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A fourth basic element which I believe we need to examine is research into standards, nutritional values, pesticides and antibiotics. I warmly endorse the recommendations of the Curry report concerning the need to co-ordinate, focus and prioritise research within government and among the various industry bodies. Research affects every aspect of food production.
At this point, let us remember our fishing industry, which my noble friend Lord Caithness mentioned. It is, indeed, an important aspect of food production and it is a growing sector. The fishing industry has a great responsibility both at sea and in relation to fish farming. However, it seems that there is a great deal of conflict between what happens in the depths and what happens to the fish that we stock and upon which we rely.
The four basic elements to which I have referred are those without which no policy will work: fair rewards; access to local markets; full and unambiguous labelling; and focused research. I hope that noble Lords will agree that none of those needs to be hampered by the CAP as it stands at present, nor should they obstruct future reforms.
I hope that the Minister agrees that the Government should accept responsibility for the implementation of their own policies. The farmer's job is to produce food; it is the Government's job to ensure that that food is up to standard, in constant and adequate supply, and available without unfair competition from other quarters.
Today's debate has been interesting and informative. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for giving us a subject so fundamental to the well-being of the country. I particularly congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswichif I say to him that I was at Southwold this weekend, he will know that I was not far awayon an excellent maiden speech in which he twinned the importance of farming and the local community.
I stress to the Minister and the Government the serious content of today's debate. As my noble friend, Lord Plumb, said, we need to make a visionI believe that some of the recommendations of Sir Don Curry are a visioninto reality. The only way that that can happen is by the Government taking action. It is time to move forward and not to keep consulting. If we do not move forward, producers, and indeed consumers, will suffer in consequence. I end by quoting the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who we are pleased to see in support of the debate today. I was delighted when he said, in response to the Statement yesterday:
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, 16 minutes are left to me in this time-limited debate. I shall try to cover as many as possible of the points raised. If I do not cover some points, I shall follow them up and write to noble Lords.
Like other noble Lords, I welcome the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, in instituting what has been, on any count, an excellent debate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, stated, it seems inevitable in your Lordships' House that debates about food have almost always focused attention on
We have also had drawn to our attention the impact of the difficulties of the farming industry on rural areas in general. I particularly commend the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich on an excellent and insightful maiden speech. We certainly look forward to his contributions in future.
The Curry report, the commission's thinking about farming and the relationship of food to the consumer, goes very much to the heart of our debate. The commission speaks of a disconnection between supplier, processor and retailer, and in many cases of confrontational relationships and poor communications. Curry says that food is plentiful and sold at prices that are historically low. However, despite that, consumers are uneasy and are concerned about the wholesomeness and safety of the food they eat, and feel disconnected from what they eat and how it is produced.
In addition to consumers' fears about food safety, Curry points to poor nutritional standards and says that we are storing up health problems, with people eating too much of the wrong food and not enough of the right food. That suggests to me the pressing need to ensure that an holistic approach is taken to food production, food standards and nutrition, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, pointed out. We need an approach that undoubtedly puts the consumer first; that ensures that food is safe to eat; that there is a choice of foods to allow an enjoyable and healthy diet; that food is of good quality; and, last but not least, that it is reasonably priced.
I believe that the future of the food and farming industry must lie in ensuring that those expectations are met. As the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said, that responsibility rests with industry, but government, too, have a major role to play in ensuring that the conditions are right for industry to play its part, just as government have a role to play in relation to food safety and nutrition.
I believe that we have the right infrastructure in place. As my noble friend Lady Thornton said, we took action when we came into government to establish the Food Standards Agency to be an independent voice within government, able to give advice and publish it without first asking politicians. I believe that the agency has started its work well. Curry says some complimentary things about its performance. As my noble friend Lady Thornton said, it is setting new benchmarks for standards of openness and transparency in carrying out its role. In so doing, that will lead to greater confidence among consumers about food in this country. That confidence is one of the planks which will lead to better conditions for our farming industry generally.
In terms of enforcement, the agency has developed a new framework agreement with local authorities to promote high and consistent standards of enforcement throughout the UK. That was one of the issues we debated when we established the Food Standards Agency. The noble Lord, Lord McColl, in a graphic speech, drew our attention to the dangers of fruit picking and urine coming together. He made some serious points about food-borne disease in this country. Certainly, the agency and the Government are exercised about the need to tackle that. The agency has a strategy which I believe has been well trailed. It is designed around promoting best practice, enforcement of legislation, publicity, training and education. But clearly, from what has been said in this debate, it is important that the agency gives all due attention to ensuring that that strategy is, indeed, implemented.
The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, all raised issues in relation to labelling. I certainly agree with the thrust of the points they made. We are a committed supporter of informed consumer choice. Because of that, we are pressing for amendments to EU labelling rules to require origin labelling on a wider range of foods, particularly meat and meat products; to require origin labelling for certain ingredients of food, particularly meat and dairy products, and to define and control the use of words such as "produce of". The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, made a telling point about her concern that at times consumers are unaware of where a product comes from.
The issue of labelling also extends to nutrition labelling. My noble friend Lady Thornton quoted the experience of the Co-operative Retail Society, which is a good example. The Food Standards Agency is pressing for EU rules requiring compulsory nutrition labelling on all foods to help those who want to follow healthy eating advice.
