HC Deb 08 March 1996 vol 273 c393W
Mr. Bellingham

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the current status of negotiations on the European Commission proposals on nitrate in vegetables. [20381]

Mr. Douglas Hogg

The draft Commission regulation on nitrate in lettuce and spinach was discussed at the European Commission's Standing Committee for Foodstuffs on 20 February. During those discussions the United Kingdom indicated that it would, reluctantly, support the Commission's latest proposal—Doc VI/3080/93 Rev 7.

The UK objects to the principle of this legislation, deeming it unnecessary and lacking in scientific justification. However, there is considerable weight of opinion across the EU for various reasons in favour of legislation in this area. For this reason we have been negotiating with the Commission for a number of years to secure an arrangement that is satisfactory for UK interests and that will allow our growers to harvest and market their excellent and healthy produce. As a result of our pressure, allied to considerable assistance from the NFU and growers, we have secured significant concessions from the Commission which will enable British growers to continue production.

I have taken the view that these hard fought gains should not be put at risk by continuing to oppose the Commission, particularly given the uncertainty over the voting intentions of other member states. I believe that the current proposal represents the best possible outcome for the UK given the determination of the Commission and other member states to introduce legislation in this area. However, we made it clear that we would not countenance any diminution of the considerable concessions that we have secured to date. We will maintain this negotiating position until the regulation is formally adopted.

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