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Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: I want to go back and say a few words of support to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, on the amendments to which I put my name. Some of the arguments are the same as in Amendment No. 4 which I spoke to earlier and I do not think I need to repeat those.

I was just thinking the other day that when I was young I was exhorted to “drinka pinta milk a day", and was also urged to “go to work on an egg". In my innocence then, I used to think that this was advice distilled from long and careful medical research. In fact, now that I am older and a bit wiser, and I fear a bit more cynical, I realise that this, then as now, is the special interest group speaking. It occurs to me that if we had had a food standards agency somewhat sooner with a brief for independent nutritional information, thousands of lives might have been saved by, to take one example, well-targeted advice to avoid added salt in our food, and the food industry might well have moved a bit quicker to change their ways in this respect.

On the question of policies, which is Amendment No. 20, I should like to quote four short statements from the 1991 WHO Report on Chronic Diseases to which I referred earlier. The first quote is:


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The second quote is:


    “Policies initiated at a time when an adequate food supply meant an adequate supply of nutrients may be hard-pressed to adapt to the fact that nutrient excesses are now linked to the leading causes of death in virtually every country blessed with an abundant food supply".

And, of nutrition programmes directed towards the control of chronic diseases, I quote:


    “By reducing chronic morbidity, such programmes will considerably relieve the financial strain on health care systems".

The report goes on to urge governments to,


    “protect their populations through policies that make healthy food choices the easy choices".

It is interesting that it should use the word “protect" there because, as the noble Lord, Lord Rea, pointed out earlier, that might not be a word that one would automatically think of when thinking of food promotion as opposed to safety. There are issues here, at the leading edge of nutritional research, which go way beyond the concept of a “balanced diet", and cast grave doubt on that other mantra which is beloved of many people, including the food industry, “There is no such thing as a bad food, only a bad diet". I have never believed in that one.

Nutritional standards, to sum up, deserve the kind of profile and promotion which the new agency should be equipped to provide. We should not draw back from giving it this role because some people feel threatened by dietary advice; they do not have to heed it, as I have said before, and there are ways of getting research findings across which need not offend the most sensitive trencherman. The noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, asked me on the previous amendment whether I was wanting to, was it admonish? I was not quite sure of the flavour of that. Not heavy-handed, no, but there are ways of getting findings across. If the scientific advice is available it can be put forward in a straightforward way which can get to the public without saying, “You are naughty boys and girls". I think that should be simple enough to do.

The final point is that I think in view of one of those quotations, the Government cannot afford to overlook something which could achieve real long-term reductions in health costs. I think these amendments deserve support for those reasons.

5.45 p.m.

The Countess of Mar: I should like to speak to Amendment No. 24 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes. Could I ask her please to exercise a little caution? I have already declared my interest in this; I am a small specialist cheesemaker--a very small specialist cheesemaker. To get the nutritional information that would be required on a label in the way that the noble Baroness mentioned would cost me several hundred pounds. I recently had the information for fat and protein in three cheeses which cost £200. Could I remind the Committee that

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big trees from little acorns grow, and if small producers are discouraged at an early stage they may not help British industry.

Lord Northbourne: I am concerned that the concept of labelling in this discussion seems to be becoming linked with the promotion of nutrition. Labelling is in fact extraordinarily important in the context of risk limitation, the most obvious case being the date on the label which shows when it is no longer safe to consume the product. I myself was involved for many years in washing, packing and selling salad products which are extremely vulnerable to deterioration. I am therefore very conscious of these problems. It seems that labelling has three functions: it has a function in relation to risk limitation; a function in the context of health promotion; and a function in relation to ensuring that consumers get satisfaction and what they want.

The point made by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, is tremendously important. Why should people not eat little cheeses if they wish to? The label has to show--

The Countess of Mar: It has to show that they are made from unpasteurised milk.

Lord Northbourne: Yes, that they are made from unpasteurised milk, in such and such a place, at such and such a time and you take the risk! We must not be a nanny state.

Baroness Byford: I rise to support these amendments. I have a slight hesitation about the comments of my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes in that it is very specific. I should like to speak in a slightly broader way on the whole issue of labelling and nutrition, particularly the labelling side.

