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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, all I was doing was demonstrating to the House how carefully we weighed up this matter. On balance, we have come to the view that I expressed.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, Ministers normally adopt the criminal standard of evidence. They normally say "beyond all reasonable doubt it is not necessary" and not "on the balance of probabilities". Needless to say, we will consider what the Minister said.

I take comfort from what he said about the understandings that had been achieved with the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. I would press him for chapter and verse on that. I do not know whether that would have been an executive decision and so would be on the record or whether it would have been a committee decision-- by, for instance, a committee of the Welsh Assembly. I would ask the noble Lord to give chapter and verse. I accept the point that the advisory committees are not executive agencies. Perhaps, on the balance of probabilities, there is a case for not treating them with quite the same rigour as agencies. But I have yet to be completely convinced of that. I certainly remain to be convinced that it is not entirely legitimate for the UK Parliament to set principles by which devolved advisory bodies and devolved other bodies should conduct their business. We certainly would not wish to give away that principle. For the present, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

Clause 7 [Provision of advice, information and assistance to other persons]:

[Amendment No. 10 not moved.]

Lord Rotherwick moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 3, line 31, at end insert--
("( ) where foodstuffs do not comply with any relevant United Kingdom regulation or regulations, providing information explaining in what respects they do not comply.").

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 12. The clause as it stands is too wide and far too vague to ensure what many consumers of both sexes and ages feel is necessary. In choosing animal and vegetable products, many people have regard to how their potential purchases are produced. Increasingly, they are opting for products which have been grown in hygienic conditions and reared in humane circumstances. They are also concerned about the effect on the environment and wildlife and the manner of the slaughter process. Many allow their consciences to guide their purchase decisions. The current popularity of organic food is one instance; another is the rejection of eggs from battery hens. However, surely the most outstanding example is the ending, in all but a small number of exclusive outlets which do not advertise their wares, of the sale of clothes made from real fur.

I know people who will not eat veal because of the way it is produced in other countries and because they have no means of knowing where the product on the menu was reared. I know people who wish to exercise choice if only someone would give them the information to enable them to do so. I know people who have been vociferous in their support for a Food Standards Bill--highly supportive because they imagine that it will set standards against which products can be measured. But this Bill is not about measuring. The agency is not being instructed to do anything that will enable the ordinary mortal to make comparisons and exercise choice on a daily basis in every food buying decision he or she makes. It is no good being told that the rules are X, Y and Z if one is not then told how to identify items which are not produced according to the rules. If everyone obeys the instructions given by the authorities, there would perhaps be no need for a Food Standards Bill; far less a food standards agency.

The standards laid on our livestock and arable farmers are not matched universally. They are not matched in the third world and they are not matched even in Europe. Yet we allow unmarked goods into this country to be sold side-by-side with our own products. In fact, we even allow in products which are then given minimal processing and packaging and are marked "Made in the UK". The agency may choose to interpret its role in such a way that the advice and guidelines it issues will enable comparisons to take place. It is possible that, after all the Government's assurances in this House and in another place, the Secretary of State will issue directives which incorporate measurements, standards and methods. However, the fact remains that he may not--and the consumer will be bitterly disappointed and let down.

It is said--too often in my opinion--that EU legislation ties the hands of our legislators in many areas. Let it not be said with regard to food labelling; not after the publication of the report into organic farming which was laid before this House last Friday. On page 10 of that report, under the heading "Imports", the Select Committee explains EC Regulation 2092/91. In a nutshell the labels on European organic produce must include the name

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and/or code number of the national inspection body charged with ensuring compliance with the regulation. It may not be country of origin but it is as good as and does for organic produce exactly what my amendments seek to do for more conventional farming products. I beg to move.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment No. 13. The work of the agency is to satisfy the aspirations of the public and that must apply without fear or favour to all foods, no matter where or how they were produced. If, for example, the famous European straight banana were found to be less nutritious pound for pound--or should I say gram for gram--than the old-fashioned curvy one, the agency should say so. If pesticides banned in this country but legal elsewhere are found in imported top fruit, the agency should say so. If growth promoters forbidden to our farmers are found in meat from other countries, the agency should tell us.

Without specific instructions to be all-inclusive, the agency is likely to concentrate its efforts on UK produce. The results of its studies are likely to be taken as criticism of UK produce and, what is worse, an indication that UK products are not as good as their continental equivalents.

Perhaps I may give one example. In this country CCC--Cyclo cell chlormequate--has not been cleared for use on top fruit. Hence, any residues found in UK output are illegal. It has been cleared on the Continent, where residues of up to three milligrams per kilo are allowable. It was used in this country in the past before clearance procedures were instituted and some orchards have residues in their soil. Traces can get into the fruit and will show up in analyses with amounts of 0.1 to 0.3 of a gram per kilo. The pesticide inspectorate will then condemn the fruit while accepting similar produce from the Continent with much higher residue levels. The agency should work to set the standards that should apply to all products sold in the UK. It should test all fruit products on sale in this country and then, in line with Clause 19, publish the results.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I am slightly cautious about both these amendments, although, as one who has not eaten veal for many years because I know that we do not produce it in this country, I am unhappy about crates. I very much sympathise.

