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Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I add my congratulations to the Minister on her promotion to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which is well deserved. Over the past year I have debated health matters with the Minister. However, every silver lining has a cloud and I afraid that she has to put up with yet another speech from me in the course of this debate. I also look forward to the Committee stage in which I shall play a full part.
I regret that because of the timing of today's debate my noble friend Lord Thurso, the food spokesman on these Benches, cannot be present. He sends his apologies to the House. We on these Benches give a broad, general welcome to the Bill in a number of major respects: in its aim to provide proper protection for the public; its recognition of the inherent conflict of interest faced by MAFF on food matters and, I must say, its rather undistinguished track record on food safety matters; and its giving proper auditing and monitoring powers to the new agency while retaining the key enforcement powers of local authorities. We welcome the requirement in the Bill for a publicly available statement of the agency's general objectives and practices and its establishment of the agency initially on a UK basis while allowing the flexibility to devolve if there is a desire to do so. We also greatly welcome the process of introduction of the Bill which has allowed a great number of different viewpoints to be aired, if not necessarily accepted.
The key objective of the Bill, however, must be to restore public confidence. That is the main test by which the Bill needs to be judged. In that light we on these Benches are concerned that the agency will not be truly independent but will report to a single government department. In our view it should be responsible--as is the Audit Commission--to a parliamentary Select Committee.
We welcome the change of heart on funding as a result of the consultations on the draft Bill. We are concerned, however, that in some ways the agency's responsibilities may not be drawn widely enough. The agency's responsibilities do not appear to extend from plough to plate or from plough to fork--the expression, I believe, used by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. I am sure that we all have our different versions of that expression and I am sure that they are all colourful--as the James Committee recommended. And why not?
Although it could be argued that labelling is included under the heading of protecting consumer interests in relation to food under Clauses 1 and 6, it is not clear that the agency's responsibilities will go further than the food safety aspects. Anyone who has read Sue Dibbs' recent book What the Label Doesn't Tell You, will have realised the strong need for sense to be introduced into labelling. There is, for instance, a world of difference between "strawberry flavour" and "strawberry flavoured", or spring water and mineral water for that matter. The world of egg labelling is probably the most arcane. I wonder how many of your Lordships could tell me the difference between farm fresh eggs--I dare say the noble Lord, Lord Carter, could--country fresh eggs, barn eggs and free range eggs and give me precise definitions. I certainly could not until I read the book I have mentioned.
The agency will have a considerable influence over the use of antibiotics in feedingstuffs for animals under Clause 9. Why should it not also have that influence in relation to veterinary medicines and pesticides which also have a potential considerable impact on health and food safety? On the other hand, there are areas which may be a bridge too far. Why does the agency need to take over the Meat Hygiene Service? As the Minister mentioned, there is considerable opposition to that and indeed the pre-legislative Food Standards Committee recommended that it and the agency should operate separately. As a matter of principle we on these Benches have considerable doubts about the existence of a self-financing agency in the realm of public safety. This in itself could be a recipe for over-regulation.
We also believe that there are considerable dangers in the reserve direct enforcement powers given to the agency. Is there any intention in the future to create a centralised enforcement service? As the Bill is currently written, there is a danger that at some stage that could come about. We would be vehemently opposed to such a development since we believe that it would be a recipe for burdensome and disproportionate enforcement.
As a separate matter, we also believe that members of the board that will run the agency should be genuinely independent of conflicting interests, and that the Bill is not prescriptive enough in that respect. It is, of course, necessary to have the right expertise and experience, but this does not necessarily mean that members should or could be in current employment with, or consultants to, the food industry.
Many issues of key importance seem not to be enshrined in the primary legislation but to depend on assurances from Ministers or on practices to be adopted by the agency. First, there is the whole question of communication of risk. What is the definition of "safe",
Secondly, will the precautionary principle in general be followed in the agency's operation? We know to our cost with BSE that this is the test that should be followed. Should it not be enshrined in the legislation? Thirdly, will the agency have adequate research resources, particularly in its first few years? How much will they amount to?
Fourthly, for those of us who are passionate about food safety the aspect of freedom of information is a vital ingredient. We therefore welcome Clause 19 in so far as it enjoins the agency to weigh up the public interest in disclosure, but it is not yet clear what the application of the freedom of information Bill in this area will be. The two Select Committees that reported yesterday clearly do not believe that that Bill goes far enough. We agree. The test for non-disclosure should at least amount to substantial prejudice. As the Bill is currently drafted, too much can also be withheld on grounds of commercial confidence. This has too often been prayed in aid on food matters. It is not yet clear what the agency's practice will be. We were assured by the Minister that there would be a presumption of openness in its dealings. Why should not this be enshrined in the primary legislation?
Your Lordships may recall Sir Donald Acheson, a former CMO, telling the BSE inquiry that information about the possible BSE contamination of medical products, such as vaccines, had been withheld from him while he was Chief Medical Officer because of secrecy imposed by the present medicines legislation. We should not allow this dangerous type of secrecy to continue, whether as a result of this Bill or the freedom of information legislation.
Fifthly, there were other points made in Sir Donald's very telling and revealing evidence during that inquiry, notably about the pressures he came under from MAFF to make statements assuring the public of the safety of British beef. Who will make such statements in the future? Will the agency have the right to make public statements on food safety matters without reference to Ministers?
Sixthly, will the agency co-ordinate effectively with the Department of Health and other departments, such as MAFF, and the new commissions which deal with GM food, for which it does not have direct responsibility? As the Minister says, this will be done by means of administrative concordats, and we
Seventhly, we on these Benches are very concerned to see a balance between the needs of the consumer and the interests of the small producer. As the Soil Association put it to me, there is a difference between hygiene purely for its own sake and food safety. If the agency enforces hygiene at all costs, without any distinction between harmful and non-harmful bacteria, or evidence of harm from natural and traditional methods of food manufacture, our small producers will be wiped out.
