HC Deb 25 January 1978 vol 942 cc661-2W
Mr. John Moore

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services (1) what steps have been taken to trace the complete batch of under-processed Australian corned beef that was discovered in December 1973; what procedure is followed to inform local authorities, without delay, when further consignments of the meat are found to be on the market; and why, until November 1977, consignments of this meat were still finding their way on to the market;

(2) why it has taken so long to trace the complete batch of under-processed Australian corned beef, that was first discovered in December 1973; and what steps have been taken in this regard.

Mr. Moyle

Only a small proportion of the batch was under processed but the cans in question could not be separately identified. When spoilage was first detected in this meat, the importers cooperated fully with my Department and that of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, giving details of the disposition of all stocks in this country. Since then, parts of the consignment have changed ownership and been moved several times. This has hampered control, because there is no legal obligation on owners to keep my Department informed of such changes. Nevertheless, the whereabouts of all but a small amount of the stock are still known.

Under the present law, my Department has no power to require the safe disposal of the meat. Where negotiations with the owners have failed to prevent small quantities of the meat from finding their way on to the market for human consumption, my Department has appropriately informed local authorities and has issued public warnings. Legal powers to prevent the sale of the meat for human consumption are vested in local authorities. In some cases where legal proceedings have been taken, officers of my Department have assisted by giving expert evidence.

I am glad to say that no reports have been received of food poisoning attributable to this meat. Stocks are steadily being disposed of, and, since November 1977, the pace of that disposal has increased.

The lessons learned from this episode will be taken fully into account in the review of the Food and Drugs Act announced by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 15th November 1977.—[Vol. 939, c. 151.]