely and without any control. They are being used for all kinds of purposes, not merely for insecticides but in hairsprays, deodorisers, shoe polishes, water repellants for treating clothing and dry cleaners. Many other chemicals may find their way into the home—for example, paint strippers. These things require attention because they may reinforce the ill-effects of chemicals in food.

One of the worst aspects of this problem is the use in foods of substances which have no nutritional value whatsoever. Although the Food and Drugs Act contains a provision, which was inserted at my instance, that in making regulations for the protection of the public health Ministers should have regard to the desirability of restricting the use of substances of no nutritional value, little has been done. Dyestuffs are extensively used. They have no nutritive value, and their purpose is to deceive. The fruit, which has been preserved with sulphur dioxide and had the colour bleached out of it is dyed with a synthetic dye. The kipper which has not been made by kippering is dyed in order to deceive. All the synthetic or coal tar dyes are open to grave suspicion. In 1954, a list of permitted colours was issued. In 1955, a new list of permitted colours was issued, eliminating three of those which had previously been allowed but which have been shown, or are suspected, to have harmful effects on health. Of the 30 colours then permitted, no fewer than 17 were described by the Food Standards Committee as colours for which the available evidence is deficient or conflicting although they did not expect them to be harmful in the amount ordinarily consumed. The list of permitted colours in this country differs from that in other countries. In the United States, only fifteen colours are allowed.

My Lords, the importance of this matter is that many synthetic dyes have been found to cause cancer in man. This is something which has been discovered accidentally through workers in chemical factories contracting the disease, There is no certain means of knowing whether a particular dye is or is not dangerous. Animal experiments are not conclusive. Substances are known which produce cancer in man, but not in any animal on which they have been tested. Moreover, nearly half the population is exposed to dyes in another way, for they are extensively used in cosmetics, and this use is in no way controlled.

It has recently been announced that the Food Standards Committee is once more to revise the list of permitted colours. The result, no doubt, will be to restrict still further those that may be used, but there is no certainty that even then those still allowed will be safe. Meanwhile, what will be the fate of those who have consumed colours permitted in the past, but now banned or soon to be banned? If they develop cancer 20 or 30 years hence, who will be to blame? There is only one safe course, and that is to prohibit the use of all synthetic colours, for they have no nutritive value: they are only deceptive, and the potential danger to consumers is very great.

Flavouring agents also are used for purposes of deception, either because the food has lost some of its natural flavour by processing, or because the natural flavour is not considered strong enough. This is a subject upon which little is known. The actual composition of the agents used by manufacturers for this purpose is often a trade secret. Under our law there is no obligation to disclose it. However, there are some cases in which it is known. Coumarin, for instance, has a taste somewhat resembling vanilla. It is a liver and kidney poison. In the United States its use in food is prohibited. In this country there is no prohibition. A flavour like that of honey can be obtained by reacting glucose with a chemical betaphenylamine, but there is no reason to think that it is safe for use in food. Nearly all the canned meats which are sold have monosodium glutamate added to them. The total quantity consumed must be considerable. This is said to bring out the flavour and to have no ill-effects, but what is the matter with the meat if its natural flavour is no longer adequate?

Nearly all the cooking fats and margarine which are sold as substitutes for butter and other natural fats are derived from oils which have been processed or hydrogenated in order to give them the desired degree of hardness. It is now widely held that in this process the essential fatty acids which play an important part in nutrition are either destroyed or transformed into abnormal fatty acids, which are toxic. A deficiency of essential fatty acids is thought to be at least a contributory cause of neurological diseases, of cancer, heart disease, arterio-sclerosis and various other degenerative conditions. But the substitution of the abnormal acids for the essential ones is still more serious than a mere deficiency, because the abnormal fatty acids interfere with the utilisation of such essential fatty acids as still may be present.

Closely associated with the use of fats are the emulsifiers, which are used to break up fats and oils and give them a creamy consistency. Many chemicals are used for this purpose and, in particular, various polymers; and many polymers are suspected of causing cancer. Polyoxyethylene derivatives are widely used. In test animals these are found to interfere with nutrition and to slow down growth. In the United States this particular group of emulsifiers has been banned, but not here. Emulsifiers, or surface active agents, belong to the class which includes detergents. Owing to the widespread use of these substances large number of people are now drinking water which has been polluted by them. Some are suspected of being definitely toxic, and the long-term effect of others is not clearly known. At any rate, it is known that substances of this kind have the curious effect of facilitating absorption from the large intestine and this may cause the body to be invaded by other toxic substances or by non-toxic substances in abnormal and dangerous amounts. There is a short list of prohibited emulsifiers. It would be much better if the use of all emulsifiers and surface active agents were disallowed.

My Lords, not only is food injured by the process and additives to which it is subjected but it has in many cases deteriorated by having been kept for long periods. I am told that the milk supplied in large cities is often three or four days old when it reaches the customer; really fresh eggs are now hardly obtainable because of the time they take in passing through the monopolistic system of the Egg Marketing Board. In days gone by there were grocers who prided themselves on supplying eggs only two or three days old. They can do so no longer.

Among other means of preserving foods it has even been proposed to use antibiotics. There is no doubt that these substances will kill bacteria which normally give warning of their presence by changes in the smell and colour of the food. They do not appear, however, to kill other organisms which may be more dangerous, and thus they may actually increase the risks to the consumer by concealing them. It has also been proposed to preserve food by irradiation, and no one knows all of the changes which may be so induced. In the United States it was planned to build plant for irradiating food in plastic containers for use by the army. Injurious effects of such food were found in animals and the project was abandoned.

The examples which I have given are but a minute sample. Hundreds of chemicals are used in agriculture, in food processing, as preservatives, colouring, flavours, humectants, emulsifiers, stabilisers, and as substitutes for natural foodstuffs. More and more synthetic chemicals are being devised for this purpose. Hardly a week passes without new applications for patents for such things being filed. The ingenuity of the manufacturers has far outrun the vigilance of the authorities who should protect the people's food. Naturally, manufacturers do not intend to poison us, but they themselves are not able to foresee all the consequences of what they do. We have the melancholy history of chemicals used in foods for long periods and yet in the end found to be toxic.

The danger, it must be remembered, does not lie mainly in the things which cause prompt and acute symptoms of poisoning. It is in those substances which produce no evident or immediate effects, although they may, in the end, be more evil. Diseases such as cancer may manifest themselves only after many years. In such cases, it becomes virtually impossible to determine what was the actual cause—indeed, there may have been several contributing factors. There is also the possibility of the poison being transmitted by the mother to the unborn child or in her milk to the newborn infant. The increased incidence of cancer in the younger age groups is perhaps significant.

What is to be done about this problem my Lords? Present methods are inadequate. So far, the reaction of Ministers appears to have been to appoint more and more Committees to advise on one aspect or another of the problem. This is not sufficient. Positive action is needed. We are lagging far behind other countries. In France, for instance, the bleaching of flour is prohibited. The same is true in West Germany, where the use of chemicals as baking aids, or as colouring or preservatives in flour products, has also been banned.

I have referred to the United States Food and Drug Administration, with its highly skilled staff and extensive powers. We have nothing comparable. We do not even attempt to control the residues of pesticides and weed-killers in foods; nor do we control the use of fat extenders, flavouring agents and other chemicals used in processing foods. We simply do not know the extent to which they are used. The local authorities are responsible, in the main, for the enforcement of our food and drugs legislation. In carrying out the routine analyses to enforce the law the public analysts do not look for residues of pesticides, weedkillers, hormones and antibiotics, for the law does not prohibit them. Nor do they endeavour to find out what fat extenders are used, or what changes have taken place in processed foods. These things are not in themselves illegal. Whether foods containing such things are not, in the words of the Statute, "of the nature, substance or quality demanded by the purchaser", and so in breach of the law, is a difficult problem, and it would lead to very difficult legal arguments.

The main responsibility has so far fallen upon the Food Standards Committee. Some four years ago I attended before it in order to give evidence on flour and bread, and other flour products. My evidence and the questioning took nearly two hours. When I left the secretary asked if he could borrow my notes. I gave them to him. More than a year later they had not been returned. When I wrote for them I was told they had been lost. I asked to see the shorthand note of my evidence, and I discovered that only a longhand note of evidence was taken. Another thing I discovered was that the research officers of the bakers and the millers were sitting in the Committee as assessors, whatever that may mean. The Food Standards Committee has no research staff and no organisation of its own; it depends entirely upon the evidence which it may discover in public sources or which may be tendered to it by other people. It is no wonder that the protection of the consumer lags far behind the ingenuity of the manufacturer.

When the Foods and Drugs legislation was being amended, some of us sought to have positive safeguards written into it. We were assured that ample use would be made of the power to enact regulations. This has not been so. For my part, I should like to see the use of synthetic chemicals banned completely or, at the very least, except for a short list of substances which have long been used and seem to be beyond suspicion. To do so at one blow would certainly be highly inconvenient to the food industry, and I know that the Government would shrink from that. Alternatively, we could proceed by stages. The first would be to prohibit the use of any new chemical not hitherto in general use. In the United States no new food additive may be used unless it is proved to the satisfaction of the Food and Drug Administration that it is safe, and I must stress that proof of safety is essential, not the mere absence of evidence of ill-results.

The second step should be to require food manufacturers to produce within a limited time positive evidence of the safety of those additives already in general use; and if they fail to do so those additives also should be banned. Concurrently, there should be imposed a minimum requirement to label all food so as to disclose the additives or processing to which it has been subjected. Manufacturers will object, but this is already the law in many countries, and when they export their goods to such countries they comply with the law. British consumers are just as much entitled to know what is in the food which is offered to them.

Exact labelling is essential. When I appeared before the Food Standards Committee the Chairman asked me whether I would be satisfied if bread made from bleached flour were labelled "fortified with added vitamins". I said that that would be begging the question twice, for it would conceal the fact that many vitamins had been abstracted or destroyed and would imply that what was added more than replaced what had been lost. It will be said that if the labels disclose the exact constituents people will not be able to understand the long chemical names; but to say that is to say that it is right to trade on people's ignorance. If they are told the truth, some, at least, of its significance will not be lost. If the Government permit additives to be used the least they can do to protect the consumer is to let him know what he is buying. We cannot afford to run the risks to health now being incurred. The cost in invalidity and illness can be very great. But that is not all. It is not right that we should allow our fellow citizens to be exposed to dangers which can and should be avoided, and which may imperil life itself. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

5.28 p.m.


