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Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): I am aware of that problem because my nephew, Adam, suffers from the same allergy. It is extremely difficult to buy Easter eggs, for example, because even when one thinks that one is buying pure chocolate it can contain a trace of nut that is often not put on the label. It is a difficult problem, especially for uncles trying to buy treats for their young nephews.
Mr. Gardiner: That is yet another example of the importance of this matter. As my hon. Friend says, it is not just a social problemuncles buying treats for their nephewsit can be critical for allergy sufferers.
The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar was good enough to say that if improvements can be made to the Bill in Committee, he will be open to accepting them. If the Bill receives a fair wind and passage today, I hope that he will be true to his word.
There is hope, even if the Bill were not to get a fair passage today, because I understand that the European Commission considered the matter recently. The Minister of State, Department of Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), and other Ministers have been pressing the Commission to take action on this matter for some time and the Government have been most insistent on some exemptions to ingredients lists. In September, the Commission introduced a proposal to ensure that allergens were listed and, if the proposal is adopted, nuts and other such allergens will have to be listed wherever they are used. That will be a big step forward in improving transparency and honesty in labelling.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will take note of what has been said in the Chamber this morning: that it is not good enough simply to note when a product contains nuts; it is equally important to say when it does not and when it might. The doubt that can arise from food labelling is extremely worrying to parents and other carers.
Angela Watkinson: One of my grandchildren has a nut allergy and I am well trained in reading the information on sweet labels. Sometimes, however, the print is so small that I need a magnifying glass, which I do not happen to carry with me when I shop. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be much more useful to have the simple phrase "nut free" rather than having to trawl through a list of ingredients in search of the words:
Mr. Stephen O'Brien: Has the hon. Gentleman compared the timetable of this Bill, if it is given a fair passage and is successful in entering our domestic law, with discussion of the matter within the EU, which has been rightly and fairly highlighted? Given the moving and important story of the four-year-old in his constituency, it would appear that time is of the essence and that we must
Mr. Gardiner: I have certainly considered the time scale in which the EU might be able to act. Discussions on country of origin labelling began in May of this year at a meeting of the CODEX committee on food labelling. They are expected to continue at the committee's meeting next year, but in the meantime the agency will review its guidance on country of origin labelling to ensure that it tackles that and other issues that concern consumers. The question is, what will that guidance be and how quickly can it be implemented? I understand that it will be implemented before the next meeting of the CODEX committee.
Mr. O'Brien: Although guidance is important, the hon. Gentleman's earlier comments can be underpinned by the need for confidence. Above all, his arguments seemed to suggest that he supported the necessary statutory regime that could enforce that level of confidence. Guidance may be welcome, but I urge him to look carefully at the opportunity that the Bill presents to ensure that that is in place well beforegiven its track record on the issuethe EU's programme for determination of this subject.
Mr. Gardiner: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. Judging from the consensus that appears to exist in the Chamber this morning, the correct labelling of food products to denote potential allergens in them has all-party support. Actually, it has cross-party supportalthough we have not been joined by other Opposition parties this morningand we would all like to see it put into legislation as fast as possible.
I now come to the elements of the Bill addressed by the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar, particularly labelling with the country of origin. First, however, I wish to ask the hon. Gentleman why he adopted specific interpretations in clause 1. One of my questions arises from bitter personal experience. Clause 1 says:
A few hours later when I was with another friend in New Jersey, I began to feel extremely sick. While retiring to the bathroom, as it was called, I passed out, knocked my head against a marble staircase, cracked open my skull and ended up spending the night undergoing CAT scans and goodness knows what else in a New Jersey hospital. I dread to think what the health care I received in America cost my travel insurers. The whole experience was extremely disconcerting.
Mr. Dismore: In the light of my hon. Friend's experience, will he tell us whether he had been drinking spirits at the time? It is now a well known medical fact that drinking spirits with raw shellfish can cause a very bad reaction. Indeed, many good fish restaurants in London now say on the menu that one should not drink spirits if one is ordering raw shellfish
Mr. Gardiner: I thank my hon. Friend for that information. I have only two things to say to him. The first is that I was not drinking spirits at the time. The second is that, given the choice between eating shellfish and drinking spirits, I certainly know which course is distinctly preferable. I am a good Scotsman, so my hon. Friend need not ask any more.
The fact that sea fish and shellfish are not considered to be food for the purposes of the Bill would cause many people concern. Perhaps the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar will consider that point.
Although there is some farming of shellfish and fish, they are mostly collected by hunter-gatherers. That is why shellfish and sea fish are not covered by the Bill. The hon. Gentleman refers to safety and to the definition of ingredients but, as I said earlier, let us get the Bill into Committee. The Government no doubt have strong views on that point, so they might table an amendment to deal with it.
Mr. Gardiner: The hon. Gentleman has been extremely gracious in accepting interventions and in recognising that other suggestions may be introduced into his Bill at later stages. The House is grateful to him for the open way in which he has dealt with these matters.