HL Deb 26 March 1990 vol 517 cc722-3WA
Lord Colnbrook

asked Her Majesty's Government: What action they have taken to protect consumers following the recent importation of lead-contaminated animal feedingstuffs.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Trumpington)

As soon as there was clear evidence of a possible threat to the safety of food supplies, the Government imposed strict statutory controls to protect consumers under Part I of the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985.

Two thousand and eighty-five tonnes of lead-contaminated maize gluten replacer pellets were imported, of which 730 tonnes were distributed and incorporated into 7,400 tonnes of commercial animal feed rations. My department had the task of tracing all this imported material through the complex chain of importers, compounders, merchants and agents, of informing all recipients, implementing the necessary controls and supervising the withdrawal and disposal of contaminated feed. In all, some 2,100 farms in England and Wales were found to have received varying amounts of lead-contaminated feedingstuffs, including 1,062 dairy farms.

All milk produced on these farms was collected separately and used to manufacture powdered milk and butter, which were stored pending full scientific analysis. In addition, an intensive sampling programme for ex-farm liquid milk was organised, in conjunction with the Milk Marketing Board, in order to enable restrictions to be lifted from individual farms as soon as lead levels were confirmed to have fallen below the limit set by the Department of Health. A total of nearly 14,000 individual milk samples were taken and, by 13th December, milk restrictions were lifted from all farms.

Three livestock release schemes were introduced, two of which required the taking and analysing of blood samples from the animals concerned. During the 11 weeks for which these schemes were in operation, 20 complete farms were released from all restrictions under Scheme I, 116,000 animals were released under Scheme II and 7,000 animals under Scheme III. Twenty-two thousand blood samples were analysed.

A number of scientific research and monitoring programmes were set up at snort notice to elucidate the behaviour of lead in livestock and foods of various types and to monitor the decline in lead levels once all the contaminated feed had been removed. In the light of the information obtained, all the remaining livestock movement and slaughter restrictions were lifted on 12th February.

As a result of the firm action taken by the Government, together with the painstaking work undertaken by officials in the various government departments and outside organisations involved, and with the constructive co-operation of the vast majority of farmers and traders, I believe the Government have been able to ensure the full protection of consumers, and to preserve justifiable confidence in British agricultural produce, both at home and overseas.