My Lords, it is with customary trepidation that I rise to address your Lordships for the first time. It is also with more than usual diffidence perhaps, because, if I may start on a personal note, neither of my personal predecessors here presumed to "break his duck" over a combined period of 40 years, whilst I find myself on my feet having waited to pluck up my courage for a mere decade. I can only hope that as this is not only a maiden but, if I may use the phrase without indelicacy, a maiden in the family way, it may be accorded the consideration normally shown to young ladies in that condition. I do, however, feel to some extent reassured, because the subject under discussion is very near to my heart and because I am in close agreement with the noble Lord who has just sat down. Like him, I am a member of the Soil Association, and it is hard indeed for a disciple to follow a master who has spoken so cogently, so forcefully and so convincingly of so many of the most important aspects covered by his Motion.

When I began farming ten years ago I reached a decision to follow organic principles as far as practicable. Even then we organic farmers were more or less considered cranks; and when I wrote articles about the desirability of making compost on an agricultural scale I was more or less accused of practising black magic—of course, in a way compost is black magic, but that was not the way in which my detractors meant to imply it. I believe that the situation is very different now, after only ten years, with more and more farmers questioning the desirability of putting poison and other chemicals on their land, and also (which I think is more important) with more and more consumers demanding unadulterated food with what I can only call the right taste and with full nutritive values.

I think it is evidence of this new and increasing demand for properly grown food that the Soil Association was able, a year ago, to give successful birth to a retail establishment in London which sells only such produce. After the usual teething troubles, this infant is now becoming a bouncing baby, and it is hoped that it will soon have a number of brothers and sisters in other parts of London and in other parts of England as well. Such a conception and parturition I think would have been impossible only ten years ago, owing to lack of public support. While the conception might have been possible, and even the birth, I think the child would probably have died from lack of nourishment. This shows that there is a real and growing demand for what I would call properly grown and properly manufactured food.

The noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, has drawn particular attention in his Motion to the need for adequate labelling, and has spoken most convincingly on this subject. I agree completely with him. I am speaking only for myself, but I believe that all packaged goods should show all the ingredients exactly and by name. I do not think it is enough that it should be stated "Colouring matter added", or "Preservatives added" and so on, but that the exact chemical should be named. I should like to give an example of the kind of thing I have in mind, and for this purpose I am choosing bread, because it is the basic foodstuff. It is supposed to be our staple, the staff of life.

I have here an article by Mr. Fyfe Robertson—it was published some time ago, but the facts, with one small difference, are the same—entitled, appropriately, "The Bread Racket". Mr. Robertson here suggests that we should no longer say "Give us this day our daily bread", but that we should say instead, "Give us this day our daily chalk, our daily benzoyl chloride, our daily potassium bromate, ammonium persulphate, glyceryl stearates, superglycerated fats"—and fourteen or fifteen other chemicals around which I am not going to try to tie my tongue. Since this article was written I understand that chlorine dioxide has been substituted for nitrogen trichloride, if that is any consolation to your Lordships. But what I feel is that if, when we think we are buying this staff of life, we are actually purchasing a chemist's shop, then we should know that by the label.

In this field there are many different subjects which are crying out for attention, but I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to only one or two. I wish first to speak about herbicides, which I know as weed killers. I should like to put in a plea for more extensive use of hormone weed killers in preference to those containing poison. I know that even hormone weed killers are not fully acceptable to the purist organic farmer: the correct solution is that indefinable commodity, good husbandry. But good husbandry is not always so easy to find, and, in its absence, I feel that hormone weed killers are certainly the lesser of two evils. I have used them myself with great success, and I think it would be helpful if there could be more official encouragement for them rather than for putting poisons on one's land.

Turning to colouring matter and preservatives, I think these have already been very well dealt with by the noble Lord. I believe almost all of them have now been declared illegal in Germany, and many of them in Switzerland, because of the fear of carcinogenic. I know of the iron British constitution, but are we less susceptible to these poisons than the Germans and the Swiss, or is it that Her Majesty's Government are trying to breed a race of Rasputins? I believe there are 17 dyes permitted at present in this country, and all but one of these are illegal in other countries—not necessarily in the same countries, but in one country or another all but one are illegal.

Does this not show how little is positively known about the harmful effects of such additives? I suggest that this is the whole danger: that we simply do not know. We are ignorant about the full effects upon the human organism of new chemicals and combinations of chemicals which are being used, especially when these are ingested in small quantities over long periods. Of course, it is true that many tests as to the toxicity of the various additives have been carried out. These usually take the form of feeding experiments on small animals. I want to pause and wonder exactly what these feeding experiments prove. We know that different animals react to the same poisons in different ways. It should not be necessary for me to say that we are not white mice, nor are we rats; we are not hamsters or guinea pigs. We all know that rats and mice are susceptible to some vermicides which do not kill other animals—this is advertised as being a great advantage for the vermicides in question. But can it not also happen the other way round—that rats and mice and hamsters may survive diets which, over a long period, would prove fatal to the human being?

Even when we consider the effects of the same poisons on animals of different sizes, we find that there is practically no consistency. I have here a report which many of your Lordships may know of a lecture by Sir Edward Mellanby on "The Chemical Manipulation of Food." He is here talking about polyoxyethylene, which is one of the chemicals used in this country in the production of bread, although it has been banned in the United States. What was found in experiments? When this chemical was incorporated at levels of up to 25 per cent. in the food of young rats it had extremely unpleasant repercussions—nasal haemorrhage, gangrene of the tail and legs, severe diarrhoea and so on. At the level of 12.5 per cent. the rats were unaffected. The same chemical was then tried on hamsters, which, taking one rat with another, were about the same size, and with hamsters it was found that when it was fed at a level of only 5 per cent. of their diet the effect was harmful in that some of the animals died—which I think is very harmful! My Lords, does this not throw doubt upon the validity of all such tests unless they are carried out very much more extensively with many more animals and over a much greater length of time?

Furthermore—and I feel this is very important—insufficient attention is being paid to the cumulative effects over long periods; and by that I do not mean months or years, but over generations. I do not think I could do better on this point than to quote from the evidence given by Dr. Milton, the representative of the Soil Association, to the Research Study Group on Toxic Chemicals, whose Report, incidentally, is eagerly awaited. Dr. Milton said to the Research Study Group: We"— that is, the Soil Association— feel that the aspect of the possible long-term effect of continued ingestion of small amounts of these substances (which are undoubtedly toxic in larger amounts) upon the general health is being entirely overlooked". He went on: We consider that immediate research should be put in hand to find the cumulative effect upon small laboratory animals of the long-term feeding of very low concentrations of the various chemicals now used in agriculture. This should not only include the toxic substances themselves, but also their breakdown products and metabolites, which might possibly have a completely different long-term physiological effect from the original substances. In addition, the synergistic effect of various toxic chemicals taken together (or in different foods at about the same time period) should also be investigated since this period) to be an aspect apparently overlooked. This is a different point, but I think it is important because research is mainly upon the results of the effects of certain chemicals, whereas combinations of chemicals can produce new substances which are many times more toxic. This is another fact which should be taken into account in future. Dr. Milton went on: These experiments should be carried out on a good many generations of small animals with a rapid generation turnover"— some very interesting experiments have been clone upon cats going through four generations; fortunately cats, like rats, breed rapidly and we can get results very quickly— so that it might be ascertained whether or not any changes occur in the fed group vis-à-vis controls on similar foods not so contaminated. I think it is very important that tests should go beyond one lifetime, and we should consider the effect upon subse- quent generations. I hope I have done something to show the need for far more extensive tests as to the harmful effects of all synthetics.

It is true that the British industrial Biological Research Association (which I believe is known as B.I.B.R.A.) has been set up and hopes to start operating by the end of next year, working on the biological testing of chemicals used in the growing and manufacture of food, and also lipsticks, incidentally, which are also ingested in small quantities by some. B.I.B.R.A., I understand, is financed on a 50-50 basis by the interested manufacturers and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. Whatever is put up by the manufacturers will be matched, pound for pound, by the Department. But, my Lords, the interested manufacturers in this case have at present guaranteed, I understand, only the sum of £28,000 a year for five years for the setting up of this research association.

I consider that this is a most paltry sum, in view of the industrial giants which should be contributing to it. It means that B.I.B.R.A. will have an income of less than £60,000 a year, and that is out of a total of between £4,000 million and £10,000 million spent annually on food. My own reaction to that is to feel that the problem has not yet been tackled seriously, because that does not give enough backing to carry out the tests which should be carried out. In conclusion, therefore, want to express the hope that Her Majesty's Government will tackle this problem seriously and give assurances that they appreciate the gravity and urgency of the situation.

5.46 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that I shall have the agreement of all your Lordships in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, on his maiden speech, which was interesting and well-informed. I am sure that all your Lordships hope that it will not be another decade before he addresses your Lordships on other subjects.

The noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, has made a speech which was extremely frightening. He painted an extremely gloomy picture. All the information one has is to the effect that people are living longer, that they are more healthy and that children are growing taller. That is surprising if the situation is, in fact, quite so serious as the picture which Lord Douglas of Barloch paints. We must realise that insects are the most formidable competitors to man on earth, by reason of their extraordinary reproductive capacity and their destructive capacity against foodstuffs, and the remarkable number of generations which are capable of living in a very short time. It has been said that the last thing on earth is likely to be an insect eating a cabbage. The depredations of insects face us with a problem of how to feed the vast millions of mankind, how to secure the intensive production of agricultural products required to feed the present and future populations—and we know how rapidly the populations are increasing all the time. This brings in its train the need to control and to combat their depredations, which, in turn, brings the necessity, unfortunate as it may be, for insecticides and pesticides.

No doubt in due course mankind will develop the process known as biological control by the introduction of the natural enemies of the insects that prey on the foodstuffs of mankind. That would reduce the need for insecticides that are lethal. There have been one or two dramatic examples not quite on the lines of this Motion. The introduction of the cactoplastus insect from Australia to Latin America was responsible for the complete destruction of prickly pear which had rendered useless millions of acres of fertile land. What happened to the cactoplastus insect when it finished up the prickly pears I do not know; I am not sure whether it went on to something else. Then, of course, there is the myxomatosis, which has made a tremendous improvement in the control of rabbits in Australia.

