HC Deb 25 July 1988 vol 138 cc94-5W
Mr. Shersby

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what information he has concerning the views of the London Food Commission on standards of food production in Britain; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Donald Thompson

The Government's aim has always been that there should be a plentiful and varied supply of good quality, unadulterated, enjoyable food available to consumers at affordable prices. I do not see any case for a separate department to handle food issues. We already have a Minister for Food who combines those responsibilities with those for agriculture and for fisheries thus uniting the whole food chain from producer to consumer.

It is an offence under the food Acts to render any food injurious to health. Comprehensive regulations existing under the Acts provide for proper hygiene in the preparation, handling or selling of food. In addition a number of cases of food poisoning arise from, lack of knowledge of appropriate handling procedures in domestic kitchens; the Government and others are in the process of developing publicity campaigns designed to provide advice in this area. Enforcement of food law is vigorously pursued by local authorities; each authority deploys its resources in this field to the extent and in the manner that best suits local circumstances. Ministers are also already required by the Acts to restrict as far as practicable the use in foods of substances of no nutritional value. We are however always prepared to examine ways of improving or simplifying the food laws when circumstances suggest it is necessary.

The food Acts require that Ministers consult with representatives of interested parties on draft regulations before these are made and laid before Parliament. Where those proposed regulations arise from advice we have received from our independent expert committees, that advice is published and public comment invited on it before any regulations are drafted. The published advice carries references to the key information the experts have considered in assembling the advice and we endeavour to ensure as far as practicable that the data which is the subject of those references is available for consultation by interested members of the public. There is distinct practical advantage in continuing the present practice of the working sessions of these committees being private, with committees free to take advice from whatever sources they consider appropriate.

The Government currently spend nearly £8 million per annum on research and monitoring of food safety and quality. These resources are targeted at problem areas rather than being spread over areas where no difficulties are known to exist.

We are required under the Agriculture Act 1986 to seek to achieve a reasonable balance between agriculture and conservation and a range of measures have been introduced to encourage farmers to protect and enhance the environment. This is another good reason why it is sensible to link ministerial responsibilities for agriculture and food.

The harmonisation of food laws in the European Community (as part of the move to the single market by 1992) is to be done on the basis of the protection of public health, the maintenance of food safety, and the provision of adequate consumer information. Thus there will continue to be high standards of control whilst removing barriers to trade and avoiding undue burdens on business. On a world wide basis, the United Kingdom plays a prominent and active role in the development of the Codex Alimentarius (the FAO/WHO World Food standards programme) which is available to developing countries to form the basis of their own food law and consumer protection programmes.

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