The Ducket's Cheese case, raised by my honourable friend Paul Tyler in another place, rings a number of alarm bells in this respect. In that case, after a single instance of E.coli was associated with a single batch of Tornegus cheese, Department of Health officials, not the local environmental health officers, impounded and destroyed the entire stock of cheese held by a maturer, Eastside Cheese, despite the fact that it was from an entirely different batch or batches and that no sample taken showed the presence of E.coli. The stock represented 7 tonnes of cheese valued at £50,000. The seizure effectively destroyed Eastside Cheese's business.
The health officials relied on a special emergency control order made under the 1990 Food Safety Act. This enables the department to put a nationwide ban on a product, even if there is nothing wrong with it, and there is no obligation to provide compensation. Despite the fact that the Court of Appeal decided that it was not an improper use of the order, there is no doubt that originally the orders were meant to deal with major national food poisoning emergencies, not that type of case. Will the agency take the Ducket's case as a precedent? It appears that the making of emergency control orders will continue in general to be a matter for the Department of Health. But in what circumstances will the agency be seeking them?
There are also on these Benches considerable worries about the way in which the Meat Hygiene Service is operating, to the detriment of low-throughput slaughter houses. The current regime appears to be operating to prevent local small-scale production and sale and the growth of organically produced meat production in the UK. What we on these Benches are seeking is proportionality in the way in which the agency operates, so that regulations do not bear disproportionately on small producers. Indeed, we want the agency's operation actively to encourage sustainable agriculture in this country. At the end of the day, therefore, how the agency interprets Clause 23, which attempts to set out how it will use its powers, is crucial.
In many parts of the country there is the promise of a renaissance in small producers, particularly in the production of dairy products such as cheese, ice cream and yoghurt. With inappropriate regulation by the agency, this renaissance risks being snuffed out. Let us learn the real lesson from the BSE crisis: it is intensive agriculture which causes the greatest risks, not small-scale, local, traditional production methods.
In closing, I should like to wish the previous Minister in this House, the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, well in what he quaintly describes as retirement, having held a very difficult portfolio at a crucial time. He was--as I observed on many occasions--one of the very few Ministers with the enviable knack of not appearing to need prompting by notes at the Dispatch Box. Whether that was because he memorised the brief or because he disagreed with it and made it up as he went along, history does not relate.
We look forward to the Committee stage in October, when I am sure we shall come back suitably refreshed. We on these Benches will move amendments to reflect the concerns we have expressed, are expressing and will express. Having experienced the Minister's handling of the Health Bill, I have every confidence that this will be a very constructive process.
Lord Desai: My Lords, I join in congratulating my noble friend Lady Hayman on the new burden that she has on her shoulders. I am sure that she will deal with it more than adequately, if not brilliantly.
The Bill before us is one on which we all have to declare an interest. We all eat, some of us cook and a few of us shop, so we are all likely to be affected by the Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said, the British public expect a great deal from the food standards agency. I do not know how the agency can meet all the expectations of it. Indeed, I note from the two speeches we have heard from the Opposition Benches that all sorts of additional burdens will be placed on the agency if the Opposition are given half a chance. Whoever drafted the Bill at least took care not to overburden the agency.
I want to concentrate on two aspects of the Bill. First, it is clear that food, which used not to be a matter for newspaper headlines, has become a perpetual news item, and the question of food safety has risen to very near the top of public priorities. Earlier this month, on 5th July, Time magazine, no less, had a cover story on food, entitled "Hard to swallow".
In my view the problem is twofold. It is a scientific question as to how food is prepared and how it is cooked. But more than that, I believe that the question of risk is no longer just a matter of natural science or statistics. It is a matter of perception. Unless we understand the way in which people think about risk, the problem of perception will no longer be manageable using the older sciences of statistics and natural science. Now it concerns what one might call public psychology or anthropology. Unless those methods are employed, we will not be able to understand what the agency needs to do.
It is no good telling people that eating beef on the bone carries less risk than crossing the road. They do not want to hear that. Food is ingested and people do not understand what happens inside their bodies when
Thus, what may be only a small risk in actuarial or statistical terms may be a very big risk so far as the public is concerned. For that reason, it may be necessary to take a course of action which in retrospect looks drastic--but then all actions in retrospect have different probabilities. I very much take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, when he spoke about the case of the cheese manufacturer. I do not know the details so I cannot judge, but had that cheese scare grown from just one incident to 10 or more, public perception along the lines of, "Why did the Government not do anything about the cheese?", would have been intense. Where to draw the line is a delicate matter. I believe that not only must the agency consult both the hard scientists and the soft scientists, but it must also use a little common sense. It is in that area that it will have its work cut out for it.
I should like to say a little about transparency. I welcome Clause 25(1), which the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, did not like. The way I read it, it says that material normally not released under the freedom of information Bill will now be allowed to be released because the food standards agency will be a different kind of animal. The Government have said that it will be a different kind of animal because it will have a policy of much more openness and transparency. The agency will not involve itself in secrecy. I very much welcome that, when we remember how much public outcry was caused by lack of information from the Child Support Agency some years ago. Add to that the concern held about child abuse, it is clear that the food standards agency will have a compound of such major problems at its own door.
Now that people can identify a single agency, they will want to be able to contact it, sometimes in the middle of the night to say something like, "Why do you think the cheese I ate earlier was bad for me?". At all times and around the clock, the agency will have to be accessible by electronic media and other means. It will not have the freedom of saying, "Well, we know what's wrong but we cannot tell you because it is a secret". For that reason, I welcome Clause 25(1) because people will feel that although the agency may be only remotely concerned with a food safety question, it will be the one agency that will look after them.
I wish the new agency well. I would say also that this fulfils a manifesto commitment on a matter that is very important to the British public, and I am glad that the Government have taken this course of action.
The Earl of Selborne: My Lords, I declare one or two interests. First, I am a farmer, and I may possibly be what the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, would call an "intensive" farmer. I shall return to that matter. Secondly, I have a farm shop and in that sense I am a small producer. Furthermore, I was president of the Royal Institute of Public Health and Hygiene, and for that reason I very much wish to speak on public health and hygiene and how those issues are relevant to the Bill. In addition, although it may sound irrelevant, I am chairman of the Rank Prize Fund which gives awards to scientific research on human and animal nutrition.
