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Lord Rathcavan: My Lords, I should like to speak briefly in support of Amendment No. 3 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. In particular, as a member of Sub-Committee D of the Select Committee on the European Communities, I have become increasingly aware, during our deliberations on our last two reports on genetically modified organisms and on organic farming, of the huge importance of labelling.

The Bill is remiss in that it does not draw attention to the labelling issue at the front of the Bill. I am relieved to note that the European Union recently introduced a directive giving a threshold for labelling of genetically modified content. I am fully aware that this is a minefield. Does a cow that eats genetically modified maize silage produce antibiotic resistance? There are all sorts of complex dimensions in terms of processing and trace elements. Overall, it is a tremendously important issue. It is important to pay particular note to the labelling issue at the outset.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I should like to echo those last words: this is a tremendously important issue. That has been clear from contributions throughout the House. I also make it clear that it is a tremendously important and wide-ranging issue on which the food standards agency will have lead responsibility. Perhaps I may suggest that in the debate we have had, we have gone a little way towards doing the job of the agency for it in telling it exactly how the job needs to be done. That is fine, and I agree that perhaps the wit of women should be applied to this issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, quite rightly showed ways in which the agency could work in this area.

However, I must bring the House back to the amendments themselves, to see whether they are necessary in order for the agency to deliver what the whole House wants it to deliver. I refer to high quality, informative labelling on which consumers can then make their own choices. That is the issue with which these amendments confront us. I hope that I shall be able to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that those powers are clear within the framework in which we are setting up the agency.

In Grand Committee I said that the agency's responsibility for labelling is central to its role as well as being a matter of considerable concern to consumers. Clause 7 makes it clear that the agency has a role to provide consumers with the information they need. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford,

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who said that labelling information was not the same as labelling. Labelling is one aspect of it, but the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, made it clear to us, with the American document which she showed the House, that giving consumers the power and knowledge by which to interpret labelling is equally important.

The issue of health claims and of how things are presented is extremely important. The agency will have a wide range of information responsibilities, including labelling. I repeat the assurances that we have given throughout the debate that the way in which the Bill is drafted covers labelling. There is no doubt that the term,


    "interests of consumers in relation to food",

covers labelling. That expression appears both in the agency's main objective in Clause 1 and at various other places throughout the Bill.

The Bill makes it clear that the food standards agency will be the main source of advice to Ministers on the use of the powers in the Food Safety Act. The Bill is about setting up the structure of the agency. It is not intended to put in force the powers themselves, which are contained in the Food Safety Act 1990.

I realise that people want to see the word "labelling" appear in legislation. It does so in the Food Safety Act. It may perhaps provide a helpful reassurance if I remind noble Lords that Section 15 of the Food Safety Act deals with the offences relating to falsely describing or presenting food, which includes the use of misleading labelling. Perhaps most importantly here, the regulation-making power in Section 16 clearly provides the basis to regulate labelling, along with a number of related matters which we should not downplay.

Perhaps it might be helpful if I read the provisions into the record. Section 16 states:


    "The Ministers may by regulations make...


    (e) provision for imposing requirements or prohibitions as to, or otherwise regulating, the labelling, marking, presenting or advertising of food, and the descriptions which may be applied to food".

I do not believe that there is any doubt that the existing framework of legislation provides the necessary powers.

Amendment No. 3 would require the agency to institute a labelling regime throughout the United Kingdom. That is a rather curiously narrow role in relation to labelling, since the agency's remit goes much wider and covers advice and information to the public. I also remind the noble Baroness that we already have a labelling regime provided for by the EU labelling directive and in our own legislation. This is a matter of Community confidence, and we have to work within the labelling regime that already applies in Community law.

Noble Lords have raised the issue of genetically modified ingredients in food. I can perhaps reassure the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, that if GM ingredients, as either soya or maize--the two European-approved GM products--are contained within foods sold in this country, that food has to be labelled and marked as

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such. Within the European Community we recently extended that provision to additives and flavourings, which was an important area.

In the interests of making consumers better aware, we also recently brought in regulations to ensure that the labelling requirements for GM foods extend to people buying food in restaurants and supermarkets. In order that restaurants could deliver on that, last week in Europe steps were taken to ensure that bulk supplies for restaurants would also be labelled appropriately so that those running restaurants and take-aways could assure themselves about the information they were giving to customers. That is one aspect of the issue of traceability which was raised.

4.30 p.m.

Viscount Addison: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. Is she telling us that the Food Safety Act 1990 protects us from our concerns about food not being properly labelled? How does the situation come about which we were discussing earlier whereby chicken which had been pre-packed in one country was stamped as being British? Will the noble Baroness explain how we can feel safe about this aspect of labelling?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am not saying that people feel safe. We are dealing with the issue of how the regime for which this amendment provides is applied. We are concerned about country-of-origin labelling and the fact that it may be misleading to consumers. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, quoted at some length from the announcement made by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture about consultation with local trading standards officers. The consultation was designed to ensure that the officers take effective action--which they can do under the Food Safety Act--against misleading labelling, and to ensure that we do not let the guidance notes do anything other than impress upon all concerned that origin indications on food should be clear and not misleading. Some of those points emerge when we see what people do: the way in which flags have been misused or say "produced in Britain" or whatever. We wish to tighten up on those practices which we believe are misleading.

I also believe that it is important that we have improvements in the labelling rules at a European and international level as well as at a domestic level. Therefore, while we have taken that action in terms of tightening up within the Food Safety Act, we are also taking action within Europe to see whether we may extend more satisfactorily the issue of nationality labelling. This is not only a European issue; it is a matter of international trade. Codex Alimentarius has a committee on labelling which must ensure that the agency, with its clear remit of protecting the interests of consumers in relation to food, will take the lead in pressing for improved labelling.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: My Lords, could I just ask the noble Baroness a question relating to something that she said about GM food a moment ago? I read

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that there is to be a tolerance of about 1 per cent or something with GM food for labelling. Is that so or not?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the tolerance level recommended last week was up to 1 per cent for an individual ingredient. Because of the small amount of individual ingredients in terms of a finished product, the up to 1 per cent will be less than that in finished products. That is why the supermarkets are saying that if a ready-made meal contains some cornflour which might have come from genetically modified maize, the levels would in fact be much smaller. That 1 per cent was supported by countries within Europe on the basis that it was reliably detectable in an ingredient throughout Europe and that it should be reduced if possible when there were assured supplies of non-GM sourced material which come with separation. That is being consumer driven throughout the European Community, North America, South America and elsewhere.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, she will be aware that there was supposed to have been a review of food labelling in this country at the beginning of 1998. That did not take place. In the context of what she proposes for the future, will she say why it did not take place and subsequently what will take place?


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