A good deal has been done on this subject of biological control, but this is a very long-range business. Meanwhile, there is a continued use for lethal insecticides. Unfortunately, as the noble Lord has said, the insects become more and more immune to them, and more and more poisonous insecticides have to be produced. If mankind is to be fed, these insecticides will have to continue to be used, and this means that we have to protect ourselves against the poten- tially evil effects of their use in the form of occasional poisoning by their misuse. I understand that the Government have availed themselves of the services of Sir Charles Dodds, the Director of the Courtauld Institute of Biochemistry at Middlesex Hospital—a world authority on this subject. Then, as the noble Lord has also said, there has been built up over the years a network of committees and sub-committees to investigate, report and advise the Ministry on what insecticides and pesticides to use, when to use them and in what strength. I understand that there have been very few instances of any mishap through their improper use.

There still remains the precaution of washing the skins of fruit and vegetables before they are eaten, although that is not, as the noble Lord has said, a complete answer, because some of these poisons get into the skin of the fruit. But it is always laid down in the instructions that these should not be used within a certain time of the picking of the fruit.


Will the noble Lord say what he means by "instructions"? Whose instructions, and where?


If I may say so, my Lords, an endless stream of instructions goes out to the growers of fruit and agricultural produce from the Ministry and from the manufacturers, and they are given in all the agricultural Press. I do not think there is any excuse for somebody using a chemical on fruit within the time it would have, or is supposed to have, harmful effects.


I was thinking of the consumer.


I meant on the consumer. The instructions are that the grower should not spray so late that the effects are there when the person eats the apple. With fruit, of course, it is fairly easy to detect the fruit that has not been sprayed if one wishes to. Fruit that has not been sprayed at all is usually, unfortunately, not the best sample of fruit. Although I should be sorry to deprive the noble Lord of sharing an apple with a fat maggot, one does not want to force everybody to do the same.

As regards synthetic additions to canned and bottled fruit, which I think is a very serious matter, the public have considerable protection from the regulations made under the Food and Drugs Act—and, after all, we have just celebrated the centenary of that Act. It has been in existence here for 100 years, and there are regulations similar to those made under that Act in almost every civilised country. Further, as again the noble Lord has said, there is legislation on the question of colouring matter, preservatives and emulsifiers. I cannot entirely agree with the noble Lord that there is going to be much protection if one prints on the can the technical descriptions of all the ingredients of the can, of all these chemicals. It seems to me that if the noble Lords who have just spoken are right, there will be a great deal of writing on every tin, which will be almost self-defeating.

It seems to me that the main protection for the public should be through the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and through the food and drugs authorities of the local authorities. They are the watchdogs, to protect the public and to enforce the law. I believe that one of the protections for the public is the urge of the food processers and canners to preserve their own good name. A prosecution for infringement of the law is a very serious matter indeed as regards their good name.

I agree that the whole subject is not by any means completely known, but more is becoming known about it each year by research and control. As regards further legislation on the question of poisonous substances sprayed and chemicals used in agriculture, there are the regulations made under the Agriculture (Poisonous Substances) Act of 1952, by which manufacturers have to notify if any new product is likely to be a hazard, either to the users or to the consumers of the product. That applies not only to the use of new chemicals, but also to new uses of old chemicals. There is also the Agricultural Chemicals Approved Scheme, a voluntary scheme under which chemicals are submitted for approval. It is really a guarantee that they do what the manufacturers claim they do, and have no injurious effects other than anything stated. It seems to me that, on the whole, it is better to keep this side voluntary. After all, at the moment we have a mass of legislation and we have a mass of committees looking into the various aspects of it. I do not think I agree with the noble Lord that there are many further steps which we ought to take at this moment.

6.0 p.m.


My Lords, I think the whole House, indeed the whole country, should congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, upon raising this matter to-day and giving us the opportunity of speaking on it. I agree with him that a great deal of research has to be carried out, and most of the things which have been said to-day on this subject must be tentative because of our limited knowledge of the effects of many of these substances.

I was surprised by the noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, who rose in his seat, turned to the noble Lord and said that, in view of the fact that we are living such a long time, he could not see why there was any need for this debate. Indeed, I think he asked why we should emphasise the importance of this debate. I would remind him that that could be said of every decade. As the expectation of life becomes longer, everybody could rise up and ask: "Why are we making a fuss?". Again, may I remind him of his final sentence? Has he read the history of public health in this country? Has he read that, whereas we invited all kinds of people to do things on a voluntary basis, in order to clean the water, the milk and the air, these people refused to do it and it was necessary finally to introduce legislation to make it compulsory? The air of this country is now being cleaned only because of the Clean Air Act which went through the House. The water of this country is clean now only because of legislation; and the milk of this country was cleaned the year before last only when the Clean Milk Act finally came into operation. How can he say that, in this field, we must be so magnanimous as to leave it to the manufacturers of food? I do ask him to consider his last sentence.


My Lords, I am not leaving it entirely to them, of course. After all, there are all the Food and Drug Acts and the regulations thereunder which control this matter.


Probably the noble Lord has not given sufficient consideration to the failure of the voluntary methods which he advocates.

May I take him up on the next point, with regard to the increased expectation of life, when he implies that we have finally defeated disease? May I remind him that the incidence of various fatal diseases is very high to-day? Indeed, in his brilliant exposition of this matter the noble Lord who introduced the debate accentuated that point. But it may be that some of the things about which we have talked to-day may throw light on the etiology of some of the diseases, the cause of which defeats us to-day. When one thinks of the advances in public health, one realises that many of our discoveries have been made as a result of the kind of tentative approach we are making towards this subject in this debate to-day. Indeed, there is a tragic ignorance of the cause of some of the fatal diseases of which people die to-day.

The difficulty in this matter—and I am sure the noble Lord will agree with me—is that of discovering some process which can be related to some specific sympton, a symptom, of course, which can be pinpointed by clinical observation. That is our weakness here. Therefore, we can only make those contributions which we each feel rather strongly about. To-night, I want only to emphasise what I consider are two practical points. I am sorry that the Minister for Science has left the Chamber, because I was hoping that he might have gone forth from this debate as a kind of knight errant crusading against food which is unfit for human consumption—because let us regard this food as unfit for human consumption. I think that nobody can believe that we are discussing a highly scientific subject to-day. They can see the coloured foods, and the frozen foods which last a very long time, and which therefore must be subject to certain additives to ensure that they will not deteriorate for a considerable period.

I should like to say this at the outset. Far from deploring any change of a labour-saving character in our eating habits, I welcome anything which will relieve men and women from the tyranny of the sink. I should not like it to go out from this House to the country that your Lordships condemn some of these new packs, these new ideas in the field of contemporary eating. But, of course, we must exercise the greatest vigilance to ensure that our ingenuity, whether in the field of atomic power or in the field of food preservatives, should be directed only toward adding to the sum of human happiness.

I speak to-day in three roles. I spent four years of my very active political life in the Ministry of Food, at a time when the Ministry of Food was under attack. Again, I speak as a woman anxious that her family and other people's families should not have to eat adulterated food. Thirdly, I speak as a doctor. However, I do not speak in this regard as somebody with any very special scientific knowledge of the chemistry of food preservation, though I do speak as a doctor who feels very keenly about preventive medicine. This, after all, is a preventive approach to disease.

During the time I was at the Ministry of Food one of the things which lightened my labour was the fact that one of our advisers was Sir Jack Drummond, who subsequently, your Lordships will recall, met an untimely death while on holiday in France. I would remind your Lordships that this was 20 years ago. Since then, frozen food has come into its own, and there have been other kinds of developments. But Sir Jack Drummond was particularly concerned with the harmful effects of preserved food, especially canned food—tinned food, as we called it then. He believed that this food could be easily contaminated by the microscopic particles of metal substance in the solution.

He told me a little story which has always remained in my mind. He told me of a little colony of nuns in a remote part of Africa who were concerned with a mission. It so happened that, in order that that little colony could be fed, regular supplies of tinned food were sent to them over the years. If a scientist in this country said that we could feed a certain group of people for years on a certain food, this, after all, would probably lead to certain deductions or conclusions upon which we might base certain scientific advances. This noble little colony of women happened to be there for years, and happened to be fed in this way on preserved food in tins. Sir Jack Drummond was shocked when he looked at the statistics and discovered that the mortality rate from cancer over the years was very high. The fact is that our approach to cancer is still tentative, but we cannot disregard any possibility of the assimilation of inorganic material by human beings. Indeed, all the evidence which the noble Lord gave in his excellent speech to-day showed quite clearly that the ingestion and the assimilation of inorganic material has no doubt been responsible for cancer.

Of course, the longer the food is in the tin, the greater the possibility of contamination. Perhaps people who have 'Clot considered this very carefully will say: "I had a tin of fruit for many years, and when I opened it, it was absolutely fresh". Yes, the food may appear fresh, but there may be particles of material in the solution which are harmful, if ingested. Why cannot we label all canned food with the date of canning? At least that would be something. The noble Lord, Lord Douglas of 13arloch, has already made this demand, and I want to emphasise its importance. It could be done so easily. The noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, was throwing bouquets at the food manufacturers. They will say that it would mean more trouble and more expense; but we know that the real reason is that the consumer may not be attracted to food which has been canned for a long period and may fail to buy it, with the result that the manufacturers will be involved in loss. When we wanted clean milk, there was the same story. The farmers could not be involved in expense. When it came to clean air, the industrialists could not be involved in expense. They refused to put in the right kind of boilers and so on. And when it comes to clean water, again expense rears its ugly head. I ask your Lordships to ignore these objections, which have delayed progress in this field for so many years, and to provide at least that all canned food should be labelled with the date of canning.

Cancer has been induced by chemicals and we know that the symptoms may not occur until years afterwards. Dr. Franklin Bicknell has quoted the case of 82 men who developed cancer of the bladder as a result of working in a dye factory. And we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, of the dyes used in food. Of these 82 men, one has stopped work for 35 years, one for 33 years, 9 for more than 15 years and 9 for between 10 and 15 years. When thinking of the effects of these additives, we must bear in mind that often the immediate effect is not apparent, and it is easy for people to say, "You have eaten this for years; where are the symptoms?" The symptoms may be latent and show themselves much later on.