I am sure that everyone who is to speak in this debate welcomes the concept of the Bill, but perhaps not all its detail. It is to be welcomed because whether one is a producer, a large farmer or a small farmer, everyone has an interest in restoring public confidence in our food. The fact that public confidence has drained away over the past few years has been in a sense economically disastrous for food producers, food processors and caterers. Anything that can be done to restore confidence and to demonstrate that an independent body can determine standards, whether voluntary or statutory, is welcome.
I shall deal with the point which was thrown in rather gratuitously by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, about intensive agriculture and the small producer. That is the kind of shorthand thinking that I find so irritating. What evidence is there that if you are a large farmer, you are more likely to cause a health problem than is a small farmer? Did BSE affect only large farmers? Did salmonella attack only large flocks? The point is not relevant and we should not be forced to attribute blame on large or intensive producers. The word "intensive" is itself now very emotive, suggesting that if someone is trying to compete on an international scale, he is somehow reprehensible and the cause of all the problems. I hope that the new food standards agency will be able to stop such shorthand thinking, and the apportioning of blame and labels that short-circuit what should be a sensible collection of data.
If I did not say that I am an apple grower, I had better say so now. I remember well the Alar scare some years ago, as perhaps will some noble Lords. Recalling some of the scares over the past few years, there is a danger of sounding complacent when saying, "You don't have to worry because it all comes down to a misinterpretation of the data". However, it must be recognised that many of the scares have been well founded on some extremely worrying incidents; for example, the E.coli outbreak in Scotland and the like.
However, Alar was a different order of scare. Someone on the west coast of America reinterpreted the data on what might be an unwise level of apple juice consumption for children. Because they drink more and are smaller, the prescribed level of consumption was
A disastrous economic situation had arisen because of the inability of any independent agency to put a stop to the scare and discuss sensibly risk assessment and what exactly had happened. So there can be devastating economic consequences for those who are only innocently standing to one side. That can and should be dealt with by an agency that can command the respect of the wider public. Much can be done to help all the links in the food chain to work together co-operatively.
We have heard about the importance of traceability. It is essential. Supermarkets in this country deserve credit for putting in place protocols which have helped consumers to be able, if they so wish, to trace the product right back to the farm. As a producer selling to the supermarkets, I welcome that enormously. But I hope that, in the pursuit of independence, which is highly desirable, the food standards agency will not be cut off from expertise. Technical advances, which allow a bag of apples to be traced right back to the orchard, let alone the farm, are important. The food standards agency needs to be informed about such technology and expertise. It will need people from the supermarkets and the food sector, as well as, of course, from the public interest sector, to participate in its deliberations. It is a little patronising to think that because someone has either been funded by the industry to carry out research or has worked in the industry, he cannot assume the mantle of public interest when appropriate. I hope that we are not too rigid in requiring the total and utter independence of any sector. Indeed, as we are all consumers, how can we all be independent?
I listened carefully to what the Minister said about the interest which the agency will have in nutrition. It will lead in the dissemination of information. That is important. I hope that it will do more than that. If the agency is to straddle enforcement, the dissemination of good advice and the encouragement of best practice and voluntary standards, which may be much higher than the minimum standards, it is important that it takes as wide a brief as possible on nutrition. That could include commissioning research. It certainly will include carrying out a study of the research on nutrition in as wide an area as possible.
I sometimes wonder whether we concentrate too much on the notable and extreme cases of food safety scares--in practice, there are a relatively small number of food poisoning cases, serious though they are--when the real danger from the ingestion of food, perhaps in the long run, is coronary disease and heart attacks. One certainly should not be using the stick of regulation to tackle those issues, but, my goodness, one certainly
I listened carefully to the Minister's observation that the agency's £25 million budget for research will be spent in a way that will complement the work of the agriculture department, the research councils and other publicly funded research organisations. It is a great mistake to think that one can draw a line and say that research is the responsibility of the food standards agency up to a certain point and then becomes the responsibility of the health department. The truth of the matter is that the more fundamental or strategic the research, the more absurd it is to compartmentalise it. Having gone to the trouble of setting up the agency, I hope that, as far as concerns research, a co-ordinating committee will bring together the funders of research in different areas to ensure seamless funding of research.
I share the concern of other noble Lords that the fixation with enforcement and regulation, which are essential, will in some way inhibit the ability of the food standards agency to win friends and influence people and to advance the debate. There is no doubt that small farm shopkeepers, or small farmers like myself, and the supermarkets are extremely keen to participate in a debate which encourages people's natural interest in the source and quality of their food products. I have an open day on my farm each October which attracts more than 6,000 people. They are fascinated to see what is going on on the farm. They want to hear about it. They want to hear about the problems and the dangers as well as about its attributes.
We are all in the business of trying to promote an interest in these issues. The food standards agency could do that perhaps better than any other organisation. I hope that it does not allow itself to be dragged further and further into regulation when it could, and probably should, delegate so much of the regulation to the local authorities, which are still there and are well capable of undertaking that role. The food standards agency could still exercise the right to determine whether the environmental health officers or other local government employees were fulfilling their role adequately. It could ensure that training was adequate and that standards were uniform and, ultimately, that the local authorities were fulfilling their functions properly. But it would be a pity if the food standards agency decided that only it could take over those roles. I am sure that it would be possible to move the functions on to other agencies. If the food standards agency is identified more and more with regulation and the whip, the opportunity to influence by example and by disseminating best practice may well suffer.
Lord Rea: My Lords, I very much hope that my noble friend will take full account of the wise words of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. I particularly agree with him on the importance of research into nutrition, but he had many other important points to make as well. I join other noble Lords in congratulating the Government on including the Bill in this Session's legislative programme and welcoming my noble friend to her new elevated role. At the same time, I express regret that the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, is stepping down from the Front Bench. I think we would all agree that in that position he was a masterly performer.
