HL Deb 31 October 2001 vol 627 cc1412-4

2.58 p.m.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the work of the Food Standards Agency since its inception has been satisfactory.

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

My Lords, the Food Standards Agency was established to protect public health from risks which may arise in connection with the consumption of food, and otherwise to protect the interests of consumers in relation to food. We believe that the agency has made a good start in meeting those objectives.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, is he not as disappointed as I am that nothing has yet been forthcoming from the Food Standards Agency regarding the long-overdue regulations for nutritional labelling in a uniform manner of pre-packed food? Not only has that not come forth; but foodstuffs are still being imported from Europe with no nutritional information whatever, and in some cases without a single word of English on the label.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that we want to see progress made in food labelling to ensure that information is made available to the public so that they can see where the food comes from and what is contained in it. There is no disagreement on that point. The Food Standards Agency is very well taken with this task. It has been pressing for amendments in EU labelling rules, and will continue to do so.

Baroness Gale

My Lords, what is the outcome of the review of the Food Standards Agency task force on the burdens of food regulation on small businesses?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, as noble Lords will know, small businesses have complained of being excessively afflicted by the burden of regulation. The task force of the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, is examining that matter. As regards the Food Standards Agency's review, a task force was established with representation from small businesses. The latter stated that the requirements of food regulation do not of themselves impose a particularly onerous burden on small food businesses, but identified difficulties with aspects of the regulatory regime, particularly in relation to the requirements of the HACCP approach. It also identified problems with consistency of enforcement and access to information on changes in legislation. The FSA will work hard with local authorities to ensure that lessons are learnt, that the HACCP approach is developed in an effective and proportionate manner and that there is consistency of approach among all the local authorities concerned.

The Earl of Selborne

My Lords, does the Minister agree that in so far as food can move freely throughout the European Union it is important for the Food Standards Agency that uniform standards should apply throughout the rest of Europe? Is the Minister satisfied that the proposed European food safety authority will meet the same standards as those of our own agency?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, we certainly approve and support the establishment of the European FSA. We hope that its emphasis on risk assessment and on evidence-based information will lead to a consistency of approach throughout the European Union. Clearly, if food safety and the import of food are to be conducted properly within the EU a consistency of approach is important. As regards problems that have arisen with certain imports from other EU countries into this country, the FSA has pursued that matter vigorously with both the EU and the countries concerned.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that the FSA is doing enough to communicate with the public about its efforts to improve food safety?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, if the FSA is to be as successful as we wish it to be, it is clearly important that the public are able to access its information and its leaflets and are able to be involved in its policy making. In their response to the Phillips inquiry the Government gave an account of the FSA's activities, including that of question and answer sessions with public observers at each meeting of the board. The FSA has also held public stakeholder meetings. Its website is visited by 1,000 visitors a week and its BSE website had 2 million visitors in one year. The Government believe that the FSA has made a good start in engaging with the public, but clearly it needs to build on that because at the end of the day it is a matter of building public confidence in food in this country.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the FSA's survey of public attitudes revealed that health was high on their list of priorities and that safety was not as high as it had expected? Will he therefore encourage the FSA to focus on the diet of schoolchildren and to consider the provision of breakfast facilities to enable children to eat one proper meal, or at least some proper food before the start of the school day?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, the survey contained much valuable information and will be published annually. It informs the work of the FSA. As regards providing breakfast for schoolchildren, we are aware that many schoolchildren do not eat properly. We would encourage schools to provide not just bacon and eggs but perhaps more nutritional breakfasts as well.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that contact and consultation between the FSA and specialist NGOs in the field such as the British Nutrition Foundation have been adequate? I believe that my question rather neatly follows the previous two.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I should expect such consultation and communication to take place between the FSA and non-governmental organisations. They are essential stakeholders in the whole matter of food safety and public confidence. I shall certainly encourage the FSA to redouble its efforts in that direction.

Earl Russell

My Lords, is the question—

Noble Lords

Next Question.

The Clerk of the Parliaments

The Earl Russell.