As the tendency is for more food to have preservatives and colouring matter added, we should make it compulsory to state on the packets what has been added to food. The noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, said that we could not ask people to put a list of ingredients on food packets. Why not? The noble Lord and many other people think it unnecessary because they think that our standards in this country are very high. On the contrary, other countries demand a much higher standard than we enjoy. May I read, for the noble Lord's benefit, the label on a tin of English biscuits sold in Egypt? It will be seen that the Egyptians demand a standard much higher than we do. If exporters fail to comply with the request of the importers to give this information, they will lose their profits, and in such circumstance there is no objection to giving the information. This is what the label on a tin of English biscuits sold in Egypt says: Deordorised coconut oil and palm kernel oil and peanut oil; palm kernel stearine; powdered milk, dried egg, pectin; citric acid, oil of lemon, spirits of wine; artificial flavours of bourbonal, vanillin, heliotropine, raspberry, nutmeg; artificial colours of yellow, lemon, tangerine, red. If it is practicable for manufacturers to label in this way food which is exported, why it is not practicable for them to do so for food sold here?

I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, that the drug manufacturers adopted the same attitude as he anticipated the food manufacturers would adopt. They were against stating on the containers the contents of proprietory drugs, but finally public opinion prevailed. Would the noble Lord object if he bought a drug and found it labelled? It is in his interests, and in the interests of his family, that that should be so. I agree that there are many honest manufacturer, but the noble Lord will agree with me that Parliament is not legislating for honest, upright people but for the minority of dishonest people who are prepared to abuse their powers and exploit the public. Therefore, I ask that these two limited demands should be met: that the date of packing should be on the packet, and the ingredients of foodstuffs should be included on the label. I feel that the time has come when food manufacturers must reveal the secrets of their trade in the interests of the safety and health of the community.

6.18 p.m.


My Lords, although I am not on the list of speakers, as the time is easy I may be pardoned for wishing to intervene with a sentence or two. May I suggest, from my own experience, that we are in danger of merely scraping the surface of the problem? Why is it that all these 700-odd chemicals are necessary in the growing, manufacturing and distribution of food? Surely it is because we have absorbed the idea that Britain cannot feed herself: we must export or perish. I do not believe that that is correct. However, that is not the subject, but I would refer to the fact that at the last meeting of the British Association the matter was regarded as debatable, since it was debated by experts upon the subject of food production in this country.

The effect of this idea that we cannot feed ourselves has tended to turn the agricultural and food manufacturing industry into a system of mass production. I suggest that mass production is bad for farming and for food. Anyone who is acquainted at all with farming in this country knows that good husbandry means the interest of the individual farmer in every field that he owns and cultivates, in every crop at every time of its development. The idea of production on a mass scale is economically unsound.

I remember when, some years ago, I had just over one acre of land on the out- skirts of London, we had a co-operative society upon the principle of production for use, where we got expert advice, where certain essentials were bought for us and arrangements were made for the use of small machinery upon a cooperative basis. The result of that—although I am not a farmer and know nothing about the cultivation of land—was that I was able, in my own spare time, pleasurably, and with the employment of some amount of skilled labour, to produce all the food and vegetables that my family required and more—I had to give some away; and the total in cost to me was half as much as I should have had to pay in the shops.

Why is there the difference? If you ask any advertising man in this business to-day he will tell you that it costs, not only in agriculture but in everything else, an average of five to six times as much to sell an article as it does to make it. Multiple costs, distributive costs, transport, insurances and all the higgledy-piggledly of modern competitive commerce come in. That is why it does not pay to go back to the old system of healthy agriculture; it has to be mass production, machinery, a big accumulation of capital and so on. But the result of that is that there are 700 chemicals, the majority of them poisons, which are used in the growing of food, in the processing of food, and in the manufacture and distribution of food, so far as it is necessary to preserve it.

All that is the result of the fact that we have gone away from the land; we have absorbed the doctrine that the machine age, as it is called, means the necessity for mass production upon a highly technical and high-powered scale. I think that is quite unnecessary, especially in regard to food. Betjeman, and one or two other experts of that character—Julian Huxley, for instance—have said on this subject that we require only one-third of the amount of mass production that we have today. One does not deny that mass production is necessary, especially in the transitional stage. I am not a reactionary; I do not want to get back to the old times. But I want to face the real facts of the case.

This question of food is hygienically important, but it is also economically important; and we are neglecting our agriculture because we have been led away by false issues. I am not against the use of machinery or against the machine age; but I am a Socialist, and Socialists were always taught, until Socialist principles were forgotten, that the purpose of a machine is to lighten human labour and not to indulge in a rat-race round the world. That is the difference. You believe in the competitive process and in modern capitalism. That is why you have the problem that has been so clearly brought to notice in this debate. I will not go into the details, although I have studied them. I know the value of good, clean food straight from the earth. We ought to get back to that and we should be much better, happier and more moral if we did.

6.24 p.m.


My Lords, if I exercise the privilege of a Privy Counsellor and speak from this Box it is because advancing years and poor eyesight and hearing have made it difficult for me to speak at all, and I have not spoken in your Lordships' House for some live years. I felt, however, that this was a most important debate, and I warmly compliment my noble friend Lord Douglas of Barloch on having introduced it. I will begin, if I may, by quoting from a speech which I delivered some five years ago, which described the bread as it then existed. Perhaps your Lordships will watch out for proof that a certain amount of it has come true. I then said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 197, col. 793]: The result is not a health loaf; it is a whitewashed political loaf. More than that, it is a caricature of a loaf, denatured, shorn of its bran, with its precious store of nature's best replaced by three synthetic products of a chemical factory … bleachers, perhaps to make it as white as bone dust; a loaf which is calculated, in my opinion, to bring us fewer teeth and more dentures, brittler bones for our athletes, more constipation … more aperients, more minor ailments and skin troubles, more major disease, more antibiotics, more operations, more hospitals and bigger ones, more 'mentals' and mental homes, more work for the undertaker, and more expenditure, In.short, it is an accentuation of all the evils which white bread … has contributed to make our Welfare State into a chemist's dream and a doctor's nightmare. I am afraid that some of those things have come true, and I think that has been shown to-day. I was much concerned to find out what the bread (and I am confining my remarks to bread) is like to-day. Not having another source to go to, I went back to the old source, the much abused Food Standards Committee. This is not quite the same Food Standards Committee that was mentioned by my noble friend; it is a reformed Food Standards Committee. I found that that Committee had produced a report on bread and flour, which is dated August, 1960, rather less than a year ago. That Committee's Report is of 70 pages, all of which I have read with the greatest care. It has no pretence to being a literary document, but is the result of a number of sub-committees which were set up by the Food Standards Committee.

As regards white bread which, of course, is the main production, there is a great deal of detail. They mention some things that ought to be changed, but I was struck by the fact that there is no enthusiasm in the Report. Then I came to passages which bear on whole-meal bread. They are very short, but they seem to me to be of great importance, and with your Lordships' permission I should like to quote them. I would say that it is from a summary of conclusions, and they run from letter A to letter X. Three of them are of great interest from the point of view of wholemeal bread. The first is: Only flour containing the whole of the product derived from the milling of cleaned wheat should he described as 'wholemeal'. That was conclusion D. The next I wish to quote is conclusion F. That says: Wholemeal should not contain any added nutrients. That is to say, it is quite unlike white bread. Then conclusion H says: The exemption of wholemeal from the re, quirement to contain ceta præwarata should continue. That is, of course, that the exemption should continue. That seems to me to be an admission that here you have an almost perfect food. It can be described as wholemeal bread only if it contains the whole of the product of the milling. It is a complete food. It does not want any of these other things added, and if they are added it must not be called "wholemeal". So if you eat wholemeal, you are eating a complete food without contamination.

The rest of the summary deals with white flour. There is much less chance of your wholemeal bread being messed about. If you can secure it, it really does contain all these qualities—and you can secure it. After I made my last speech, I had an enthusiastic letter from a miller in Scotland, who sent me an enormous packet of wholemeal. From that day to this—and that was almost the day after I made the speech—all the bread I eat is made by my wife from this wholemeal, which is absolutely reliable. The miller was an enthusiast. I am sorry to say that he is dead now, but the business is being carried on.

Of course, that gave me to think: What can be done about it? Many speakers have spoken wisely on that. I thought a great deal about it, and it seemed to me that the best thing to do would be to go back to the abused Food Standards Committee. It would be a good thing if they could be asked to go into this question very thoroughly. There are a great many branches of this question that have not been touched upon to-day. There is the comparison with foreign nations. There are some nations—Germany is one—whose bread is very superior to our own; that is to say, very much nearer to wholemeal bread. There is a great deal to be learned by the study of that. I will not go into that tonight, because it is a very big business indeed to make comparisons with the nations, and especially to compare them with the statistics published of certain physical differences which result from the better food that they have.

I think the Food Standards Committee ought to be asked how it would be possible to get much nearer to the wholemeal bread, and what would be the effects. Of course, you must overcome public preference—there is no question about that. We can all talk here and say that we ought to eat wholemeal bread, and we can do it ourselves, as I do, but that is not much good. What you must do is to persuade people, not so much that wholemeal is perfect, but that it is much better for you than the other kinds of food. People simply will not look at wholemeal bread because it is coloured. Until you can get out of their heads what has been put into them by propaganda, that white bread is much better, you will do no good. I think it would be a good thing if the Food Standards Committee itself were asked to go very carefully into that. As it has shown us how good wholemeal bread is, it should be asked to show how the popular objection to it can be overcome.

6.40 p.m.


My Lords, we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, for introducing this extremely important debate. It is a matter for regret that it has had to be moved at a late hour, when the attendance is somewhat thin, because this is a subject of tremendous importance. Most noble Lords who have taken part have practical experience on this subject, either from committees or from Ministerial experience. I have not, and I speak merely as a consumer. I believe that the implications of this Motion, which has been phrased very widely, will be very important for the future. We are moving more and more into a scientific age, and food must take its place in this rampage of progress—and I hope that I am not being cynical in that description, for it is a very necessary phase in our lives. But the time may well come, if we are not careful, when fresh food will be a thing of the past. I do not want to be an alarmist, because canned food, processed food and frozen food all have their places in our diet.