As well as congratulating the Government on bringing forward the Bill, I have as an aside to express regret that part of the price for including the Bill this year has been the acceptance of that dog's breakfast, the Weatherill amendment to the House of Lords Bill, which was intended to smooth its passage but which to my mind breaches the spirit of the Government's pledge to the electorate to remove the hereditary Peers. But having got that off my chest, I should like to say how good it was that time, even if limited, was found in another place for pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill by an ad hoc Select Committee. We will want to see that pattern developed further. I hope that there will be joint committees of both Houses, as we are now seeing with the Local Government Bill. The Select Committee report has enabled me to learn more about the Government's thinking, both from their evidence and in their reply presented last month.
Like the medically qualified Members of another place who were on the Select Committee or the Standing Committee, I want to focus--an over-used word these days; perhaps I should say concentrate--on the food standards agency's role in nutrition rather than microbiological safety. The original draftsman of the food standards agency, Professor Philip James, has always felt that nutrition is equally if not more important than food safety. All health professionals are fully aware of the high level of food poisoning in the United Kingdom and the recent worrying emergence of new variant CJD, and applaud the role that the food standards agency as an independent agency will be able to play in attacking this, in its "plough to plate", or "farm to fork" approach.
But food-borne infective disease accounts for only a very small proportion of deaths and chronic disability in all developed countries, and the United Kingdom is no exception. Most deaths, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, pointed out, are due to cardiovascular disease, which includes coronary heart disease and stroke, or to cancer. All noble Lords who are speaking in the debate will, I hope, have received a summarised briefing from the National Heart Forum. Here I should declare an interest as I was vice-chairman of that organisation for some years and remain on its executive committee. Also relevant perhaps is the fact that I am chair of the all-party Food and Health Forum. I should like to transmit the apologies of another member of that group, the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, who has another engagement which prevents him taking part in today's debate.
In 1997, the Official (National Office of Statistics) Mortality Data indicated that there were 384 deaths from infective intestinal infections, of which only about a quarter were due to preventable food poisoning--which runs at an average of some 74 deaths per year. Interestingly, of the deaths from infective intestinal infections, 72 per cent were people over 75. Those who followed the E.coli story in Scotland will remember that it was mostly old people who were affected.
There are, of course, more than 100,000 reported episodes of unpleasant short illnesses due to food poisoning each year, and many more which are not reported. Most are short-lived and self-limiting. However, in 1997 there were some 122,000 deaths from coronary heart disease (only 62 per cent of those were of people over 75); 57,000 from stroke (76 per cent over 75); and 139,000 from cancer (of which only 46 per cent were over 75 years old). Deaths from intestinal infections constitute 0.12 per cent of the deaths from the other causes that I have mentioned. An even greater number of people are chronically disabled by those serious conditions.
It is now accepted by the World Health Organisation, and by clinicians, scientists and public health specialists throughout the world that the basic mechanism of atherosclerosis, which underlies both coronary heart disease and stroke, is related to diet and nutrition. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, mentioned Japan where rates are much lower. The Japanese diet is very different. It is almost certain that the difference in coronary heart disease is nutritionally based. Increasing evidence is now showing that up to 40 per cent of cancers are linked to a faulty diet. In both groups of disease, the effect of diet on health is cumulative and long-term, with diet in childhood, and even in utero, playing a significant role. That is perhaps one reason why the ill-effects of faulty nutrition are not so easily reversed as are, for example, the effects of smoking. Cessation of smoking can result in a measurable reduction of risk comparatively soon (unless the seeds of cancer have already started to grow) whereas studies of dietary change in those already showing signs of cardiovascular diseases show a smaller and slower benefit.
There is little doubt that the average British diet is far from satisfactory compared to that in a number of other countries. The diet in Scotland is the worst of all. The diet contains too much fat, especially saturated fat, too much salt, too much sugar, most of those consumed unknowingly in processed food. But the diet also contains too many calories overall, resulting in increasing obesity, as well as too few fruits and vegetables, which contain fibre and anti-oxidants now recognised as crucial in warding off atherosclerosis and malignant disease.
There is a clear social class gradient in all those dietary defects. Better-off people eat more fruit and vegetables and a wider range of less fattening, fresh, rather than processed, foods--some of them possibly bought from the noble Earl's farm shop. That, of course, is reflected in wide social class differences in mortality. The Government, I am glad to say, are fully aware of
What should be the role of the food standards agency in attempting to tackle this widespread national problem? From the start, as I mentioned, the food standards agency was conceived as having a dual role, with the term "standards" applying across the board to both the food safety and the nutritional aspects of its remit. In the Second Reading debate in another place, my right honourable friend Jeff Rooker--now also translated to another department--reminded the House that in the White Paper, The Food Standards Agency: a Force for Change, about three dozen aspects of nutrition were set out. Some were to be in the remit of the Department of Health, some with the food standards agency, and some were to be shared between the two. He said that that remained the position and that there had been no change since the publication of the White Paper. My right honourable friend Tessa Jowell stated in her evidence to the Select Committee on the Bill that it would be the agency's job to improve public understanding about the nutritional content of food. In a number of other pronouncements the Government have spelt out that the FSA will have a definite role in defining and promoting what constitutes a good diet in the light of the best scientific advice. And in opening this debate, my noble friend said that the agency would play a key role in nutrition policy.
I included the following sentence in my notes, which is perhaps slightly droll, but still applies. While present Ministers hold office--this was written yesterday-- I have no doubt that they will welcome the advice of the agency on many aspects of nutrition, and could well ask it to draw up the ground rules of a national food and nutrition policy--something which has been notably lacking since the end of the 1939-45 war. But there is nothing on the face of the Bill which requires it to carry out any particular activity, other than to protect the public from,
All noble Lords who are speaking will have received a briefing from the Food and Drink Federation. It is of interest that nowhere among its recommendations is there a comment about the food standards agency's nutritional role. That is in some contrast to the Food and Drink Federation's earlier position, which was much against the FSA having a nutritional role at all. Perhaps it feels that it has won the battle now that nutrition is not mentioned in the Bill.
