HL Deb 27 July 1988 vol 500 cc338-41

8.32 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 12th July be approved [33rd Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, these regulations implement the powers in Sections 16(2)(k) and (1), 16(15) and 24(3) of the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985. They have been drafted after extensive consultation with all interests affected. Your Lordships will know that my department, on behalf of the departments responsible for these regulations, issued a first consultative document in October 1986. This proposed the principle of a statutory system of control for pesticide residues in food. It met with widespread support and, as a result, a second consultative document was issued in April this year proposing specific maximum residue levels for a number of pesticides used on a range of important items in the diet. Comments on this second consultative document were again overwhelmingly in favour of a statutory system, and the result is the regulations that we have before us.

The regulations are designed to achieve three things. First, they will provide a check that farmers and growers are observing good agricultural practice in the use of pesticides in this country. If pesticide users follow the instructions on pesticide labels—as they are legally bound to do by the Control of Pesticide Regulations 1986—they should have no difficulty in complying with the maximum residue levels—or MRLs as they are known—set out in the present regulations.

Secondly, the regulations will apply the same standards to imports as are applied to home grown produce, by allowing imports containing residues above MRLs to be seized, disposed of, or sent back to the country of origin. This should reassure farmers that their foreign competitors do not have unfair advantages in the use of these pesticides. By the same token, these MRLs, many of which are EC limits, will serve to facilitate trade within the Community.

Thirdly, the regulations are intended to provide consumers with the reassurance that levels of pesticide residues in food are safe and are at the lowest levels compatible with efficient food production. The safety of food for consumers is always of paramount importance. These regulations set maximum residue levels which are in all cases acceptable to the expert toxicologists who help us to run our pesticides registration system, both within DHSS and MAFF, and on our independent advisory committees.

These are the first statutory MRLs for pesticide residues in food in this country. They cover 61 pesticides and a wide range of the more important components of the average national diet, including cereals, products of animal origin (such as meat, milk and cheese) and a wide range of fruit and vegetables. It is the Government's intention to revise these regulations every two years or so, to take account, for example, of new developments in pesticides marketing, changes in use patterns, or developments in European Community legislation.

Turning to the text of the regulations, the MRLs in Schedule 1 are designed to implement mandatory European Community Directives 86/362 and 86/363 which set maximum residue levels for 23 pesticides in cereals, and products of animal origin. These MRLs will come into force in August.

Schedule 2 contains MRLs which we are not obliged to introduce, but which we have chosen to introduce so as to extend the statutory control beyond cereals and animal products to the more commonly consumed fruits and vegetables. Extending the range of foods covered has also meant extending the range of pesticides. There are 53 pesticides in Schedule 2, which comes into force on 31st December.

Responsibility for enforcing the regulations, since they are made under the Food and Environment Protection Act, rests with Ministers. Current monitoring of cereals and foodstuffs by the Working Party on Pesticide Residues is focused on areas where residues are considered likely to be found. This monitoring indicates that residues above the MRLs are rare. We do not therefore expect there to be many breaches of the regulations but where routine monitoring suggests that problems may be arising, we would envisage mounting an enforcement campaign. This would involve Ministers designating individuals as enforcement officers. They would then collect samples and would send them for analysis. Analysis for pesticide residues is a very complicated matter and would probably need to be done in the central laboratories. Local authorities have indicated that they are willing to collaborate with us in this work and to allow their staff to be designated as enforcement officers and, where they have the appropriate expertise, to contribute to analysis. Following a recent meeting they are now considering whether they wish to play a larger role.

Not all pesticides leave detectable residues, and many that are present just after treatment do not persist. But I believe that we owe it to farmers and growers, to the food trade and to consumers, to create a framework within which farmers know that they can operate freely, traders can buy and sell, and the consumer can go the shops in the knowledge that what is displayed there meets stringent national and international standards on residues. Because of their European component, these regulations also make their contribution to the achievement of a wider European market. I commend them to the House.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 12th July be approved [33rd Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Trumpington.)

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, I am sure we all agree that it is absolutely necessary for this document to be produced because the public are a little afraid of the amount of spraying that goes on. It is reassuring to them to know that there are now regulations of maximum residue levels which are harmless. I never realised that 61 pesticides were used, of which 23 are used on cereals and 53 on the other crops listed in Schedule 2.

I wish to make only one point. In one particular year I counted that we sprayed a field of wheat five times: twice for weeds, twice for disease, and once for aphids. That is five pesticides being used. What happens if the level of each of these pesticides is just below the maximum registered level but the total is very high? I just wonder whether there is anything to stop that happening, otherwise we give a blessing to the statutory instrument.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I concur with my noble kinsman. When I think about pesticides I remember the remark of the Duke of Wellington about his troops: that he did not know what they did to the enemy, but "My God, they terrify me". That is true of the pesticides we use and I believe that the regulations are necessary, The review every two years is certainly also necessary. We commend the regulations.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the MRLs are designed to be limits which will not be exceeded when good agricultural practice is followed. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, was following good agricultural practice when he sprayed his field five times. However, we have selected the limits which best accord with United Kingdom circumstances. It is up to the noble Lord to take his usual responsible point of view when applying pesticides, knowing the results. I thank noble Lords for being so brief. I commend the order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.