I should like to dwell first on the subject of hygiene. I have read fairly carefully the Food and Drugs Amendment Act, 1954, which includes some interesting legislation about hygiene. But I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government whether a tightening up of the Food and Drugs Act in this particular context will be forthcoming. It may well be that a new Food and Drugs Act will soon be necessary. I speak especially with regard to bread, which has been mentioned in several of the speeches during this debate. It is true that one can now get the cut, wrapped loaf but the deliveries of bread, and the way in which an ordinary unwrapped loaf is handed to the customer by a great many of our bakers, is nothing short of appalling. In many parts of the Continent this would not be permitted, and I feel that legislation for very much more hygienic wrapping and delivering of bread is overdue. There are still a number of occasions on which one finds foreign bodies in bread, and prosecutions still occur. Of course, even in a rnechanised age the human element is apparent but when the matter of hygiene is examined I think bread must be high on the list.

We all listened with very great interest to the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, and I would fully agree with his comments regarding brown bread. Personally I find brown bread very much more wholesome and appetising than its white counterpart; and, of course, it is very much better for one's health.

Now I turn to another topic which has been mentioned and that is the publishing of contents in food, particularly tinned foods and processed foods. I think it would probably be impracticable to publish every single content of every single item, but I should particularly like to refer to pork pies. The term "pork pie" seems these days to cover a multitude of sins, if I may put it in that way. You can go to one shop and probably get a very good pork pie. You can go to another and get something which has a taste that I can describe only as a combination of sawdust and bad grease. I feel that, if we are to have a content label on foodstuffs, pork pies, and also sausages, should rank very high in priority. I do not think there would be any difficulty in stating on the wrapping the amount of pork contained in these pies. Unfortunately the Weights and Measures Bill, in which a number of us had quite a big part to play, has been killed off, which is a very great pity, particularly when taken in context with certain aspects of this Motion.

That takes me on to a similar subject, that of advertising. One well-known firm of paste manufacturers shows pictures of whole lobsters, whole salmon and whole duck being displayed as going into their products; and having sampled their pastes, which I find most excellent, I should say that their claims are quite justified. But I cannot help feeling that some of the products which one sees on the market and for which great claims are made, would perhaps justify some examination. Section 5, subsection (2), of the Food and Drugs Amendment Act, 1954, says: It is hereby declared that for the purpose of the said section six, a label or advertisement which is calculated to mislead as to the nutria- tional or dietary value of any food is calculated to mislead as to the quality of the food. I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government how strict are the requirements to enable the true content of items such as paste to be ascertained.

Turning to vegetables, these days we have a great many frozen products. They are very good and a boon to the busy housewife. That is particularly true of frozen spinach, and I am informed that spinach in frozen form is often as economical as fresh spinach grown in one's garden. Nevertheless, it would be a great pity if fresh vegetables were to be completely superseded by frozen foods, useful and often nutritious as they are. Of course, these days we have a great variety of sauces, many of which contain colouring matter—cochineal, and so on—but while intending no disrespect to the manufacturers of these sauces, who are all reputable people, I feel that we are as a nation becoming somewhat inured to these products. So often we get a really tasty piece of fish and then smother it in tomato ketchup. In some restaurants that sometimes becomes rather necessary to detract from the taste of the so-called fish. But I feel that in one's home it is often an insult to one's wife's cooking. I confess that at home I rarely have recourse to any form of sauce, though quite often eating out it does become a necessity.

May I say a word about aerosols, which the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, mentioned. I would say, in defence of aerosols, that the manufacturers take considerable trouble in printing instructions as to how they should be used; and they state specifically that they should be kept clear of foodtuffs. In other words, if one wants to spray one's larder, it is obviously common sense first to remove exposed foodstuffs. In the garden, weed-killers and grass killers and so on are becoming more and more numerous—so much so that in many cases hand-weeding has become a thing of the past. I am not talking here about commercial gardening, where, for obvious reasons, mechanical and chemical means must be used; I am talking about the ordinary gardens of the small house. There are indeed perfectly good non-toxic weed killers, but there is still a tendency to use the toxic ones.

Of course, all this boils down to one thing. There must be co-operation between the manufacturers and the retailers on this matter, and by the general public. It is obviously necessary, in some cases for the general public to be educated into using food to the best advantage. So often people see an advertisement for some labour-saving product and they rush to buy it. But it is becoming very necessary for a fresh food campaign to be launched, and I feel and hope that this Motion which the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, has moved to-day will encourage more people to buy fresh foods.

6.55 p.m.


My Lords, I gladly join with the noble Lady who has spoken, and with other noble Lords, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, on once again initiating a debate on this all-important question of the use of chemicals in agriculture and food. I support the case that the noble Lord has submitted to your Lordships, though I do not propose to follow him with a further series of scientifically based statements. My reason for not doing so is that I am under the impression that committee and sub-committees are sitting that can provide the answers to many of the questions that arise this afternoon. If I am correct, might I suggest that Her Majesty's Government should as soon as possible embody all the findings of such committees and sub-committees in a White Paper to which additions may be appended as they become available?

Could the noble Lord who is to reply give particulars of the committees that are investigating the safety of the deliberate additions to food, such as artificial flavours, anti-oxidants, emulsifiers, flour-bleachers and the like? I believe that a committee is investigating the safety of hydrogenated fats, and also the safety of residues in food of agricultural chemicals, and I should like to ask about the methods for their measurement. Might I suggest the desirability of fully stating on all packed foods the exact composition of all substances added, and, finally, the desirability of permitting no additions to food until the safety of such additions has been proved?

I think your Lordships will agree with me that it is all too difficult to find out just what is being done by the Departments concerned on matters broadly touched on to-day. For example, there is some evidence that hydrogenating, or hardening, of vegetable oils to make margarine creates abnormal and possibly harmful fats. I would ask whether feasible methods exist for measuring the amounts of many of the agricultural chemicals left in food. Your Lordships may remember the illness that arose last year in the Netherlands over the addition of an anti-spluttering agent to margarine. I would appeal again to Her Majesty's Government to make widely known information on all these matters as soon as available. Your Lordships are becoming ever more deeply conscious of the danger of chemicals in food and farming, and are determined that these matters should be thoroughly understood and checked, where necessary. From my own point of view, may I tell your Lordships lilt I have found a small book entitled, Chemicals in Food, by Dr. Franklin Bicknell, of great use in studying these involved scientific matters.

6.59 p.m.


My Lords, I join with everyone who has taken part in this debate in warmly congratulating and thanking my noble friend, Lord Douglas of Banloch, for his wholly admirable speech. We are all well aware that he has been extremely persistent with this topic, and I think his persistence is a valuable public service. No one listening to the facts as he marshalled them, and following the measured way in which he put his case, can be in any doubt whatsoever that action is needed t that he has drawn aside the veil which shrouds the iniquities which are practised for the sake of profit, and that there is in this matter at least a helpless, ignorant and long-suffering public. I was pleased to hear, too, the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, which I thought was both informed and uninhibited. He told us it was a speech which had been gestating for ten years. I can only think that its freshness in delivery was due to the fact that he has lived on compost-grown food, and food without any additives, for the last ten years.

I am bound to say that one part of my noble friend's Motion—namely, the adequate labelling of contents—although quite right and necessary, would, in my view, do little to protect people because they just will not take the trouble to read; or, if they do read, they will not take any notice of it. If we are to stop these dangerous practices I submit that they must be prohibited at the source, because ordinary people just do not know, and could never know, the amount of poison which is pumped into and on to the food they eat between seed time and harvest, arid from farm gate to breakfast table. Kings used to guard against poisoning by employing food and wine tasters. I feel that the Government should act as the people's food taster in the prevention of the distribution of harmful poisons.

One of the difficulties about debates of this kind is that there is a tendency for people to push one of their own theories or special ideas about food, and they tend therefore to be labelled as something that is faddist. I have to confess right away, therefore, that I am an absolute "low-brow" so far as food is concerned—I will eat anything once. Yesterday, at a Guildhall luncheon I actually ate, for the first time in my life, shrimps nesting in an avocado pear. I ate all the shrimps but the avocado pear I left. But I am a low-brow because I eat food if like the taste; and I unashamedly confess that I usually prefer the taste of white bread to brown bread. I know that brown bread is much better for me, yet I go on merrily eating white bread. But it seems to me utterly ridiculous that the manufacturers of bread carefully, and by highly scientific and chemical processes, kill all the goodness in the flour or extract the goodness of the wheat from the flour, and then proceed, by other equally expensive processes, to put back in an artificial way the goodness which they have extracted from it.

I am glad to see on the Government Front Bench, the noble Earl. Lord Waldegrave, because it may be that, as he is listening to this debate, he may find a reason for something that he has never been able previously to explain—, namely, why it is that the 1¾lb. loaf in 1956 cost 6d., whereas it now costs ls. Old. It may be that, although wheat has gone down to £18 a ton, from £30 a ton in 1957, there is no wheat used at all, but that we are using all these expensive chemicals, and that questions about bread and flour ought not to be addressed to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture but to the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House as Minister for Science, Perhaps that is a matter that we might consider in future.

But I say to my noble friend Lord Douglas of Barloch that I cannot see anything essentially wrong in adding, provided that it is not harmful, something to give a better artificial flavour, or a process to give a better colour or a more attractive appearance, or a preservative, so that food has a longer shelf life. The point is that, if you see a more attractive object, if you like the taste better, you naturally buy and consume that article; but you are entitled to the belief that you are not thereby endangering your health or shortening your life. That is where the Government's responsibility comes in.

I always remember that as a small boy I was fascinated to see fruiterers making pyramids of apples or oranges, putting one on top of the other in the show, and a piece of pink paper in between. I remember watching one fruiterer fascinatedly, because he took every apple and polished it vigorously on the seat or side of his trousers and then put it into the pile. When I had waited long enough he gave me one for myself —fortunately out of the barrel—which I then used to clean. But it is a most disturbing thought that, unhygienic as those polishing processes were 40 years ago, they did less harm to those who ate the apples than the present process of spraying them with insecticides and poisons and all the other various polishes which are imparted, largely to imported fruit, in order to make it so much more attractive.

The noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, who I regret is no longer in his seat, asked the rhetorical question: why is it, since we have heard all these dreadful things, that people are living longer: are taller and healthier and all that kind of thing? One of the reasons is that people are now eating more.


They are eating less.