It was interesting, however, that in Standing Committee in another place Conservative Members wanted to go further and moved amendments to Clause 1 which would have completely and definitively removed any nutritional role at all from the food standards agency, leaving it concerned only with microbiological and chemical risks. I can only speculate on where those amendments came from. The fact that such pressures exist, however, makes me feel that the Bill should be strengthened and made more water-tight by including the words "nutrition" and "promotion" at suitable points. I hope that it will be possible to arrange consultations between my noble friends, the Minister, other noble Lords and outside interests who are concerned about this issue at some point between now and proceedings in Grand Committee.
Overall, I believe that the Bill will be of great benefit to the people of this country if the agency that it brings into being is allowed to develop to its full potential. I strongly commend the Bill to the House.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I am delighted to welcome this Bill. I took an active part in the proceedings on the Food Safety Act 1990. Fortunately, the government at that time accepted many amendments. They were basically commonsense amendments; for example, instead of the legislation specifying the type of tiling to be used in kitchens, the wording was altered so that one could use the latest and most practical material.
At the moment, I have no amendments to suggest to this Bill. It may be that as time goes on points will emerge, in which case I shall follow them up. As far as concerns the Food Safety Act, the amendments that I moved were proposed by the Food and Drink Federation. I have no brief for that organisation. I was sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Rea, attacked that body and said that it had no interest in nutrition. He implied that its one interest was making money and nothing else. Even if that were true, if one wants to make money, one must think about nutrition. As the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said, today food is a headline issue. No food manufacturer can possibly succeed if he produces something that is non-nutritional or inedible--certainly not if it is dangerous.
So many people who rely on manufactured foods do so because they are incapable of cooking a decent meal for their families. Because of the pressures of work and time spent doing other things, the old custom of shopping daily for fresh vegetables is certainly not one that I can follow in my life. Food manufacturers have
Recently, I asked a Question in your Lordships' House about the extent of malnutrition in this country. Following that, I was surprised by the number of people who spoke to me about it and said how relevant it was in the areas from which they came. A good part of the problem is that people simply do not know what is nutritious to eat. I support the view of the noble Lord, Lord Rea, on that. I am glad that this Bill now comes within the health remit. I believe that it is really a health issue.
A number of speakers have referred to the membership of the agency and advisory committees. I support their view that membership by anyone who works in the food industry, or who has detailed knowledge of it, should not be absolutely ruled out. After all, these are the very people with the necessary expertise who perhaps will be most available. As I understand it, membership of the agency and the advisory committees is very restricted.
The Bill contains many matters that must be reconciled in the public interest. The Bill promotes openness, which I support. There is always a need to reconcile openness with confidentiality. At the moment, health authorities who send in health inspectors have on their records a tremendous amount of confidential information which could be of great value to business competitors. It is right that these matters should be kept confidential. However, in Clause 19(3) it is made clear that if the public interest outweighs confidentiality, the former will take precedence, and that is good.
But it is also right that those whose products are to be considered in great detail should have their commercial secrets protected. For example, is it not said that the special ingredient of Coca-Cola is known to only one person in the world? These are commercially important matters. One must look at the commercial element in terms of employment. The food manufacturing industry alone employs over 500,000 people. If it is considered at farm level--my noble friend Lord Selborne gave the House a marvellous presentation--there must be millions of people in this country involved in the general food industry.
As to the assessment of the quality of food, the public analyst service has a very important role to play. It is essential that that role continues and that it is adequately resourced. From the days when I was a local health authority chairman, I recall the case of a health inspector who visited premises to collect a food sample. The vendor of the food to be tested immediately ran away with it and flushed it down the toilet to prevent it being examined. People will go to great lengths in this area.
The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, tells us that he will be tabling amendments. He recalled working with the Minister on the Health Bill. I hope that he will be a little more selective in relation to this Bill and thus reduce the many hours that we sat here going through hundreds of amendments to the Health Bill.
The Minister said that the agency would be accountable to the devolved bodies. I am slightly concerned about the aspect of devolution. It is important that we do not end up with different standards in different parts of the country. Food is easily transportable by both individuals and commercial representatives and one needs uniformity throughout the country. I also hope that the Minister will be able to assure me that these proposals fit in with EU laws and that we do not impose higher standards on our people than apply in other European countries. It would be unfair to impose extra burdens on us.
Clauses 11 and 14 deal with confidentiality. The White Paper, consultation and draft Bill have been valuable in that regard. Many of these aspects have been considered and a happy compromise has been reached. I note that in Schedule 5 many matters are inserted into the Bill. Pages 33 to 36 are taken directly from the Food Safety Act 1990. I hope that sooner rather than later we shall have a consolidation Bill. The Food Safety Act has been amended many times and its provisions are now brought into this Bill. It is helpful to those who want to abide by the law to know that it is clear and easy to follow. The practice in the past has been to bring in a new Bill to be followed by a consolidation measure. I hope that the Government will give thought to that. It is good that included in Clause 27 are salmonella, E.coli and campylobacter, the original diseases to be notified for tests of food-borne disease.
I am concerned that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said that we should make clear what is at risk. Just being alive is a risk. I am worried at his statement that he would like to see maximum communication at all times. The agency has to be quite careful not to start scares running too early. When things prove to be unwise, without doubt people's eating patterns change. Eggs are not consumed now to the same extent as before the salmonella scare. I know of many people who will not eat beef, even though the risk was minuscule during the worst of the BSE crisis.
The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, made the point that one can so easily damage a whole section of the food industry. The agency will have the power of investigation. I am sure that the future holds problems of a kind that we cannot even envisage today. This Bill will provide the machinery, by having people at the ready to look into any new hazards as they arise. We
The Earl of Halsbury: My Lords, speaking first from the Cross Benches, I join my congratulations to those of other speakers on the appointment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, to her new position and for her introduction of the Bill. I approve of it very much indeed. I must declare an interest. I am a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and a member of its parliamentary legal committee. I am a member of the Society of Public Analysts. I earned part of my living in one of its laboratories about 65 years ago as a student at London University.
