HL Deb 12 December 1974 vol 355 cc771-3

3.13 p.m.


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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware of the continuing anxiety of consumers, especially housewives, regarding the long-term threat to the United Kingdom traditional fresh poultry trade; and what steps they propose to take in order to ensure that the EEC Poultry Hygiene Directive will contain the right for this to continue in this country indefinitely, in view of the importance not only of consumer choice but also of the farmers in the United Kingdom.


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are aware that some concern has been expressed at the possibility that the EEC Directive on poultry meat will restrict consumer choice to frozen birds. This will not be the case. We have a traditional and substantial trade in uneviscerated New York Dressed poultry which will need time to adjust to the new hygiene requirements. For that reason, the Government are seeking to defer, until February, 1982, the restrictions which the Directive would have imposed upon uneviscerated poultry sales. Even after that date it will be possible for farmers to sell uneviscerated poultry direct to consumers.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his Answer, which is a good deal more satisfactory than many people may have expected, and I should like to ask three very brief supplementary questions. First, could the Minister say what will happen after 1982 and whether uneviscerated birds will still be sold then? Secondly, since disease appears to be one of the reasons for these regulations, can the Minister say how many cases of disease have occurred over the last two years as a result of consumption of uneviscerated birds? Finally, does the Minister realise that the small farmer and poultry breeder will be hit very hard if these regulations are introduced in 1982 or at any other time?


My Lords, I am not altogether certain that I can prophesy what will happen after 1982, but the question appears to be based on a misconception which arises from the Directive's requirement that poultry be eviscerated immediately after slaughter under controlled hygienic conditions rather than at some later stage as now happens with New York Dressed birds. There is a growing trade in fresh poultry eviscerated immediately after slaughter in the manner required by the Directive. As regards the question of disease, I have no statistics. Certainly, there is nothing to indicate that there is an urgent problem here. As for the small farmer, as I think I said previously, he will have an opportunity of selling to the final consumer at the farm gate even after 1982.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Select Committee of this House on the European Community has been a watchdog for the consumer in this matter, because it has taken evidence and has published a Report for the information of the House, although not for debate because it is not happening until 1982?


My Lords, is it true that in the Directive it is stipulated that vets should inspect the carcasses at the point where they are eviscerated? In our country we use public health inspectors, so could the noble Lord give an assurance that the public health inspectors will still be the people to inspect these carcasses?


My Lords, the Directive lays down some very detailed requirements as to inspection, and it will, of course, cost money to carry out the inspection in that way. Perhaps I may point out to the noble Earl that these were objections which I had to the Directive when I voted against the Act some two years ago.


My Lords, can my noble friend tell me whether somebody like my granny, in her own little farmyard, will be able to get rid of a chicken without signing forms, stops and stultifying regulations, since one of my jobs was to mesmerise the chicken so that she could kill it and I shall be very grateful to be free from this stulification?


My Lords, I have some difficulty in prophesying what will happen after 1982 and I have even greater difficulty in deciding what the noble Lord's granny will do by that time.