§ Mr. Evelyn King
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will report progress on the scheme for monitoring a wide range of foods for heavy metals, especially mercury, which he announced in January.
§ Mr. Prior
The results available to date, from the monitoring by four laboratories, indicate that the total amount of mercury and methyl mercury, being ingested by consumers generally in this country from food, is at a low and safe level. This confirms the conclusions reached independently from earlier total diet studies.
Monitoring for mercury in various foods is continuing. Wheat flour, milk, certain vegetables, meat, some processed foods, and fish from both deep sea and coastal waters are among those being studied. On the advice of the Pharmacology Sub-Committee of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy, attention is also being directed to establish whether, within a reassuring national position, there could be some people whose eating habits expose them to higher levels of intake of mercury than had been found to exist generally. No evidence of harm to health has been found, but studies will continue.
The monitoring exercise for heavy metals in food is now being extended, on the advice of the Pharmacology Sub-Committee, to establish also the levels of lead and cadmium. As I informed the House at the beginning of the year, I shall publish a statement on the results of the monitoring at half-yearly intervals. The first report will appear in the autumn.