From my experience with organophosphates, I know that it is not possible to test every item or batch of fruit that is imported. It is interesting that, in 1996, 46,000 tonnes of apples were imported from the American continent, and only four tests were conducted on them by government laboratories. So we cannot possibly know which top fruits, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, contain pesticide residues. The thing to do is avoid their application to the fruit in the first place. As noble Lords know, that is my ambition.

I prefer the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, as it stands, but not her explanation for it. I am prepared to support it. I have slight difficulty with the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick.

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6.15 p.m.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, for tabling the amendments. They give me the opportunity to respond to the debate in terms of the action and responsibilities of the food standards agency in regard to imported food.

As all speakers have made clear, far from not providing information on imported foods, there is a case for arguing that the public needs even more, and clearer, information on those foods than on domestically produced foods, for the reasons that have been discussed. The concerns expressed echo many that arose during the debate on labelling. I assure the House that the work of the authority will be able to encompass those matters.

There is particular concern in cases where it is believed that imported foods do not meet the high standards of safety and animal welfare that apply in the United Kingdom. The Government recognise the need to ensure that the public are kept properly informed about all food on the UK food market. These are important matters and the Government take them seriously. Consumers must not be misled about the food they buy. More importantly, their health should not be put at risk by inadequate application of safety standards.

However, the amendments as drafted are unnecessary and in some respects even counter-productive. Amendment No. 12 in particular would give the agency the function of providing information on products which do not comply with EU regulations. I must stress that it is illegal to place foods on the market within the EU which do not comply with those regulations. That is the issue we dealt with in terms of Belgian food containing dioxins and we may well be dealing with it in other areas. It underlies current concerns about animal feed. In that case the proper action is not to provide information but to make sure that the law is enforced. That is an important point.

In the case of Amendment No. 11, there are certain instances where the United Kingdom has established higher standards than those required by EU rules for animal welfare or for public health reasons. Provided imported products meet the relevant EU standards, we are legally obliged to follow the principle of mutual recognition. We cannot simply ban imports because they do not meet domestic UK standards that are higher than EU standards. Nor could we or the agency legally take action which might be interpreted as disparagement of products which meet the relevant EU or international standards.

But that does not mean that the agency can do nothing. It can provide--and this is a crucial role--factual information so that consumers are helped to make informed choices. Clause 7 already provides the necessary basis for the agency to do that. We believe that it is not necessary to spell out particular details in the way suggested in Amendment No. 11, for the old drafting reason that it could cast doubt on the generality of the agency's powers or imply that these

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points have priority over other issues. But that is not in any way to suggest that the agency should not concern itself with making sure that there is an understanding not only of the basics, but also of claims that are made.

If the agency's function under Clause 7 is to be effectively carried out and the public are to be properly informed, it must cover both imports and domestic production. I certainly agree with the intention behind Amendment No. 13. It would look extremely odd, and would not be acceptable to British consumers, if the agency were to give advice only on matters concerning domestic production. However, I assure the noble Baroness that there is nothing in the Bill as drafted to suggest that. It applies equally to imported and domestically produced food on the UK market and the agency will make no distinction in carrying out its functions. Advice on food safety and other interests of consumers must surely cover imported food. Otherwise, the agency would not be properly carrying out its main objective of protecting public health from risks. The specific point addressed by Amendment No. 13 is already covered by the Bill. The amendment is unnecessary. However, I am grateful for the opportunity to make those points clear to the House.

What we can do over and above the basics is address some of the concerns raised by taking steps to improve the accuracy and clarity of origin markings on food. Clearly, we must work within the framework of EU rules. But, as I explained in relation to earlier amendments, we believe that there is room for improvement in the interpretation of the rules. We have already announced our intention to take action to strengthen our guidance on the matter. The new guidelines will make clear that, where origin marking is given, it should be worded carefully, particularly where there might otherwise be confusion as to the origin of ingredients. For example, imported pork cured in Britain should not in our view be labelled "British" or "produced in Britain." That is precisely the point being addressed by the current consultation.

If there is a genuine and immediate food safety risk, the right course of action is not to provide information but to prohibit the imports. Where there is a real and specifically justified risk to health, we can and do act against imports. An example was the severe restriction on Belgian products because of the dioxin scare. Certainly, in the area of pesticides on fruit, where we were concerned as a result of monitoring that pesticides were being used and were over maximum residue levels we took action with the Belgian Government. The Belgians have now withdrawn approval of the use of that particular pesticide. I appreciate that we cannot test everything, as the noble Countess said, but there is a monitoring process in place, and we can and do take action whenever a matter of concern arises. Equally, we believe that it is in the interests of the UK to work with the Commission, within the framework of EU law, to resolve problems of this kind. That is exactly what we seek to do at the moment in relation to the use of sewage sludge in animal feeds.

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The agency will have a role not only in ensuring that there is no misleading labelling on either imported or domestic produce but in supporting the work of farmers and domestic producers, as we are anxious to do, in positively marketing the welfare and health benefits of British produced food. For that reason the £5 million announced today is intended to help pig farmers who have been particularly disadvantaged by what we regard as misleading labelling related to country of origin.

I agree that for clarity and to enable consumers to make choices the agency must take action on all food, whatever its country of origin, and not concentrate only on UK produce. I do not believe that the Bill as drafted in any way suggests that the agency would do otherwise. The agency would not fulfil its main objective--the protection of consumers--if that was its focus. I hope that with that assurance the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

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