The issue of animal welfare is also important. The noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, speaks with great authority on those matters. I and the Government agree with the points he makes about reducing the distance travelled by animals to centralised slaughter plants. We believe that there is a serious animal welfare issue here and we very much support the thrust of what he said. He then raised the issue of the illegal importation of "bush meat", a subject which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford also discussed. We are actively taking forward a range of initiatives aimed at improving our ability to prevent and detect illegal imports of animal products. We are stepping up those checks. We are ensuring greater publicity at ports and airports, and information for travellers into the UK. Intelligence gathering has also been improved, together with ensuring better awareness of the problem on the part of Customs and local authority officers at ports and airports.
We know that a person's diet is one of the greatest influences on their risk of developing cancer or heart disease. The noble Lord, Lord Chan, referred to that. The NHS Plan sets out the Department of Health's commitment for improving diet with action by 2004.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, had some very interesting suggestions to make in relation to encouraging people to make choices about what to eat. We cannot go back to the rationing which the noble Lord, Lord McColl, described so aptly. It must be done from a basis of ensuring that information is available and that, wherever people live, there is proper access to healthy food. I can point to many examples where initiatives are being taken to enable that to happen. For example, many of our health action zones have projects dedicated to improving access to healthier diets. These range from creating food delivery services in neighbourhoods where healthy food was not available to teaching cooking skills to young mothers.
I have listened carefully to the points made about schools. It is significant that 25 per cent of pupils taking or studying the food technology GCSE are boys. It is not the only issue of course. But I know that my 13 year-old son was taught cooking last year at school and I have certainly enjoyed the benefits of that.
A number of noble Lords have mentioned the efforts to encourage the "five-a-day" programme to increase the consumption of fruit and vegetables, and the National School Fruit Scheme. Recently, I announced the launching of that scheme in the West Midlands. The New Opportunities Fund has made £42 million available to support further phases of the pilot scheme from now until 2004. I am very keen on those schemes because they have the potential to increase demand for fruit and vegetables. I hope that the farming community in this country will be able to take on that challenge and increase the production of fruit in England to meet demand and that it will stem the current decline in vegetable production.
So far as concerns obesity, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is absolutely right to point to the National Audit Office report. Healthy diets are clearly an important step in tackling obesity, although I would also argue that exercise, and particularly encouraging young people in schools to do sports, is equally important. Noble Lords may well know of the PE in School sports initiative, which again is using NOF money£580 million over a series of yearsto encourage that to happen.
My noble friend Lord Rea asked how far we have got with folic acid fortification of flour. I can tell him that COMA recommended universal fortification of flour but did not go further to say that this should be
The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred to food poverty. I am very much aware of that, as is the Food Standards Agency. It is funding research, looking at the characteristics of so-called food deserts and assessing the local impact on dietary habits, which I hope will inform the development of policy. I visited the Sheffield health action zone which is already taking action in that area.
In the first few minutes of my remarks I have focused rightly on the consumer. But of course the farming community faces many challenges and uncertainties. They have been very well described by a number of noble Lords today. That brings me to the farming production issues which were raised in the Curry report. It has been a substantial report with many specific and detailed recommendations, both for the Government and for industry. Those recommendations demand careful consideration and reflection. Clearly I am not in a position, nor are the Government, to give a comprehensive view on each and every one of them. It would be premature to produce any kind of detailed response to the commission's report.
What I can sayin a sense I repeat a little of what was said in the Statement that we debated yesterdayis that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has welcomed the report on behalf of the Government and the valuable ideas that it contains. Obviously the report will give us new impetus and new ideas to drive forward the process of change and to respond to some of the challenges which the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and other noble Lords have posed for the Government tonight in our efforts to ensure that there is a sustainable and healthy farming industry in this country.
In relation to food production, a number of very important issues have been raised. The noble Lord, Lord Geraint, raised the issue of prices paid by supermarkets to farmers. He will not need me to rehearse the commission's report and the code of practice which we certainly encourage and which the Curry commission suggests should be reviewed after two years.
Of course securing reform of the CAP, as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, has suggested, will not be easy, but we are determined to do as much as we can, informed by what the Curry report suggests. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford have raised a number of questions about modulation. We want to explore the use of modulation. We certainly endorse the need to consider
I have only one minute left if I am to allow the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, to respond to the debate. Clearly I have not been able to cover all the points that have been raised. However, I want to come back to the substantive point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. The Government recognise the competitive pressures on the farming industry and the need for a level playing field in Europe. I would also say to the noble Earl that the opportunities that the Curry report lays out are opportunities. There is reference to new markets; to consumers wanting more authentic food; to ways of reconnecting with the farming industry; and to ways of ensuring that there is much greater co-operation between farmers in order to assert their own position in the market.
While the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, described this as a "starry-eyed vision" and the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, described it as a "blue-sky vision", none the less vision is what we need. The commission's work will make a substantial contribution towards a new strategy for modern and adaptable farming in this country. I can assure noble Lords that the Government will do everything they can to make sure that that happens.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, we have hadthe FSA would not object to my describing it thusa "free-ranging" debate today, with a very balanced diet of speeches. The debate was tough on the one handI entirely agree with my noble friend that we should have an evidence-based policybut it was tender on the other hand. I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich on his speech which reminded us how important it is that we understand that there are people and communities involved in food policy.