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Viscount Addison: I support my noble friend. I know that we had a good debate yesterday in relation to labelling and one of the things that came out of it, having thought about it last night, was an extra adjective. Not only does labelling give one protection and promotion, but it also gives one education.
It is important that we are able to educate people to understand and read a label used across the whole spectrum. We talked about the American methods that are being used now, which are giving everybody the chance to understand labelling more clearly. It is that sort of education which will come out of clear labelling. I should like to see that education being spread even back to the schools. I know I am moving slightly away from what we are trying to do here, but if a standard labelling system is set up, it will enable schools, and even adult education centres to a certain extent, to come to terms with the new systems that we can apply.
We can apply the new labelling system well in this country; there is no reason why we should not. So I want to underline the need to ensure that the Government take this opportunity to do something positive about it.
The Countess of Mar: I agree and support the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. Is the Minister aware that we are importing Belgian hard-boiled eggs which we put into mass produced sandwiches? But those hard-boiled eggs are chemically treated and sometimes the chemical treatment goes wrong and the hard-boiled eggs have to be discarded. In view of the state of our poultry industry and the stringent efforts we have been taking to get rid of salmonella, is that fair trade?
Another point I should like to make is that at the height of the Belgian poultry and pork problems with dioxins, it was discovered that packaged chickens which had in fact been imported from Thailand and packaged in Italy--not to the hygiene standards required by the European Union--were being sold to British consumers in Smithfield Market.
I am conscious of the need for safe food but I would be much happier if I knew that we were getting quality food. Nutritional quality as well as safety is important. Those of us in the dairy business have to provide a health mark on all our products before they leave the farm. That health mark is awarded to us by the Environmental Health Authority. People who buy our products with that mark know that we produce raw milk, cheese or whatever it is to the standards required. If that were a universal standard with all food products, it would be extremely helpful.
Labelling has a couple of important aims. The Food Standards Bill will ensure that labelling is legally required and that the requirement is to give full and proper information. It should also require the agency to scrutinise labelling. Labelling plays a leading part in enabling people to make informed decisions. As a food producer who comes under considerable scrutiny as to how I produce my food, I have no problem with that. And as a food producer I wish to produce food to the highest levels. However, in doing so it carries various costs which are not associated with some of the other food producers from, say, other EU countries or third world countries. We are interested that, when our food gets onto the supermarket shelves, the consumer can make an informed decision. For example, where a meat product on the left is more expensive and perhaps on the right is less expensive, one might suggest that the one on the right hand is less expensive perhaps because it has not been produced under the same scrutiny. Maybe it has had hormones injected into it, as American beef has.
There are many things that labelling can tell the purchaser. We discussed the fact that it can tell him the nutritional content of the food and about what risks that food carries. We talked about various sections of our community that may wish to know--because of their religion or whatever--what foods they can or cannot eat. We have already talked about country of origin. I feel very strongly that country of origin should be on our labels. If I take out my mobile phone I know that it is produced in a Scandinavian country; I know that mine has a German battery in it. If I take my shoes off in the evening, I know that they come from Italy. But I may not want Italian shoes--your Lordships see my point.
Lord Rotherwick: I did say in the evening". The ones I have on at the moment have a British stamp. So I am a true European there. The most important thing of all is that a label should say something of the history of the food; how it was produced from the beginning to the end. In the case of my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, the label might say, if it was a salmon, Caught by spinner" or Caught by worm". In the case of my beef--or the beef that I used to rear, which I no longer do--it should say whether it is suckler beef and whether or not it was grain fed. In the case of pork, for instance, the label might perhaps say that it was produced with a farrowing system from an EU country, or it is a more expensive pork because it was produced in England where we cannot use the farrowing system.
Again I suggest that fruits should say that they have been produced in our country under pesticide laws that forbid certain pesticides being used. For instance, I believe in this country that we are not allowed to put certain desiccants on pears, and yet just across the Channel pears are allowed certain desiccants. That means that ours are all in different growth stages when they go on the shelves, whereas pears from Holland, having had desiccants on them, have been burnt off and therefore they are all uniform. Such a label would inform the purchasers of the type of foods they are buying and they will be able to make an intelligent choice of their foodstuffs.
I also ask rather tentatively what costs the Minister foresees falling on the farming industry if this kind of comprehensive labelling was adopted. At the present time one would be loath to see any more costs being placed on our farming industry.
The Earl of Selborne: I support my noble friend on the amendment. Perhaps I may anticipate something that my noble friend may ask. We have to understand what the restraints on labelling are and what requirements the agency will need to meet if it is to do what it is charged to do in this Bill; that is, to protect against risk.
It may well be that the standards of food safety in this country are higher than those in other member states. We have heard one or two examples of that. As I read the Bill, there is nothing to prevent the agency from determining that, if food is produced to a different specification from around the world, then it should be so labelled. That would be protecting against risk and the agency is perfectly entitled to do that, leaving aside the issue as to whether or not it should be promoting labelling. However, where it is not able to fulfil the function with which we have charged it in this Bill is where the product comes from another member state. We are not allowed to require a country within the European Union to label the food as coming from a member state other than the United Kingdom. As the Minister reminded me yesterday, European funds, which are part of the common agricultural policy funding--our own money, you might say, recycled--cannot be used to promote something which demonstrably is from one member state rather than another. She was right to say that it was not a question of legality, but simply a question of making it impossible for a promotion to stress British qualities which because of national legislation may well be of a higher standard of food safety.
We have here something that is beyond the scope of the Bill. With regard to Community law we have a problem, because in this country standards in certain respects of food safety are quite different from other member states. We are charging the agency with identifying where there might be a perceived risk. It will be recognised, presumably, that there is a risk in producing food to lesser standards, otherwise we in this Parliament would not have required a higher standard, but because of Community law the agency will be unable to fulfil that obligation.
That is a serious issue which has to be addressed. I am not suggesting that the Minister should somehow produce an amendment to this Bill which would resolve the problem because, it cannot be done like that. It has to go right back to fundamental Community law. It demonstrates the idiocy of the situation in which we find ourselves. We rightly having legislated in this country in order to achieve high standards will then have to keep quiet either because we will have promotional funds withdrawn or because we will be acting in a way which is non-communautaire when others are identifying, say, a Belgian product as inferior and we are not allowed to do so. That is nonsense.
Lord Desai: We spoke yesterday about labelling, so there is not much more to say about that. I detect an undercurrent of protectionism; people are saying, Let us know that foreign goods are foreign" and therefore they must be inferior by definition. They may be, but we must use some common sense about this; it is not just a question of being law abiding. As far as I remember, we have not had a microbiological crisis from imported food. There is no evidence that E.coli or any other crisis was caused because food was imported from abroad. Perhaps I am wrong.
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