HL Deb 26 March 1996 vol 570 cc1569-70

2.46 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will discourage hoax health warnings on packets of foodstuffs.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, no. We are not aware that they represent a problem in practice.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. Has he seen spoof notices, for example, on packets of crisps in large lettering: Warning, not to be eaten in confined spaces"? The implication, supposed to be humorous, is apparently that the crisps pop and crackle prodigiously. Are parents right to be apprehensive that the warning might be serious and that there might be danger, for example, from fumes, especially when any required warnings are lost in the small print?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, our opinion is that such hoax health warnings tend to be self-limiting. If they are at all serious, customers will not buy the product, which rather negates the point of having such jokes on the packets anyway.

The more worrying area is health claims, which we take much more seriously. We are putting serious research into it.

Lord Carter

My Lords, is the Minister aware that advice from some quarters to take health warnings on foodstuffs with a pinch of salt is perhaps rather unfortunate phraseology? Will he agree that the present legal situation, which merely requires health claims on foodstuffs to be not misleading, is unsatisfactory? There should be a much stricter requirement to substantiate such claims.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I suspect that the answer may turn out to be "yes". However, we are reviewing the whole area in the course of the year and are examining all aspects and all possible improvements and changes. We expect to have drawn conclusions by the end of the year.

As the noble Lord may be aware, one particular brand of yoghurt is causing us concern. It has published claims that it reduces cholesterol because the ferment from which it is made is extracted from the bowels of 120 year-old Caucasian men. Those in the Ministry of Agriculture who are intrepid enough to have tried it report that it tastes as if it is made from extract from the bowels of 120 year-old Caucasian men. It occurs to us that if that health claim turns out to have foundation and there is profit to be made from the extract of old gentlemen, perhaps this House could have a brand name which is worth exploiting.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that consumers of food as a whole now need as much good advice as they ever did, and that supposed jokes concerning health warnings are confusing, besides being in very bad taste?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, in general, consumers should be entitled to have wording on food packets which is not confusing, which is unambiguous and which tells them what they want to know about what they are about to eat.