Perhaps I may refer to the argument that took place in the other place over one or two terminological mis-matches between the wording of the Bill and that of the European directive on the same subject. The intention to try to improve the mis-match a little so that the same thing is said in the same words was sympathetically received by the Minister in the other place. But its expression in Committee form was not acceptable and the amendment was not pressed to a Division. However, I shall resume my activities in time for the Committee stage. I hope to be able to produce something to which the noble Baroness will give her blessing and assent. I give the Bill my blessing and waft it on its way.
Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, I welcome the establishment of the food standards agency. Like everyone else, I am a consumer and want choice and safety in all that I consume. However, I am also a farmer and I declare that interest. I fully agree with my noble friend Lord Selborne in his comments about shorthand thinking. I, as a large and intensive farmer, am probably better placed to have best access to the most up-to-date husbandry techniques that ensure I am able to produce the highest quality product. Indeed, that is what I always seek to do.
I am competing not only against other farmers, but also other foods and increasingly against imports. My products are among those which, as a consumer, I wish to see assured as being safe and wholesome. The Bill affects me more than many. My interest in its provisions is intense and so is my disappointment in some respects. Not only are there the omissions mentioned by my noble friend Lady Byford, with no definition of food, no mention of labelling and no nomination of the Secretary of State for Health, but no onus placed on the agency to examine imports and to investigate how they are produced, what checks are run on them and from whence they collect their ingredients.
I know that the Government will repeat the mantra "EU", but it is responsible for only half of our incoming goods. What about the other half which comes from the rest of the world? Should there not be an explicit instruction to the agency to ensure that foreign products reach the standards required of our native producers?
I believe that labelling information is very important in order to tell the consumer how and where produce was made, whether by a small producer or by an intensive, large agricultural producer like myself. For example, consumers go into a large shop where there might be one protein product on a shelf produced under the scrutiny of the food standards agency and which can probably give good, quality assurance to the consumer that it is a good and wholesome product. Because it has been subjected to expensive scrutiny, it will probably cost more to produce. However, lying adjacent to it there might be a protein product produced outside the EU which did not have the luxury of being scrutinised by the food standards agency or, as we have been told by many noble Lords, from plough to plate or, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, from plough to fork. Surely, the consumer must have an informed decision as to the quality of the food he purchases and not just make that informed decision based on the price.
I am also disappointed that devolution is not tackled from the point of view of quality assurance. There are more than six pages devoted to the system for coping with it and with its dissolution. I am intrigued that in those pages there is no mention of the length of time that has to elapse before, first, notification of withdrawal is made or, secondly, before it takes effect. Could Scotland decide in year one, or month eight, that it no longer wishes to participate and remove itself from the scheme at one month's notice? Is it the intention that, having signed up, all parties are bound for, say, three years after which they have to give six months' notice? If one devolved party pulls out of the scheme, do they both have to? If one party resigns from the scheme, is there any time limit within which the other party has to act or any interval within which a party will not be allowed to withdraw?
At a more mundane level, I am concerned to know how the FSA will deal with items that are clearly limited geographically to a single, devolved area. This week I have tabled two Questions on controls that should be applied to the use of pesticides and antibiotics in the offshore fish farming industry. They arise from the news last week of the pollution of scallops in Scottish waters and whether the pesticides used in the fish farms could in any way be connected with the pollution of the scallops. The farms are located north of the Border, but their products are consumed countrywide.
Let us suppose there was an investigation and recommendations were made with which the Scottish interests disagreed. Should the Scottish Parliament decide to go it alone, what powers would be retained by the FSA to monitor or even warn against foods which it knows do not reach the required standards?
I would like to see a great deal more on the face of the Bill especially as it is the first piece of legislation that covers responsibilities that have been devolved. I fear that these complications and the EU legislation could very quickly embarrass us all.
Baroness Thornton: My Lords, in welcoming the Bill, I should like to declare from the outset my interest in the subject as an adviser to both the Co-operative Wholesale Society and the British Retail Consortium as recorded in the Register of Members' Interests. I am also a consumer and the mother of two adolescent children. In common with many others mothers, I endeavour to encourage them to eat their greens.
I join other noble Lords in welcoming the Minister to her new post, and wish her well. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, this debate seems a perfect way of making the transition from her previous portfolio in health to her new duties. I, too, join other noble Lords in wishing my noble friend Lord Donoughue well in his future activities. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that when my noble friend was endeavouring to teach me politics at the LSE more years ago than I care to remember, he also used to give lectures for an hour without notes.
The creation of a food standards agency is without doubt an idea whose time has come. Some might even say that the idea has been around for some time, but its coming has taken a little longer. Over the past few days I have received many excellent briefings from all sides of the food industry: farming organisations, manufacturers, consumer organisations and food retailers. They are all fulsome in welcoming the Bill; and some claim to have been campaigning for a food standards agency for many years--and, indeed, some of them have.
Both the British Retail Consortium and the CWS have unreservedly welcomed the Bill and both gave evidence to the pre-legislative scrutiny committee. Both organisations have welcomed the Government's decision to provide public funding for the agency and thus ensure its independence. However, I wish to speak as a co-operator--a member of long standing who is committed to the aims of the Co-operative Movement. In some ways I am picking up the baton of my noble friend Lord Graham. He is not present, but I advised him that I should like to participate in the debate. I only hope that I can do credit to his record as a champion of the Co-operative Movement.
One of the reasons for the Co-operative Movement coming into being in 1844 was the wish to provide unadulterated food at affordable prices for the mass of people. The Co-operative Movement today truly represents the whole span of food-based enterprises. If I may add to the terms which have been used in this House, perhaps I may suggest from "stable to table".
The Co-op is the largest farmer in the UK. We process large quantities of milk and dairy products. The 35 retail Co-operative Societies operate right across the UK in towns and villages, in high streets and in the islands, from Barra to Brighton, from Sheringham to Swansea. Co-operative Societies between them run 2,300 food shops, and 2,100 of those are small or medium sized. The Co-op is owned by its consumer members.