They are able to afford to eat more than they did twenty years ago. They are putting on weight for that reason, and that is a progressive course. Equally, when they drink milk, they are drinking much purer food and better milk. If they are eating more eggs, again they are eating a pure food. That is the reason. But, hundreds of years ago, there were people who lived until they were eighty or ninety; they survived all kinds of things by a process of selection.


Would the noble Lord like to know that I am eighty-four and, except for a local disability, I think I am pretty healthy. I eat just about half as much food as I did when I was twenty years of age on £1 a week.


That is most interesting. I have heard that theory. Life must be much duller than it was formerly. Quite frankly, I enjoy eating. It may not be of any interest to anybody, but I am the same weight now as I was thirty years ago, and since eminent doctors told me that, with the various troubles that I had, if I went on living as I was living, eating what I liked, drinking what I liked, smoking just as much as I liked, I should be dead before I was forty, I am still going on to enjoy as much as I can in the years that are left to me. I hope that my noble friend goes on eating half as much as he did forty years ago, and I hope that he will live to be one hundred and fifty.

A few weeks ago we were rightly deploring the destruction of birds and other wild life through the use of weed-killers and toxic sprays. Many of these losses, could, in my view—I say this to the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave—be avoided by the simple and laboursaving process of using the weed-killer with the fertiliser as a top dressing. As the noble Earl knows (and I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Hastings knows this too), it is when the weed-killer stays on the leaf and the birds drink the dew or moisture off the leaf in the early morning that they take in the poison. On my farm, we put weed-killer down with the fertiliser when there is not a leaf, and it is just as effective, so far as the weeds are concerned. Weed-killers are always killers so far as we humans are concerned, because eventually they come to us in one form or another in our food.

The trouble, as I see it, is that everyone concentrates on short cuts to profit, on cure of the immediate problem rather than prevention of disease. The successful control of plagues like cholera and typhoid have been achieved by preventative means, not by cures. The point is that short-term cures always set up long-term new diseases. We get a quick increase in food production by using chemicals to kill living organisms: weeds, insects, bacteria. But they have only a limited effect, because the living cells adapt themselves to resist the chemicals. Then we have to use stronger doses or concoct new and stronger poisons.

The chemical slaughter of malarial mosquitoes enabled new territories to be opened up for habitation. Now there are resistant strains of mosquitoes and we have to think again. Antibiotics have been used in hospitals to cure hundreds of thousands of people of diseases which were formerly fatal. But dangerous bacteria have emerged, resistant to antibiotics, so that the danger of infection to newborn babies is three times greater if they are born in hospital than if they are born in their home. The unhappy truth is that in food production we have permitted the virtually unrestricted use of a multitude of poisons without a thought about the ultimate effect on the health and lives of our people. It is more than time the Government called a halt. That is the point. Prevention is far better than cure, and our researches should be directed not to poisons which eventually build up resistance in the pests, but to the building up of plant strains which are themselves pest resistant without being a danger to animal and human life.

It is the same in medicine. Throughout the ages, because of our very understandable desire for life, we have held the art of medicine in awe. Our fears have allowed the doctors to act with imperious authority, cloaking their lack of knowledge in our greater ignorance. Now, of course, we know that it is only in the last quarter of a century that medicine has become a more or less exact science. Yet how the Victorian medicine men thundered their false certainties! We can look back on many of them now as butchers and charlatans. But in their day their authority was unquestioned.

I think we should question present-day experts about the things that they and we do not know. As my noble friend Lady Summerskill so candidly admitted, we just do not know. One of the things we do not know is the extent to which the use of pesticides, fungicides, antibiotics and aerosols in the growing and preparation of food causes or promotes cancer in the human body. My noble friends Lord Douglas of Barloch and Lady Summerskill both mentioned this, and in my view it is the point of attack upon which the Government should concentrate their expenditure and their researches. At present the Government spend only £650,000 a year on cancer research, but receive hundreds of millions of pounds every year from the tax on tobacco, which is itself a suspect carcinogen. No one can yet be positive, but the things we are certain about all point one way; that is, that cancer is mainly a disease of our faulty civilisation, because modern civilisation has become toxic.

In 1932, when cancer caused one death out of every nine, an eminent physician forecast that before many years the death rate would be one death from cancer in four. My Lords, that proportion has already been reached in American cities. Another basic certainty—we do know this—is that life itself is respiration or, to put it another way, oxydation, and the incidence of cancer is greater among people who breathe air in which the oxygen is polluted with poisonous chemicals; for instance, sulphur dioxide released into the air through the burning of various types of fuels. In other words, if you destroy or reduce the oxygen intake you increase the risk of cancer. This is precisely what we are doing with our food production.

In food production and in food preservation we are using chemicals which are potent poisons for the respiration of cells. They kill the bacteria and insects all right, but in the process they destroy the catalase content of the food, and this catalase is a most important enzyme in the prevention of cancer. Our bodies are capable of handling naturally harmful substances, but we are now being bombarded with poisons and chemicals in small quantities with every meal we eat. It must upset our fundamental biological mechanism, making us prone to the contracting of new diseases. Above all, there are strong reasons for thinking that all this dead poisoned food is a major agent in increasing the incidence of cancer. I would submit in all friendliness (because this is a big and grave problem, and I must confess we do not know, although the signposts are all pointing one way) that it is unthinkable that the Government should continue to allow people to run these risks. They should institute the fullest investigation and, if the fears that have been expressed in this debate prove justified, then, in my view, the Government should immediately prohibit the use of these poisons in the growing, manufacture, preservation and storage of food.

7.18 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a very good debate, I think, and some most interesting speeches. I am quite sure that the whole House will join me in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, not only on bringing this Motion before your Lordships' House but in rendering very considerable service in doing so. I am glad, personally, that he has succeeded in getting his Motion, which has been on the Order Paper for some time, to the stage when it is finally debated, because a great deal of interest has recently been shown in your Lordships' House on this particular subject. I think it is good that we should air this problem and that the present situation should be made known to the public. It is a very complicated problem, and perhaps during the course of this debate and, I hope, during the course of my reply we may have succeeded in reducing this very complicated subject to some order and logical sequence which ordinary people can understand and so see the whole matter in perspective.

Before proceeding further I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, on a most interesting maiden speech. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, suggested that his organic farming had considerably assisted his delivery and the purity of his tone. I certainly would agree with that. I hope that we shall hear him often in the future, and that, whatever form of farming he continues, he will visit your Lordships' House more often and let us hear him, not only on this subject but on other subjects as well.

My Lords, there is no doubt that there has been grave anxiety in your Lordships' House in particular—and perhaps that reflects a growing anxiety amongst the public—as to the effects on general health of the use of all these additives. That is not a very good word, but I understand it has now been absorbed into the technical jargon, and is accepted and used whenever people are discussing this subject. I would just say that I think that possibly the precise words used in the noble Lord's Motion give a slightly false impression, perhaps because he refers to the "contamination of food" by pesticides and all these other substances. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, who did point out that substances added to food do not necessarily contaminate them; and it is only the ones which do, of course, which are harmful. Therefore I should have preferred the wording to be, "To draw attention to the effects upon food" of these substances, rather than, "the contamination of food" by them. I think my version might be a little more accurate, and would give the right impression.

I am sure we want to take a balanced view of this whole subject. As several speakers have said, we are speaking rather in the dark: it is a tentative approach. The noble Lord, Lord Auckland, said the implications of this debate may be very important for the future, and I think that is very likely the case. We want to take a balanced view. I do not want to give any cause for panic. I do not think any of us wants to do that; and I really do not think there is cause for panic, although no doubt there is cause for tackling this subject sensibly and systematically. First of all, we have to take into account, as the noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, has said, the fact that there has been a very remarkable general improvement in health. That has been rather "played down" by the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, and by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, but it is a fact that the health of the people of this country has improved enormously since the war, and that does point to a far higher nutritional standard. Longe- vity naturally has to do with medical science as well, but the actual physical health of people is better, and they are enjoying a much better diet. That is for the immediate present; but we are also concerned with the long-term future, and I shall have a good deal to say about that.

My Lords, this is such a complicated subject that I want to try, if possible, to get a sense of system, order and logical sequence into it. One can talk about this, that and the other substance, but one wants to tie the whole subject together if possible. I have tried to divide my reply into two distinct parts. The first part will deal with the type of offending material we are debating—the pesticides, herbicides, preservatives and synthetic additives referred to in the Motion—the reasons for their use and their possible as well as their known effects. Then, the second part will deal with the measures taken to protect consumers—and that, of course, is the part with which your Lordships are very much concerned.

My Lords, I come first to the types, the reasons and the risks. Dealing first of all with pesticides and herbicides, which include, of course, those insecticides which are used in spray and on seed dressings, we have, as we know already from a previous debate on wild life, the chlorinated hydrocarbons, including aldrin, dieldrin and heptachlor; and D.D.T. and B.H.C. are included in that as well. Then we have the organo-mercury compounds, such as parathion; and, thirdly, we have, and must not forget, the metallic pesticides, such as mercury and lead, which are used for mixing in the soil and for sprays or smokes in horticulture. The second group we have to deal with are antibiotics and hormones. The third group are the preservatives and synthetic additives, which have among them antioxidants, which are used to prevent fats from going rancid; emulsifying and stabilising agents for fats; and preservatives which are used, among other things, in jam, beer and cider, and in dry fruit. Then there are artificial sweeteners; colouring matter; bleachers and improvers; solvents; nutritional supplements, and a few other things of less importance.

My Lords, why are all these alien substances, as we might term them, being used? It is well known that pesticides and herbicides are used in agriculture to help the crops resist disease both before and during growth; to control the weeds and, as a result, to increase the yield; and, as your Lordships have heard, they are also used in bulk storage. The antibiotics and hormones are used in the feeding of certain animals to improve growth and food conversion, and also the quality of meat, all of which things they in fact do. The preservatives are used, naturally, in storage and for the preservation of food ready for the consumer. There are other additives, notably the colouring matters, which, frankly, are used to attract the consumer.

