HL Deb 13 November 2003 vol 654 cc1568-70

3.16 p.m.

Lord Monro of Langholm asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether there are any plans by the European Union to ban the use of the descriptive term "yoghurt" as used in the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner)

My Lords, the European Commission issued a consultation document in October covering the composition and labelling of yoghurt and yoghurt-like products. The Food Standards Agency is consulting interested parties on the document and will seek to ensure that the interests of UK consumers are fully taken into account.

Lord Monro of Langholm

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his Answer. However, how come all the information in press reports suggests that yoghurt must now be labelled as "fermented milk pudding", which would be a disaster for the British dairy industry? I hope that the Government can squash that rumour forthwith.

Does the Minister agree that the farming industry is going through very difficult times? It still awaits good leadership on the common agricultural policy and how the grants system will work. The National Farmers' Union has not been consulted in enough detail on the host of orders coming out of Brussels. Farmers are finding the provisions difficult, expensive and time-consuming to implement. It is time that the Government began to help agriculture instead of sitting on top of it.

Lord Warner

My Lords, as I recall, the question was about yoghurt, which is what I proposed to respond to. The noble Lord may be aware that most of the yoghurt that we eat in this country is mild, using lactobacilli species other than the real McCoy, which is lactobacillus delbrueckii sub-species bulgaricus. Other countries who eat the real McCoy are very concerned that there should be no misleading labelling. Those countries are as entitled as this one to have their views considered by the Commission.

Lord Wright of Richmond

My Lords, can the Minister assure us that those plans will be reconsidered when, and if, Turkey joins the European Union?

Lord Warner

My Lords, I have no idea how long the consultation process on the Commission's document will take.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, if the word "yoghurt" is a misleading description, does the noble Lord not agree that "fermented milk pudding" is even worse and more misleading?

Lord Warner

My Lords, I have no idea whether we are going along the path of "fermented milk pudding", but I see nothing in this document to suggest that we are.

Baroness Barker

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is an important scientific point that live yoghurt has been demonstrated to have pro-biotic qualities and is important in the treatment of conditions such as candidiasis? It is therefore important that consumers have full knowledge and choice. Does he agree that if we do not go down that route it will not be long before we have on our supermarket shelves small pots labelled "I can't believe it's not milk"?

Lord Warner

My Lords, the noble: Baroness is exactly right. This issue is about the public not being misled by the labels on particular products. It is important that the public understand what they are eating.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, will not the Minister fight the corner of British producers to keep the name "yoghurt", which we all understand? Why have milk and milk chocolate been allowed to keep their names when people on the Continent view those products in a different light? Surely, what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

Lord Warner

My Lords, noble Lords on the Benches opposite seem to get rather excited when any document emanates from the Commission. There is no plan to drop the word "yoghurt". We are considering only whether there are problems with products being properly labelled. I am confident that the term "yoghurt" will survive whatever the outcome of the consultation. The question is whether any qualifying words should be added to make it clear to the public what is in the container.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the general public think that yoghurt is a healthy product? In view of the fact that one in three adults and one in four children are either overweight or obese, it is probably regarded as a good thing to eat yoghurt. However, there is a problem if it is labelled as fermented milk pudding because, by its nature, "pudding" means something that is fattening and not very good. The Government should resist any attempt, even if it does not come about, to ensure that we can still have our yoghurt.

Lord Warner

My Lords, the Government's policy is that people should pursue a healthy balanced diet— children included. I do not know where this argument about fermented milk pudding comes from. It is not part of the consultation in which the Food Standards Agency is involved.

Lord King of Bridgwater

My Lords, is the Minister aware that behind these problems is a serious issue. I was with a manufacturer of healthy bacilli yesterday. It is a growing UK industry and also has great benefits in animal husbandry. The manufacturer said that it is now quite impossible to trade with Europe because the degree of regulation and complication has made it impossible to carry on any active trade in that area at all.

Lord Warner

My Lords, I fundamentally disagree. This exercise it is about ensuring that consumers throughout Europe do not have misleading labels on their products.

Lord Monson

My Lords, the Minister has said that he does not know where the term fermented milk pudding comes from. I flew back on a British Airways flight from Lyons on Monday and at lunchtime I was served exactly that—fermented milk pudding. It splattered all over me, which tends to happen on planes because of pressurisation.

Lord Warner

My Lords, the fermented milk pudding eaters of this world should have their product properly labelled in the same way as consumers of yoghurt.