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Baroness Byford: I apologise to the Committee for not putting all of my amendments together; I shall try to make sure I follow them on. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for his response. As he quite rightly said, Amendment No. 8 is a probing amendment. I should like the opportunity to read Hansard more clearly--I was looking at it very quickly--because Schedule 1(2)(1) to which he referred, says,

That is not what I was asking about. It does not cover the situation of a person being appointed to a different position, which is my point, rather than being re-appointed. Perhaps the noble Lord would like a chance to come back on that because that is where a little confusion may have arisen. My point related to a new appointment rather than to a re-appointment, which is the reason for my amendment.

To refer back to Amendment No. 11, I heard what the Minister said about his concern (which was my concern) that people felt that, just because they were in the food production business, they would not be considered. I found that very disturbing because we obviously wish to have a balance of the whole range.

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That is why I tabled the amendment; that is, to make quite sure that we are content with the way in which the system will work.

I do not have anything further to say with regard to my noble friend's amendment. I shall let the Minister respond.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Perhaps I may say briefly to the noble Baroness that re-appointment does not necessarily mean re-appointment to the same position.

Baroness Byford: I did not read it that way, and I am glad of the clarification. If this needs any further defining then, perhaps when we have had a chance to look at Hansard more clearly, we will be able to come back to it at Report stage. It is just slightly confusing. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

Lord Clement-Jones moved Amendment No.10:

Page 2, line 9, after (“safety") insert (“and standards including nutrition and labelling")

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment we welcome the Minister's statement that nutrition is implicitly included in the duties of the agency in the Bill. However, the essence of these amendments is to go further and make explicit the agency's role in relation to nutrition and labelling in Clauses 2, 6, 7, 8 and 9. We believe it is essential that, if the agency is to be effective, then it must have a broad remit which includes both nutrition and labelling. We believe that that should be made explicit.

Food quality and nutrition are just as important as food safety for public health. Indeed, the Acheson Report clearly showed the extent of nutrition inequality in this country that needs to be tackled. We found that a very valuable report. Nutrition messages are often a matter for some debate, which is why we believe it is essential that nutrition is handled as independently as possible and that nutritional considerations are handled within the open and transparent climate that we hope the agency will provide.

There are those who would argue against the agency having a nutritional role at all. There are points that could be made on that, about focus and so on, but it is not our understanding that the Government are making that point in the first place. I believe we need to go back to the original White Paper and I make no apologies for referring to this. There are some eight points on page 33 of the original White Paper, A Force for Change, that relate to nutrition and it goes into some detail on the agency's duties. That is repeated to a degree. The draft Bill commentary states:

    “The agency's function will allow it to exercise the role which the White Paper envisaged for it in nutritional policy".

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It is clearly stated that the agency will have that nutrition role. Why, therefore, in view of the fact that there are some eight duties here, is it not being made explicit? It seems extraordinary. The White Paper is quite detailed. It states that the agency will,

    “provide practical guidance in relation to nutritional aspects of the food chain, including production and catering".

Those are some very broad duties there. It is our case that these duties should be explicitly included in the legislation.

I believe that Amendment No. 24 is now grouped with these amendments, and we very much support that amendment in spirit. There is no reason why we should not learn from US experience as regards labelling. Indeed, in many ways their labelling is better than ours, and I support that in spirit. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: With permission, I wish to speak to an amendment which will be moved formally at a later stage by agreement. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for allowing me to group my amendment with his.

Much as I support his amendment and everything that has been said about nutrition information, as important as the information itself is the presentation of the information. If I may borrow a catch phrase: presentation, presentation, presentation. That is why my amendment is extremely specific, and only in the case of a Grand Committee could such a specific amendment have been considered. It is specific because when the committee has its new powers I want to say, “Look, this is a jolly good way of doing it; this is how you should be looking at it, this is how you should be gauging the whole situation".

In this country at present customers do not have any kind of uniform, consistent labelling such as exists in the United States. I am sure that is not in doubt. It is perhaps kindest to describe what we have in this country as a shambles. Other people might speak less kindly than I have done of it, but I believe that is something of an understatement. Many imported goods do not have--and are not required to have--any nutrition information whatever. In this country the requirements for nutrition labelling were supposed to have been reviewed in 1998; they were not, leaving a complete vacuum in some areas and total confusion in the rest.