The Co-operative Movement welcomes the Government's commitment to setting up a food agency. The Co-op is one of the organisations which has been calling for a food agency for 10 years. We have given every support to the Government, and before that to the Labour Shadow Ministers in order to achieve the goal of a workable and effective agency. As long ago as 1990 the Co-op called for a food agency reporting to a Cabinet Minister, staffed by civil servants, and directed by an executive council. We said that it should create and co-ordinate food policy, and that it should assist and advise local authority enforcement.
Our friends in the Co-operative Movements in Sweden, Norway and Denmark told us how food agencies worked in other European countries. We commissioned an analysis of the way that the United States Food and Drugs Administration operates. All of that allowed us to make an informed contribution to the work of Professor Philip James in his task of producing a report for the new Prime Minister against an extremely tight deadline. I pay tribute to the James report which laid the foundations for the Bill that we are discussing.
In its evidence, the Co-operative Movement called for an agency which would be independent of government. It would have a ruling body consisting of independents and consumers rather than industry. It would be able to speak out on food safety issues, and monitor and audit enforcement. We also called for the agency to have a broad remit covering health and safety. There were others who wanted the agency to cover only food safety. The Co-operative Movement and the other consumer organisations wrote to Ministers urging them to stand by their view that the agency should cover all aspects of food policy. Only then would consumer confidence be restored. We congratulate Ministers on resisting those attempts to constrain the scope of the agency.
The Bill has created an historic precedent. The pre-legislative scrutiny committee provided MPs with the opportunity to take evidence from experts and to consider the detail of the Bill with Ministers and their civil servants. I am sure that the House would like to join me in thanking Kevin Barron for his chairmanship of that important committee.
The appointments to the agency are being considered by the Government. I welcome the speed with which they are acting on the issue. It is vital that the full range of consumers' interests as well as scientific expertise is represented on the agency. It has to be an intermediary between science and the public. Its credibility is crucial. It must also bring common sense to bear on what inevitably will be complex subjects.
In making those appointments the Minister will have to weigh and balance many factors to ensure the credibility and expertise of the new agency. I am confident that the right balance will be found. I believe that a good example of the balance between expertise and independence may be found in the newly formed Competition Commission on which the Government have invited people to be commissioners, some of whom are prominent and active in the business community, but they are appointed in the expectation that they will bring in their expertise and experience and leave behind their
This is only the end of the beginning. To be a success, the agency will need the active support of the food chain: consumers, retailers, manufacturers, processors and farmers. The Co-operative Movement looks forward to playing its part in building on the firm foundations laid by the Government.
Viscount Addison: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on her new position. I trust that within a very short period the Minister will have turned a new ministerial leaf and put the bone back into British beef.
I welcome the Bill. However, there appears to be a great deal of ground to cover during Committee stage of this important Bill. I should like to direct the attention of the noble Baroness and her team to some points that I feel need clarity.
I turn first to general functions relating to foodstuffs at Clause 9. I, too, agree with my noble friend Lord Rotherwick. I wonder how the agency will deal with the question of imported foodstuffs and their composition. I have expressed my concerns recently in the House about genetically modified soya being consumed in vast quantities by our milk, beef and breeding cattle. Like the noble Countess, Lady Mar, I have concerns regarding chemicals in foodstuffs for animal consumption and their ongoing effects.
I have raised a vast number of cattle in my time both for milk production and beef. During that time, my biggest concern, after the worry of interest rates, was the treatment and management of de-watered solids, farmyard manures, and effluent. Over the years, both farmers and the river authorities, now the Environment Agency, have played, and will continue to play, their part in managing and containing problems such as seepage to our drainage systems, streams and rivers. But does grass or any other grazed crop or pasture come under the Bill?
I am thinking in particular of the over-treatment of grazed crops by such materials and, as importantly, of the application of sprays and chemicals, all of which can leave residues whether in grazing mode or if cut for hay or silage. If Clause 10(1)(a) and (b) apply, are powers to carry out observations adequate? I do not believe that Clause 9(4) referring to the "safety of animal feedstuffs" covers my point.
Secondly, I have grave concerns about the proposed transfer of so-called public safety from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate to the food standards agency. If the quality of the medicine is poor or unreliable, the effectiveness of the product could be compromised. That, in turn, could affect safety.
The animal licensing process already covers four types of safety. First, there is the safety of the treated animal. I refer to external advice from the Veterinary Laboratories Agency and the State Veterinary Service on statutory disease controls. Secondly, there is safety to the user or operator. Thirdly, there is safety to the environment, such as environmental impact assessments being carried out under Directive 81/851. Fourthly, there is safety to the consumer. So would it not be more logical for the food standards agency to have a formalised support role to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate?
Lord Rowallan: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on moving into this new realm. I am afraid that she does not get away from me; it is a subject of interest. Perhaps her right honourable friend the Prime Minister will do a better job of getting rid of me and stopping me being a pain in her backside--but we shall see.
The food standards agency is another layer of bureaucracy in an already extremely bureaucratic industry--food. The agency as proposed will have an enormous amount of scope and power, dare I say, "too much"? We already have an army of civil servants checking on food. We have local authority environmental officers, Meat Hygiene Service inspectors and health and safety officers. We now have this quango, too. It has been given absolute powers really to do what it wants. It is both an enforcement agency and a monitoring organisation; a very dangerous combination. There are few safeguards. It does not even have to go to Parliament. As I read the Bill, all that the agency has to do it to send a draft of its plans to the Minister and he will amend and publish them--and that is it.
There is nothing in the Bill about the promotion of food safety, only about protection. There is very little about labelling. We need to know so much more about labelling. Information about the ingredients and their country of origin is vital. For the next week I have staying with me a gentleman who is a vegan. My wife said to me on the telephone this morning, "How on earth do you buy food for a vegan? How do you know what is in anything?". I do not know and the labelling is not good enough. What about the poor people who suffer from nut allergies? There are many of them. One taste and their airways pack up and they are in trouble. We must look most seriously at the issue.
