HL Deb 20 April 1998 vol 588 cc182-4WA
Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the review of the arrangements for reporting surveys on residues in food has been completed. [HL1409]

Lord Donoughue

The Government are committed to informing the public about all food safety matters. Following the changes announced in July last year, we agreed to further improvements in the reporting of surveillance results. To continue to improve openness and information to consumers, the brand names of products tested in veterinary drug residue surveillance exercises will now be published on a regular basis.

The UK has in place a statutory national sampling and surveillance scheme to fulfil its Community obligations to monitor whether veterinary drug residues remain in animal products for human consumption in unacceptable concentrations. This, and a complementary non-statutory programme, is operated by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD). Under the programmes, some 35,000 samples will be collected in 1998 and subjected to around 50,000 analyses. The VMD reports the results of its surveillance quarterly in the Medicines Act Veterinary Information Service (MAVIS). This will continue and as much information as is available at the time of publication will be presented on positive results in this newsletter. Full information on these will then be presented in the VMD Annual Report on Surveillance for Veterinary Residues, published in July each year. Under the statutory scheme, however, certain information on results that may eventually be the subject of criminal prosecutions will not be able to be published until the necessary investigations have been completed. If, however, an issue of public health arises from a sample or group of samples, the results and any necessary consumer advice will be made public immediately. Under the non-statutory programme, the VMD has developed a special arrangement under which some retailers voluntarily provide a wide range of samples, selected by the VMD, with a complete audit trail. The rest of the programme collects samples under randomised arrangements. This strategy delivers significant efficiencies without compromising the consumer and the Government have decided that while the results of all samples provided under this scheme must be reported, the brand names of samples collected under the special voluntary arrangements will not. We shall, however, keep this issue under review.

Planned surveys for residues of veterinary drugs will continue to be announced in advance in MAVIS, as has been our practice for some years. However, the sheer scale of the programmes precludes releasing the brands to be sampled in advance. We are committed to giving consumers the maximum possible information on the presence of residues in food and will ensure that this is provided with appropriate advice on the public health significance of any results. Consumers will, therefore, be able to make a more informed choice about the food that they buy. We will, of course, make every effort to ensure the fairness of any tests and not seek to favour, or criticise, one manufacturer or source over another. We are confident that the results will continue to show that the incidence of veterinary drug residues from all sources in food is very low and poses no significant health risk to consumers.