Now is it necessary to use all these things? You have heard from one or two noble Lords that the world population is increasing. It is increasing very rapidly; and nowadays the international conscience is such that we are very concerned to feed under-developed countries as well as our own. In addition, not only is the world population increasing, but in the more-advanced countries industrial civilisation is increasing, and you get these vast gatherings of urban populations. Now you cannot feed such gatherings of people without wasting an immense amount of food unless you take steps to preserve it and store it fit for human consumption; and you cannot grow enough food to feed all these people unless you use these modern pesticides and herbicides. The noble Lord, Lord Amwell, deplored the necessity, which I think he admitted, for this system of mass production, as he called it, in agriculture; but, in spite of that, we still provide only half our own requirements of food in this country, even though we have increased our food production since the war by 70 per cent. I think it is very doubtful whether this could have been done without the use of these modern methods.


My Lords the noble Lord would agree, I think, that there is a vast literature upon this subject; and, really, you cannot be quite so sure and dogmatic about it when it is a fact that many experts differ upon this question of whether we can feed ourselves naturally and properly. I believe we can, but that was not so much my point. My point is that if you depend upon remote markets, you must have preservatives because of the fact that you have mass production and a remote market arrangement instead of producing for use. I gave an instance of what can be done with regard to producing for use. It is economical to do so, and I showed it was economical. I think that is the best way to do it, naturally, as far as we can. I am not asking for the moon; I know the difficulties as well as the noble Lord does.


My Lords, I am glad the noble Lord made the point about the use of preservatives for overseas supplies, but I cannot continue that argument because that subject is one for a full agriculture debate. I was dealing with the reasons for using these materials. It is really a general process of civilisation. It is so easy to argue that our grandfathers were better off because they were not being poisoned bit by bit, all unknown to themselves, by what they were eating. You might say that they were better off because they had no motor cars and were not being killed by them in thousands, such as are our contemporaries. But we have to take the disadvantages with the advantages in modern civilisation. Would we be prepared to give up anæsthetics, X-rays, and medical science, or even modern education? No, my Lords. We have to live in the times in which we are born, and these things are the result of our civilisation. But as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said, it is, of course, up to us in general, and up to the Government in particular, to protect the consumer against any harmful effects that may possibly occur.

Now, what are these possible risks and known effects? Returning to the pesticides and herbicides, it is interesting and important to know that so far there have been no serious outbreaks of food poisoning from these substances, although residues may remain in milk and in dairy products, in food and in vegetables, because they may be excreted in the milk by the cows which have eaten them. At the same time, mercury may be found actually in the pulp of fruit; and lead, if sprayed on fruit within six weeks of picking, will remain on the skin. Meat and grain, on the other hand, are apparently hardly affected, although in some cases the birds which eat them, especially crops which have been grown with certain treated seed dressings, are affected, as we heard in the debate on wild life a short time ago.

I should like to say something about that, because it has been suggested, I believe, that people eating birds who die in that way may themselves be affected. It has been found that birds which have died from eating residues contain up to 8 milligrammes of mercury per kilogramme of body weight, and the minimum fatal dose is 150 to 300 milligrammes. Therefore, anybody eating two pounds of pigeon or pheasant—or whatever the game may be—would not suffer from anything more than mild indigestion, although, of course, mercury should rarely exceed more than 0.1 parts per million, which is a very large safety factor indeed.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to intervene, I have read in famous murder trials that the victim who eventually met his death through arsenical poisoning suffered only from mild indigestion at first because of the small dose!


My Lords, the long-term effects, it is admitted, are not known, because really these substances have not been in use so long that they could be known; and I shall have more to say about that.

May I turn now to the antibiotics? The noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Bar-loch, rather gave the impression, I think, that they were "fed to pigs and other animals", as though they were fed to all animals; but that is not strictly correct. Antibiotics are given only to pigs and poultry. It is possible, of course, that it may lead to a building up of resistant strains, but I will come back to that later in my speech. The hormones, which in the agricultural world are called "oestrogens", as a result of the Agricultural Research Council's investigations in 1958 were found to be harmless to human consumers of tainted meat as well as to the animal itself in the case of cattle and sheep; but there could be some carcinogenic risk from poultry meats, and I will deal with that later on.

With regard to preservatives and synthetic additives, the human body has excellent mechanisms for disposing of substances for which it can find no use. In particular, the liver and the kidney perform those functions. Occasionally they will come up against some substance to which they are completely unaccus- tomed and which defeats them; and the example was given, by one noble Lord, of the Netherlands margarine, where an emulsifier (I think it was) badly poisoned a very large number of people because it contained something that had never been put in food before, a mixed triglyceride to prevent spluttering during frying. Nothing similar Chas happened in this country; and it is thought that if additives are a very small fraction of the smallest dose known to have a bad effect, so that that dose cannot injure the body's metabolism, there is little reason to fear poisoning from repeated ingestion of small doses. Several noble Lords have referred to the repeated swallowing of small amounts of these residues or additives, and I shall have more to say on their long-term effects, which admittedly are not fully known at the moment.

Among the other additives, of course, are the colouring matters. It has been suggested, in particular, that these dyes cause cancer, and an example was given of how people working in a dye factory had apparently been more prone to contract cancer later in life. It is not necessarily the dye itself, as the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, said, but the chemicals into which the body converts it. Therefore, it is not every human being who will convert a particular dye into a carcinogenic substance; nor is it every animal. Therefore, further investigation has obviously to be carried out in that regard.

It has been mentioned that there is no sort of international standard or agreement in the matter of colouring material. There are 15 dyes in the United States of America, compared with 30 in this country. But what the noble Lords have not mentioned is that of the American 15, we ban no fewer than 7; and of our 30, they ban a very large number. Yet our 30 had been reduced already from an original number of over 80. I think the impression has been given that the Continent is ahead of us in these matters; but I am informed that, as regards colouring materials, there are 15 permitted dyes in each of Germany and Switzerland.

That brings me to the second part of my speech, the part which your Lordships will wish to hear, about what is being done. Your Lordships will see how seriously Her Majesty's Government are taking this matter and the amount of work that is being done upon it. In respect of pesticides and herbicides, the first thing we have is the Voluntary Notification Scheme, which has already being spoken of in the debate in your Lordships' House on Wild Life, in Questions and again to-day by my noble friend Lord Amherst of Hackney, who confused it with the provisions of the Agriculture (Poisonous Substances) Act. This scheme is one which obliges or induces manufacturers to provide data which go to the main committee dealing with the subject, the Advisory Committee on Poisonous Substances, which recommends precautions to safeguard users, consumers, domestic animals and wild life. They allow for a very large safety factor to ensure that no harmful residues are left in edible crops after harvesting.

That Advisory Committee has working with it—and I am not sure that this is appreciated by noble Lords who have spoken—a scientific sub-committee, whose job it is to collect and consider data and assess their significance for the guidance of the parent committee. The result of these two Committees working together, it is claimed, is that no chemical that may be dangerous is put on the market without close screening, as thorough as that given to pharmaceutical preparations.

Also concerned with pesticides and herbicides is the Research Study Group. Its terms of reference are: to study the needs for further research into the effects of the use of toxic chemicals in agriculture and food storage. That Committee, which is a practical scientific Committee, studies the possible dangers from the repeated ingestion of very small chemical residues not in themselves enough to cause any symptoms. It is actually preparing a Report, which is expected to be pub-fished this year. So I hope that noble Lords who brought up that aspect of the matter will derive some comfort from this information.

I should like to go to a certain extent into the composition of these Committees. This was a question particularly asked by the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, but I had already prepared this information because I remember the questions to which I was subjected at some considerable length a month ago by noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who I know would have liked to take part in this debate, had he been able to be here. These noble Lords were concerned about the composition of the Committees, about whether they had any scientists on them and, frankly, about whether they were doing any work. This was also a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, to-day.

The Advisory Committee on Poisonous Substances has twenty members, with Sir Charles Dodds, Courtauld Professor of Biochemistry at the University of London, as Chairman. The Scientific Sub-committee has seventeen members, two of whom are on the parent Committee, and sixteen have scientific degrees. The Research Study Group has ten members, half of whom are either on the Advisory Committee or on the sub-committee. The Chairman is Professor Sanders, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Minister of Agriculture. All have either scientific or medical degrees. Therefore your Lordships will see that here we have forty people of a diversity of talent covering a wide range, and with a strong liaison between the committees through some number serving on two of them—and two members serve on all three committees—thereby getting continuity of knowledge and direction.


My Lords, are the three committees purely advisory or do they have any research staffs on which they can depend?


My Lords, the Scientific Sub-Committee collect data and information. But, in fact, all these people are working scientists in their own fields, in plant pathology, toxicology, biochemstry and so on, and are very representative. They are collecting scientific knowledge in their own fields and then assembling it, so to speak, when in committee. That is more or less the procedure.

Turning to antibiotics, and hormones, I would point out that antibiotics are controlled under the Therapeutic Substances Act, 1956, which permits only one part in 10,000 of a specified antibiotic in pig and poultry feeding stuffs. It is obligatory that the labels must indicate the amount, and these labels are approved only for feeds for young pigs and poultry for early slaughter; these are the only animals which are affected by antibiotics. Nevertheless, a special committee has now been set up to review their use. The Chairman of this Committee, which has seventeen members, is the noble Lord, Lord Netherthorp. It has also attached to it a scientific subcommittee to examine the evidence, and the Chairman of that Committee is Professor Miles, Director of the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine. And, of course, there is the National Agricultural Advisory Service's leaflet No. 418 which is issued to farmers interested in pigs and poultry.

On hormones, or oestrogens, I have to admit that there Is actually no legislation controlling their use in feeding stuffs or by implantation, which your Lordships know is clone in the case of the caponisation of poultry. As I said, the Agricultural Research Council investigated the matter in 1958 and their first notice was issued in April, 1959, to the effect that the fattening of cattle and sheep was harmless to humans. Nevertheless, the matter has since been referred to the Ministry of Health's Standing Committee on the medical and nutritional aspects of food policy and they have set up a standing committee on carcinogenic hazards, about which shall say more in connection with food additives.

Coming to food additives in general, first of all, we have the Food and Drugs Act, 1955, under which the Ministry has wide powers to make regulations with the advice—and this is the second leg of protection—of the Food Standards Committee, which I am afraid has been spoken ill of by the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, but well of by the noble Lord, Lord Hankey. As the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, said, the Food Standards Committee was reconstituted only last year, but during its previous existence—it was sot up in 1947—it has reviewed the preservative regulations, with the help largely of its Preservatives Sub-committee, over a period ranging from 1951 to 1960. During that time reports were produced on antioxidants in 1954, and legislation implementing the findings was passed in 1958; a report on colouring matters in 1954 and legislation implementing it in 1957, and a report on emulsifying and stabilizing agents in 1956 and preservatives in 1959, regulations for both of which it is hoped to make this year. Bleachers and improvers were dealt with in a report on bread and flour—which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hankey—in 1960, and that is now being considered. As well, reports on arsenic and fluorine in food had legislation implemented in 1959, and that on lead is, I believe, to be made this year.