What about imported foods? Thirty per cent of all the food we consume in this country is imported. Yet, the agency can look at the food only when it has arrived in this country. The Belgian Government successfully covered up their problems for two and a half months. Last night, I read in a newspaper that there are still unresolved problems about which we have not been fully informed. For those two and a half months, the
Are we not in danger of making food too clean and pure? Although the Minister said that the food standards agency would be responsible for nutrition, that is not mentioned in the Bill. Yet each year, poor nutrition resulting in coronary heart disease is responsible for 150,000 deaths, while food poisoning is responsible for 74 deaths. Good nutrition is vital.
What is the remit of the agency? Is it to look at animal foodstuffs? Why not pesticides and veterinary medicine too? They have an important impact on the food industry. How do we control foreign foods? In Europe, one goes to a butcher's shop and sees all the meat beautifully hanging up, covered in flies, the heat beating down on it and emitting wonderful aromas. We all eat it there. Perhaps the wine which the French drink helps, but they never seem to suffer from the problems which we have. In supermarkets in this country, everything is sterile, wrapped up and tasteless. People have upset tummies and diahorrea. I believe that that is down to the fact that we are too clean. A little bit of dirt never does any harm!
How do we set about controlling the agency's bureaucracy? It is to be centred in London and to be paid for by Wales, Scotland, Ireland and England--and at a time of devolution. I see a recipe for problems. What about the bosses? In Wales, the body responsible is the Assembly; in Scotland it is Scottish Ministers; in Northern Ireland, it is the Department of Health; and in England it is the Secretary of State. So we shall have elected MPs in Wales, civil servants in Ireland and Ministers in England and Scotland dealing with the matter. An advisory committee will be set up in Wales, Ireland and Scotland, but not in England. We do not need one. However, if the Secretary of State says so, one can be set up but only for a particular region. What is so different about England? Perhaps the Minister will explain.
The agency's powers will be enormous. It will be able to observe and monitor premises and people without a by-your-leave. Worse still, it will be able to arrange for a spy from within to check on what is happening. It will be able to demand that all computer work is put into the written word. Under Clause 14(4)(d), it will be able to require anyone to answer questions which might incriminate both them and their workplace. The agency's power to speak to an employee is most dangerous. Its staff should be able to speak to an employee only when the employer is there; or they should speak to the employer directly. They should never be able to speak to an employee who may not understand some of the nuances of the working of the premises.
Under Clause 21, the agency will have the power to do anything to facilitate its own functions. They are draconian powers of which Henry VIII would be very proud. In fact, he probably would have had to think for
The composition of the agency's board is vital, as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. The people who become members must be seen not to be in the pocket of food and farming, and to have a public interest rather than an industrial background. We must have written into the Bill a requirement that all members must declare what they do and their reason for being members. Is the agency to be a Department of Health or Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food baby--or a combination of the two?
The food standards agency is an ambitious proposal. How can one organisation be responsible for the safety of all foods sold in this country? No institution can be responsible for every process that takes place in a non-devolved country, let alone a devolved one. Therefore, it is liable to fail if for no other reason than that it has set itself impossible standards and objectives which will lead the public to think that it has failed when it has not. One thing is certain: we shall see more food scares, whatever it does. It has given itself dictatorial powers which may make it hated by the industry. It has tried to differentiate between consumers and producers. There is no difference between consumers and producers; without one, there is not the other. Half a million people are employed as producers, distributors and caterers.
If the Meat Hygiene Service is to be taken over by the food standards agency, as we are told, any problems in the service will be passed straight on to the agency double quick! The Meat Hygiene Service is another quango. For it to be taken over by yet another quango seems illogical. We must remember that the agency must not only be independent but that it must be seen to be independent: 15,000 people work at present in the Meat Hygiene Service; and 400 people will work in the proposed food standards agency. Who is going to run whom, how, and eventually why? Is the dog going to wag the tail or is the tail going to wag the dog? We need to know.
Having said all that, your Lordships may be forgiven for thinking that I am against the setting up of the food standards agency altogether. In fact, I am not. However, if we are going to have it set up at all, it must be done correctly.
The Bill is full of holes as presently constituted, even with all the changes that have been made to it since it was initially proposed. It is essential that it returns confidence to the producer to produce; to the processor to process; to the retailer to retail; and, most
That can happen only if we vigorously examine this Bill. I intend to do just that. I trust that, with everything else that is happening, we shall have the time to look at this very carefully and to make certain that what we produce in the end is a Bill worthy of the name "food standards agency".
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, as the House has heard from the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, we on these Benches welcome the Bill. In fact, the debate has shown that everyone seems to welcome the Bill, including the noble Lord who has just spoken. Everyone appears to have had something very important and interesting to say in relation to suggestions as to how the Bill should be amended. There is no doubt, as the noble Lord said, that the measure is at the moment full of holes, or at least full of areas of uncertainty. Those holes need to be plugged, and a decision needs to be made about the areas of uncertainty before the Bill comes into operation.
The Bill seems to me to be a move on the part of the Government, which is to be totally supported, to try to improve the health and welfare of the population as a whole. However, I believe that we should draw to their attention the fact that it will not work unless it is part of a much bigger programme, to which they pay lip service but have not so far paid much other service, aimed at reducing the inequality between the rich and the poor of this country.
A population which is reasonably well educated and healthy from birth to death, irrespective of social class, such as is produced in the Scandinavian countries, and which is lamentably lacking in this country, is the kind of society for which this Bill will be very useful. In the meantime, it is only something that helps us to deal with some of the problems which have so far arisen.
It is good that we have this agency coming up. The responsibility for food with MAFF, as my noble friend and others have said, has not been terribly well looked after in the past. MAFF appeared to be rather too much on the side of the large producers, rather too much the defender and spokesman of the NFU. We need to concentrate rather more on the small-scale, local, individual food producers in this country.
The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, suggested that intensive farming had not produced any real disadvantages in the way of health. I beg the noble Lord to look at the--
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