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Beef on the Bone: SEAC Advice

Baroness Trumpington asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Donoughue: The Government published SEAC's advice in full on 3 December 1997. Copies are available in the Library of the House and on the MAFF Internet site.

Agriculture Ministers: Consultation with Farmers

Baroness Mallalieu asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Donoughue: We have arrangements for consulting formally with a wide range of interests, including farmers, on a wide range of issues. These will continue. Additionally, Ministers wish to be available and accessible to farmers, and to consumers and all those who use, live and work in the countryside on their regular regional visits. This is part of our new approach to create a more direct, open and accessible Ministry.

Vitamin and Mineral Supplements

Baroness Lestor of Eccles asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Donoughue: The Government are concerned about the potential adverse effects of high-dose vitamin and mineral supplements. In view of these concerns, the Minister of Public Health and my honourable friend the Minister of State of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have agreed that an ad hoc Expert Group should be established to consider the general principles on which maximum levels of vitamins and minerals in supplements sold under food law could be set. The Expert Group will review the available science, and recommend maximum levels for a range of nutrients if

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appropriate. The Expert Group may also wish to provide advice on the addition of vitamins and minerals to foods. It will report to the Food Advisory Committee (FAC), which will consider the group's findings and make recommendations to Ministers. The Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM) will also wish to consider the report as it may have implications for the way that medicinal products containing vitamins and minerals are licensed. The conclusions of the review will also be used to inform any discussions in Brussels on the possible harmonisation of controls on food supplements and on fortified foods.

The Expert Group will comprise a number of experts from the Committee of Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy (COMA); the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT); CSM and FAC.

In order to ensure transparency in the process, an observer from each of the main interest groups--the health food industry, the food industry, complementary medicine interests and consumer organisations--will be invited to meetings of the Expert Group. Interested parties will also be given the opportunity to make written submissions to the Expert Group. It is expected that the Expert Group will take 18 months to two years to complete its task.

The establishment of this Expert Group will not affect the decision to introduce legislation to control the maximum level of Vitamin B6 allowed in dietary supplements.

Agriculture Council, 15-16 December

Lord Williams of Elvel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the Agriculture Council held in Brussels on 15 to 16 December.

Lord Donoughue: My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and I represented the United Kingdom at the meeting of the European Union Council of Agriculture Ministers in Brussels on 15 and 16 December.

My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food informed our ministerial colleagues of developments in relation to BSE, in particular my decision to ban from 1 January 1998 the import into the United Kingdom of meat from which the specified risk material had not been removed. This decision had been taken in the light of the postponement for three months of an EU-wide ban on such material. He also informed the Council of the prohibition which he had announced on 3 December in relation to the marketing of bone-in-beef in the light of the scientific evidence which he had received from SEAC.

The Council considered and reached agreement on two animal welfare measures: one attaching welfare conditions to the payment of export refunds, which was adopted unanimously, the other laying down standards for vehicles used for the transport of animals. The latter was agreed in principle by qualified majority. My right

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honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, with our Swedish and Danish colleagues, was unable to support the measure on the grounds that the standards of animal protection would be insufficiently high, and difficult to police. Detailed texts implementing this agreement will be considered early in the United Kingdom Presidency.

The Council discussed at some length a Commission report on the impact of third country trade agreements on the EU's Mediterranean producers. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food insisted that, in drawing conclusions on this matter, the Council should have available to it an assessment of the trade benefits of such agreements to the EU as well as the impact on EU producers. The Council also considered a report from the Commission on progress in the negotiations on a veterinary equivalence agreement with the US. It noted that, although the conditions were not yet right for concluding that agreement, the Commission should continue its negotiations with a view to reaching a satisfactory conclusion as soon as possible in the new year.

Amongst other matters discussed and agreed at the Council were measures on the granting of national aid to sugar beet producers in Portugal (Italy voting against) an extension of the temporary derogations for imports of wine from the US (Portugal voting against); rules governing veterinary checks on products entering the EU from third countries (by unanimity); and a proposal consolidating the drinking milk regulation (Greece and Denmark voting against).

The Irish Minister raised in the Council his Government's concerns over the recent interruptions to trade between the UK and the Republic of Ireland as a result of UK farmers' protests at ports; but he emphasised the close co-operation which exists between the two governments in seeking to resolve this matter. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food stressed the absolute commitment of the Government to maintaining the rule of law and our intention to do everything necessary to allow the unimpeded movement of goods within the EU single market.

Animal Product Imports: Imposition of Controls

The Earl of Haddington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Donoughue on 21 July (WA 148) why they did not immediately implement a ban on the importation of all fresh meat and meat products that failed to come up to the required British standards on or before that date.

Lord Donoughue: On 30 July the Commission adopted Decision 97/534/EC introducing Community-wide controls on the use and disposal of Specified Risk Material (SRM) with effect from 1 January 1998. This Decision addressed the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee

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(SEAC) recommendations to government by introducing Community-wide controls. When it became clear, in December, that the implementation of the Decision would need to be deferred because of its effect on the availability of certain medical and pharmaceutical products, the Government decided to introduce national measures requiring certain imported animal products for food and feed to be accompanied by official certification confirming that they do not contain and were not derived from SRM. These measures came into force on 1 January 1998.

Beef Imports: Controls

Lord Hooson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to extend the ban on the importation of beef from the European Community to the importation of beef from each of North America, Australia, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, New Zealand, Botswana, Kenya, Madagascar, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and any other non-EC country; and whether they are satisfied that each of these sources of beef supply satisfies in its slaughtering, breeding and health arrangements the standards laid down by the Government for the beef produced domestically.

Lord Donoughue: There is no ban on the importation of beef from the European Community. The United Kingdom's new controls on Specified Risk Materials (SRM) require certain imported animal products for food or feed use to be accompanied by additional certification confirming that they are free of SRM. This requirement applies to imports from all EU and non-EU countries other than Australia and New Zealand.

More generally, all fresh meat produced in, and imported into, the UK, whether from other EU Member States or third countries, must have been produced in accordance with harmonised Community rules as laid down in Council Directive 64/433/EEC.

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