I said that these reviews have been carried out largely by the Preservatives Sub-committee, and that was reconstituted in 1960 and renamed the Food Additives and Contaminants Sub-Committee, with new terms of reference as follows: To consider problems referred to the subcommittee by the Food Standards Committee in relation to all substances added to food, whether deliberately or not", That is a considerable widening of the terms of reference to which they were working before.

Again, before turning to the future of what they are doing, let me give the composition of this Food Standards Committee and the Food Additives and Contaminants Sub-Committee. The main Committee has ten members: the Chairman, three members from the trade, three scientific members and three independent members. The sub-committee has eleven members, and the Chairman is again Sir Charles Dodds, who is Chairman of the main Advisory Committee on Poisonous Substances on the purely agricultural production side. Three of these eleven are on the parent Food Standards Committee. One is on the Advisory Committee on Poisonous Substances—that is Sir Charles Dodds—and one on the scientific sub-committee of the Advisory Committee on Poisonous Substances. So there again we see an addition of sixteen new people; a diversity of talent and new blood, a link-up with the other Committees and continuity of direction through five people on this food sub-committee.

What is the immediate future? What is the work they are doing? At the moment they have reviews in hand on solvents and flavouring agents, and they are to undertake later this year an important review on colouring matter; and then anti-oxidants. It has been agreed that not more than five years should elapse between these reviews, and whereas hitherto there has been considerable delay in implementing the original legislation, it is hoped now to keep matters very much more up to date and to be able to handle legislation, if it is necessary, within, say, two years, instead of four or five years, of the recommendations being made. As will be appreciated, a great deal of agreement has to be reached between the various Departments.

Colouring matter is a subject which is being treated seriously. As I said, our list has been cut from 80 to 30; we know the American list is only 15, and there is also a short list on the Continent. I cannot anticipate findings, but I feel that it is reasonable to say that it would not be surprising if there were a considerable reduction in the number of colours and dyes which are, in fact, allowed. As I say, the Committee will start its work this year, and one hopes that the findings will not be long delayed.

Then there are going to he investigations on nutritional supplements and things known as sequestrants, buffers and humectants; and finally, substances introduced accidentally in preparing and processing foods, including leeching from wrappers—and I have no doubt that that would also embrace the possible contamination by metallic particles of canned food which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill.

There is the one final Committee, and it is a most important one. Both the Food Standards Committee and the Advisory Committee on Poisonous substances are aware of possible carcinogenic risk from food additives and pesticides and asked an expert panel to report, which it did in January, 1960. As a result, a Standing Panel on Carcinogenic Hazards in Food Additives and Food Contaminants has been set up (and I referred to that under the sub-heading of "oestrogens") with very wide terms of reference. This Committee has nine members, six of whom are specialists in cancer research. The Chairman is once again Sir Charles Dodds, himself an authority and also Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the British Empire Cancer Campaign. There again one sees a continuity of direction and knowledge running right through the whole organisation.

On top of all that we have the Biological Research Station, which I men- tioned in your Lordships' House in reply to a question last month, set up jointly by the D.S.I.R. and British industry to investigate toxicity of materials likely to be ingested by the public through consumption of food and drink. That covers the whole field about which we have been talking. I hope I have been able to convince your Lordships that these Committees are covering the whole field; that they are active; and that they are of a comprehensive nature and very much alive to the urgency of their task.

I should say a special word on the question of labelling, which figured not only in the Motion but in many of the speeches made. It is not at all an easy matter. The Food Standards Committee has considered piecemeal the question of the disclosure of the presence of additives by labelling, and they have done that from the reviews which have been made and the reports to which I have referred. But now they are going to undertake a comprehensive review of the Labelling of Food Order and of the labelling provisions of the Food and Drugs Act, and they will then deal thoroughly with the whole problem. There are exemptions from Part II of the Order dealing mainly with pre-packed food, and they are going to be reviewed; and goods other than pre-packed food, which are not at the moment covered by the Order, are to be considered. The noble Baroness suggested putting a date on the tins, and I have no doubt that the suggestion will be considered, but it has been pointed out that what is ready more important is the method of tinning rather than the date the food was put into the tin, because if it is done badly, quite recently canned stuff can go bad sooner than something that has been tinned for quite a long time.

In connection with the removal of nutritive elements from food, and the fact that food is not so nutritious as it used to be, that, to a certain extent, is inevitable in processing. But the deliberate extraction of elements in such a way that it would be injurious to health is legislated against in Section 1 of the Food and Drugs Act; and Section 2, I think, refers to the quality. You may not sell to the purchaser food which is below the quality which he demands. There are, of course, both in the case of labelling and of nutritive elements, compositional standards laid down, so that even though the ingredients are not detailed on the label, if they conform to a compositional standard which is recognised, then you can be sure that those foods are perfectly all right.

If I may, I will glance briefly through my notes in case I have omitted to reply to any particular point, although I think I have covered most of the matters which have been brought up and which were largely questions of labelling and long-term effects. As I say, I have set out all the committees, which I hope will refute the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, that we are lagging behind other countries in these matters. I hope I have succeeded in setting out the whole picture in a coherent, comprehensible and comprehensive manner, and I hope also that I have succeeded in convincing your Lordships, and making it known to the public at large, that, while there are risks inevitably attached to these substances which are used because of the nature of the civilisation in which we live, nevertheless the risks should not be exaggerated; that the Government are taking active steps to bring the situation under proper control; and that in a comparatively short time—and when I say that, I suppose even five or ten years is not very long in political life and in' history—the Government hope and expect to get this whole subject under complete control so that the public can eat their meals with safety. In this I should include especially the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, who can go to his favourite restaurants, and even try out completely unknown restaurants, with complete safety.

8.3 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, and particularly I would mention the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, who gave us such an interesting and helpful maiden speech. I do not want to detain your Lordships very much longer, but there are a few things which I feel I must comment upon in what the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, has said. First of all, his speech at any rate is a recognition that the Government are beginning to awaken to the seriousness of this situation. But I do not withdraw the statement that we have been lagging behind other countries.

I drew attention to this matter ten years ago. What I said is of no particular importance, but I drew attention—and I have no doubt that Government Departments knew about it—to the investigations which were made by a special committee of the House of Representatives in the United States, which took several volumes of evidence from the most eminent scientists, who pointed out a great many of the dangers which I have indicated to-day. All that information has been in the hands of the Government, and it is only in the last year or so that they have really begun to act.

I welcome the appointment of all these committees. I have no comment to make about that, except that it is still the position that they have no adequate investigative machinery at their disposal. They are collecting together the information that individual members of the committee may happen to have acquired, or which they can obtain from published surveys in technical papers, but they have no organisation of their own to which to refer questions for experiment and research. My Lords, remember, I beg of you, that research on subjects of this kind is extremely expensive. We have been told to-day about some £60,000 a year being made available for one purpose. It has been estimated in the United States that to make an adequate and complete investigation of a food additive may cost £20,000 or £30,000, because the investigations have to be so prolonged, so complicated and so expensive, and we are still only toying with this thing.

I am sorry the noble Lord has suggested that we are obliged to use all the chemicals which are at present being used in order that we should be able to feed ourselves, or, I think he put it, in order that we should be able to feed people in other countries. This statement is not correct. It is not true that if all these things were not used we should all be starving. After all, most of these substances have been introduced only during the past 25 years or so, and we were not all starving before that. I agree that the standard of living has risen in this country. Productivity has risen, people are able to buy more food than they used to be, and that explains why they are able to live better. But their inability to obtain all the food that they required in times gone by was not due to lack of ability to produce it; it was due to their lack of purchasing power.

Let us get this thing quite clear. In this connection, although this is not primarily an agricultural debate, let me also point out that practically no research is being conducted and hardly anything being spent, except by a few private organisations, on finding means of increasing agricultural production by other processes than the use of chemicals. And there is a very large and important field of investigation there. After all, that is the way in which agriculture was developed through the ages, and we ought not to ignore entirely the lessons which can be drawn from the past.

The noble Lord has said that there have been very few instances of mishaps; that there have been no outbreaks of food poisoning. I have not suggested for a single moment that there has been anything of that kind in the sense of immediate and drastic symptoms of poisoning. That is not the point which I have been making at all. The point which I have been making is the potential dangers of long-term ingestion of small quantities of chemicals, pesticides, or whatever they may be, and the noble Lord has not given the slightest indication that the Government are prepared to make any regulations whatsoever limiting the amount of pesticide residues, or other chemicals which may be found in foodstuffs. Whereas other countries, for what it is worth, have elaborate regulations limiting the number of parts per million of any of these things which are to be allowed in food, there are no regulations of that kind in this country. Therefore, we have to go on waiting for the results of these researches, as the noble Lord has said, perhaps for five or ten years, and meantime what is happening? Nobody knows for certain.


May I just interrupt the noble Lord? I did not mean to indicate that nothing useful was coming out of these reports for five or ten years. We are reviewing them consistently the whole time. At the end of five or ten years the very thing for which the noble Lord is asking will, in fact, be completed.


Well, let us hope so. On this question let me also remind the noble Lord that the problem is even wider than he has stated, because some kinds of chemicals, as I have already pointed out, are reaching people from many other sources. I referred to cosmetics, which contain dyes and other substances; I referred to all the industrial products, aerosols, solvents and so on, which are being used in the home, garden and elsewhere, and it is absolutely essential that regard should be had to the total toxic effect on human beings of all these sources of poisoning. It is extremely serious. I hope that the investigation which is going on will pay regard to those things, and that we shall have in the near future some positive limitation upon the use of new additives and pesticides in foods so that a halt can be called somewhere. But at this moment I cannot see that there is any immediate prospect of it, as the noble Lord has not held out the slightest indication of it. I am disturbed at that. I am sorry to say so, but it is time that we faced the facts of this situation, took note of what has been discovered in other countries and dealt with things more promptly. I am sorry to have taken so long. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, with, drawn.