I fear that we may hear--though I hope we do not--from the Minister that we cannot do it because it may conflict with what other countries do. I hope that is a route down which we do not go. At the end of the day, this Bill is about food safety. I believe I am right in saying that the biggest source of food poisoning is actually the home. It is therefore essential that the person who buys the product knows what is on the label and is able to identify clearly with it.

Perhaps I may turn to one or two particular issues. I apologise for doing that at this stage but since we have gone into some detail on this amendment, I should like to do so. The consumer must be sure about the country of origin of the product that she buys. We have touched upon it now because we know in this country that we produce certain meat products--pork is a good example--to higher standards than those set by our colleagues on the Continent and probably further afield.

It is important that the consumer should be able to identify the product very clearly. I have to declare an interest. We have pigs on the farm and although I am not a practising farmer, we do obviously still sell pigs. It has to be transparently clear that people know precisely what they are buying. I therefore support these amendments in broadbrush and again especially on the nutritional side.

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Many of us have children or grandchildren and the first point that arises is whether they have a nut allergy. I give an example. My daughter was told that our grandchildren could take a break to school with them. They decided to take one of these muesli bars. Then a message came back saying that they must not do so because it was possible that there might be some nut in that particular bar. These are the kinds of things that are of concern to us.

I realise the problem and the difficulty facing the Government. I come back to three points. First, I hope that the world-wide or European proposed labelling schemes will not stop us from doing something that we feel we should do. Secondly, the consumer needs to know and be very clear. Thirdly--wearing my own hat, so more on the farming side rather than the general food side--if a product has a British stamp on the back, it should have been grown, produced and finished in this country so that the purchaser knows that. It should not have been produced elsewhere and then come in having been raised to a lesser standard but, because it has been processed here, have a British mark on it. I apologise to noble Lords that I shall be returning to those points in greater detail later, but the amendments we are discussing at the moment are important.

Lord Rea: In supporting the noble Lord, Lord Clement- Jones, perhaps I might amplify some of the points he made. The first is the stark contrast between the aims of the agency as set out in the White Paper and the lack of reference to some of those in the Bill. I read the comments of government Ministers in another place and listened to the reasons of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for not having nutrition on the face of the Bill. I am not convinced by any of the arguments that have been put forward.

Chapter 5 of the food standards agency White Paper, A Force for Change, is headed,


    “The Agency's Role in Food Standards and Nutrition".

It states,


    “Responses from consumer organisations, academics and public health organisations and professionals were overwhelmingly in favour of including nutrition in the remit of the Agency".

It is worth spelling out the eight aspects of nutrition that were allocated to the agency--four more are shared with health and seven more are entirely in the remit of the Department of Health. The paper states that the agency will,


    “be responsible for monitoring and surveillance of the nutrient content of food and the nutrient content of the diet


    provide authoritative factual information about the nutrient content of individual foods and advice on the diet as a whole


    secure expert scientific advice on the relationship between diet, nutritional status and health to support the definition of a healthy diet and to inform policy from the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy (COMA)


    provide the definition of a balanced diet, based on COMA's scientific advice, for subsequent use in health education material produced by other bodies


    where appropriate, propose legislation relating to nutritional aspects of food, including labelling and claims, dietary supplements sold as food, fortified foods and functional foods

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


    commission food and diet research appropriate to the functions of the Agency


    represent the UK in international negotiations on issues relating to nutritional aspects of food".

There is no mention at all in the Bill of the word “nutrition". On reading the Bill, one might well think that it is almost entirely concerned with microbiological safety.

Another problem is that, though my noble friend assured us at Second Reading and also outside the House that nutrition and food composition issues will be a major task of the agency, there remains the fear that the absence of the word “nutrition" on the face of the Bill will enable those who are opposed to the agency giving nutritional facts or advice, or advising the Government on nutritional policy--we all know who they are--to block those aspects of the food standards agency's work. That might be more of a danger with a government--dare I say?--of a different political persuasion.

Another danger in the present over-emphasis on food safety is that appointments of candidates to the agency and the advisory committees will be and possibly are already being made up of those whose main expertise is in food safety rather than in the overall aspects of diet and public health. I have said enough. I do not know whether other noble Lords wish to contribute and I should like to hear the reply of the noble Baroness.


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