HC Deb 09 January 2001 vol 360 cc538-9W
Mrs. Ann Winterton

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on the Government's policy in respect of the regulation of imports of French beef into the United Kingdom. [142354]

Ms Stuart

[holding answer 21 December 2000]: I am advised on such matters by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which is responsible for food safety issues in Government.

So far as imports of beef from France are concerned, the FSA advice is that legally sold, imported beef, poses no greater risk than United Kingdom beef. To be sold legally, imported beef must comply with the Over-Thirty-Months (OTM) rule. In addition, specified risk material (specified risk material (SRM)—that with the highest risk of infection) must be removed from cattle. New EU wide controls on SRM were introduced from 1 October 2000.

In assessing the safety of imported meat, protecting the public is the FSA's number one priority. As such it applies the following principles: Advice is based on the best available evidence. As further information comes to light, the position is kept under review and revised advice will be issued whenever necessary. This is an active process—the FSA is constantly seeking out the latest scientific and other information. Action should be proportionate to the risk. Risk can never be totally eliminated—food is no different in this respect from other aspects of daily life. Where there is a risk that does not warrant banning, the FSA seeks to provide information and take action to enable consumer choice. Current advice on the safety of imported beef can be found on the FSA website at www.bsereview.org.uk. There should be full and vigorous enforcement of food law and regulations.

At the same time, the FSA recognises that individuals may wish to exercise personal preference to reduce as far as possible any risk that may be perceived from imported beef. It has therefore advised consumers that they should: Buy their meat from reputable sources Ask their supplier about the country of origin and source of the meat.

Mr. Yeo

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what investigatory powers the Food Standards Agency has in regard to imported food and, in particular, French beef. [144313]

Ms Stuart

[holding answer 8 January 2001]: Responsibility for enforcement action under the Food Safety Act 1990 and the Food Standards Act 1999 in respect of imported foods, and foods coming into the United Kingdom from other European member states is primarily the responsibility of local authorities and port health authorities.

The Food Standards Agency has a range of powers under the 1990 and 1999 Acts to oversee and influence this enforcement with a view to ensuring its effectiveness in terms of consumer protection. In exceptional circumstances the agency may be empowered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to discharge enforcement responsibilities normally undertaken by local authorities and port health authorities.

Acting on the advice of the Food Standards Agency, Health Ministers may also prohibit the importation or distribution to the food chain of imported foods likely to involve imminent risks to consumers. However, where the EU has legislated to govern trade in a particular foodstuff or food product, as it has done with meat and meat products, the UK Government's powers to restrict the movement of such goods within the single market are severely restricted.