HL Deb 19 December 1983 vol 446 cc481-2

2.43 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask her Majesty's Government whether they are considering removing calcium supplements from white bread; and, if so, why.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Lord Glenarthur)

My Lords, the proposed revision of the Bread and Flour Regulations would make the addition of calcium to certain wheat flours no longer mandatory. This proposal follows the recommendations in the report on the nutritional aspects of bread and flour made by a panel of experts under the aegis of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy. They concluded that the reasons which had led to the mandatory addition of calcium to flour during the war years were no longer valid. No decision, however, will be taken until the Government have considered all the representations made on the proposals.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, while I thank the Minister for that reply, may I ask whether there was a bone specialist on the committee and also whether he is aware that there is an epidemic of fractures throughout the country and that many orthopaedic surgeons are most worried about the situation among the elderly?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot tell the noble Baroness whether there was a bone specialist on the panel. So far as an epidemic of fractures is concerned, I do not think that that necessarily has to do with calcium deficiency. The department's medical advisers have assured us that there would not be any measurable effect on anyone, including the elderly, if, in the context of a varied diet, which I think is important, calcium was not added to flour.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that when he said that all points of view would he taken into consideration, it was a very welcome statement, indeed? Does he not agree that it is no exaggeration to say that the point raised by the noble Baroness, if not examined with great caution and care, could well be a matter of life or death?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, as I said when I answered the original Question, all views will be taken into account. I stress what I said in answer to the noble Baroness; that the medical advisers to the department have not come up with any conclusive proof that to remove the calcium would cause any great damage.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the best way of getting calcium into your bones is through milk and that there is plenty of it knocking around at the moment?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, yes, I am only too well aware of that and also that other things, including carrots, are full of calcium.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, how can the Minister accept the advice that he is given against the background that the aetiology of senile osteoporosis is unknown equally with its acceleration under conditions of post-menopausal osteoporosis or post-hysterectal osteoporosis? No such assurance can possibly be given as the causes are unknown.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I do not think that I can very well follow the noble Earl's question and the scientific jargon that he used. I shall nevertheless study what he has said in Hansard and, if necessary, write to him.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the noble Baroness. Lady Masham, is quite right and that lack of calcium can lead to a greater number of fractures?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, yes. But there are methods of getting calcium into the body other than through eating bread with calcium in it. I hope that this was the point that I managed to make when answering the earlier Question?

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, can I ask the Minister again whether he is aware that many elderly people, especially in cities such as Glasgow and Liverpool, eat a large amount of sandwiches, which are an easy convenience food? Will the Government launch a campaign to encourage elderly people to drink milk, as the noble Lord. Lord John-Mackie, suggested.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, milk is available in any case. The noble Baroness may like to know, although I would not wish to go through the list now, that there are a great many forms of food that contain calcium. Cheese, milk, fat fish and all sorts of other things are apparently full of calcium and in a normal diet meet the basic need for calcium.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether whisky has a calcium content?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am certain that it does!

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, the noble Lord was good enough to inform the House that this matter is now under consideration by his department. In the light of the supplementary questions, which point to considerable concern, can he say how long this process will take and when his department will report on the issue?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lord, I cannot give an absolute date, although I hope that it will be within the next few months, perhaps by the spring. I would not, however, like to be held down by that timetable. The important matter to bear in mind is that the addition of calcium began in 1942 as a wartime measure when it was thought likely that milk and cheese, the main sources of calcium in the diet, were likely to become scarce.