It is true and only fair to say that most supermarkets and food manufacturers do their best to provide nutrition information. The provision of it is very often inconsistent; there is no uniformity in the formula for presentation between one supermarket and another, between one manufacturer and another, between one product and another. It is often impossible, therefore, to make any relevant comparisons about the nutritional content of the product.

Furthermore, one needs an honours degree in mental arithmetic to ascertain how the figures might relate to the portions that will constitute a serving. For example, for a bag of potato crisps weighing 140 grams the nutritional values are given per 100 grams, which

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is not even a portion size. A jar of mayonnaise gives a calories count per 100 grams and the contents of the jar as 200 millilitres. No doubt many of your Lordships are far more numerate than I and could make this calculation in a minute, but I certainly could not.

On this theme, I would respectfully address the Minister's attention to page 10 of the nutrition labelling study report of 1995 which was undertaken on behalf of her department and delivered to them. I will not go into detail and delay the Committee, but page 10 entirely upholds what I have just said about public perception of nutrition labelling in this country.

On top of this British consumers are burdened with EU “E" numbers to warn allergy sufferers. The only problem is that there are many numbers displayed in great profusion, and whereas this is very good in principle it is ridiculous in practice because one would have to walk around with a glossary of “E" numbers in order to break the code!

It is time to clear the jungle as far as British consumers are concerned. The new food standards committee could do this with a wave of a wand and at somebody else's expense! In 1993 the FDA in the United States brought out these new regulations that were the outcome of very widespread and very costly consultation and research, giving us a near perfect blueprint to guide our new agency. I have circulated some of those copies so I know that noble Lords have seen them. The great advantage of the United States' regulations is that they are simple, consistent and uniform in presentation. Serving sizes are realistic and consistent in same and similar food products and in products from differing sources, so that comparisons are easy to make. In addition--and this is an important point made by the noble Lord--to the clear statements of fact about nutrition there is a table showing percentage daily values as well as a clear list of ingredients. So any consumer will see, for example, 3 grams of fat and can immediately look down and see the recommended daily allowance of fat. That is all contained on the same label.

I believe that this information, which is easy to assimilate, does not seek to humour the health food faddists, or the person who is always on a diet. As noble Lords will have observed, it is not provided for people like me either! It is required by consumers of all ages and for many reasons. The most important group has already been mentioned, those who perhaps have health risks in their family and want to be careful, mothers who are preparing menus for their family and want to be careful, as well as those who already have known health problems.

On Second Reading the noble Baroness said,

    “The Government believe that the public have a right to clear and accurate information to help them make informed and sensible choices".--[Official Report, 30/7/99; col. 1786.]

A little later in the same speech she said that the agency will take a key role in nutrition policy. Therefore I am confident of her support for this amendment.

Finally I turn briefly to the EU ramifications in this matter. Some EU countries give no nutritional information whatsoever. Others give a little but it is

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not given in any standard way. It is as confusing as our own; I would not say that ours is much better. Yet all food products sold in the United States have to meet their regulations. A number of these products come from Europe and beyond and they find no difficulty in providing the information in order to sell their produce in the United States. The CEG are at present examining QUID, which refers only to ingredient listing, and even they are quite a long way from reaching agreement on that, and they certainly do not like what the Community is proposing with regard to the rest of food labelling.

It would be a sad situation if British consumers were to be relegated to second grade, to a standard far below that of the United States. I hope that the noble Baroness will not put forward as an argument against this the fact that it would not be acceptable to our partners, because I would say to her from personal experience that where there's a will there's a way. I know from experience that if you want something you can get it as far as our partners are concerned.

Finally, whereas individual European governments may not want such labelling, I can assure the noble Baroness that all the European consumer groups would like to move towards it.

In conclusion, I should like to thank the National Consumer Council for its support and in particular, Mike Rayner of the British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group to which I hope before long I shall be able to add the support of the Minister.

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