HL Deb 05 March 2001 vol 623 cc4-5

2.42 p.m.

Lord Tebbit

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether German beef imported as carcasses may lawfully be described as British produce after it has been processed into minced beef, pies, beefburgers or other prepared foods.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath)

My Lords, I shall try to be brief! No. Minced beef may be lawfully described as "British" only if it has been slaughtered in the United Kingdom. More general rules apply to beef products like pies. These prohibit food labelling likely to mislead consumers about a food's true nature, substance or quality.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that most helpful reply. Does that rule apply also to sides of Danish bacon cut into rashers in this country?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I should have preferred to have some notice of that very good question. In my Answer I referred to beef products. With regard to meat such as lamb and pork or bacon, the situation is different. There is no requirement to give the details to which I referred in relation to beef. The Government want to see an extension to other meats of the beef labelling regime. The chairman of the Food Standards Agency has communicated with the commissioner within the EU who is concerned with these matters to urge that that is done. I agree with the implication of the noble Lord's question. We need implementation as fully as possible. The rules should not relate only to beef products.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, should carcasses be asked which cricket team they support?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I imagine that they would all support Warwickshire.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, perhaps I may ask a question which is in the minds of many people. During the past week or so we have heard that five carcasses containing spinal materials have been imported from Germany. Can the Minister explain why the Germans are allowed to refuse to import British beef, which is now clean and healthy, whereas we continue to import German beef?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I think that it is France, not Germany, which has refused to import British beef. In relation to France, we have complained to the European Union and action is being taken against the French Government.

We have taken vigorous action as regards the SRM contamination found on consignments of beef imported from Germany since New Year's Day. It is the responsibility of the authorities in Germany and the Netherlands to ensure that SRM is properly removed. We have taken up matters with the European Commission and the German national authorities. The Meat Hygiene Service was instructed to check all consignments of German carcass beef arriving at licensed British meat plants. We have asked local authorities to step up their own inspection duties.

Lord Monro of Langholm

My Lords, I speak as a farmer who has not been near a farm for weeks. Whatever the trade agreements, why are the Government so reticent about preventing the import of beef from countries outside the European Union where foot and mouth disease is endemic? The Government have taken the right domestic steps in relation to foot and mouth disease, but farmers will not feel confident about the future until imports of beef or lamb from countries where foot and mouth disease is endemic are banned.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I understand that EU certification rules require freedom from foot and mouth disease in a country or region before meat from susceptible animals can be imported into the EU. Consignments of meat from third countries entering the EU are subject to checks at border inspection posts.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, have the Government considered imposing a temporary ban on meat coming from Germany until Germany adheres to the regulations? If not, will the Government consider doing so now?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, no, we have taken up most vigorously with the EU and the German authorities the need for the German authorities to take the appropriate action. I have no reason to believe that that is not the appropriate way to proceed. We continue to be as vigilant as we possibly can be. If there are any further cases—I hope that there will be none—we shall take up those matters with the German authorities and the commissioner.

Lord Watson of Richmond

My Lords, in order to clarify the matter, can the Minister confirm or deny that products are still entering the United Kingdom from countries outside the EU in which foot and mouth disease is endemic?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, no, I do not believe that that has happened with regard to legal imports.