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The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): My right honourable friends the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Secretary of State for Health, together with the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, welcome the excellent response to the consultation on Professor James' report. The Government have received replies from over 630 organisations and individuals. The responses show that there is widespread support for the proposal to establish a Food Standards Agency which would:
We are also taking a range of measures to improve food safety arrangements in the transitional period before establishment of a Food Standards Agency. My honourable friend the Minister for Food Safety and the Minister for Public Health will take on a joint role in preparing the way for the Food Standards Agency and ensuring maximum protection for the public. They will carry out this day-to-day role in close consultation with their ministerial counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Overall policy co-ordination will rest with the Ministerial Committee on Food Safety, chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
A key feature of the transitional arrangements will be developing further the independent advisory committees which advise the Government as a whole on food safety and related matters. The Food Advisory Committee (FAC) will be given a special role in the handling of food safety issues which go beyond the remit of any one expert committee.
In addition to these UK wide measures, my right honourable friends the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Health are taking specific steps to improve the management of food safety issues in England. A Joint Food Safety and Standards Group (JFSSG) will be formed from the relevant staff in MAFF and DH from 1 September 1997. The group will be headed by Mr. Geoffrey Podger, a Department of Health official currently seconded to MAFF. The new joint group will report to Ministers in both departments. In Scotland all food safety issues are handled by a single team which comes under the responsibility of the Scottish Health Minister; in Wales all food safety issues come under the responsibility of the Welsh Health Minister; and in Northern Ireland the Department of Health and Social Services has lead responsibility for food safety issues.
The Chief Medical Officer, Sir Kenneth Calman, will be given a new high-level co-ordinating role in the handling of issues of potential public concern about food. Sir Kenneth will have particular responsibility for a new joint MAFF/DH Risk Communication unit which is to be established and further reinforced by the appointment of an external adviser. This role will be undertaken in consultation with territorial departments.
We are also continuing to strengthen our approach to food safety issues taking account of the high priority we give to the protection of public health, the rigorous enforcement of measures designed to protect the public, and our commitment to openness, transparency and responsiveness to consumer concerns.
Whether the threat to the salmon fishing industry posed by the salmon parasite gyrodactylus salaris is so serious as to warrant the maximum possible publicity to warn the country of the threat to the future of the industry.
Lord Donoughue: The Government are satisfied that existing fish health measures and associated publicity for gyrodactylus salaris have been effective in preventing the introduction of the parasite into Great Britain, despite its presence in parts of Europe for a number of years. The introduction into the British Isles of live salmon and trout, which pose the highest risk, is already prohibited. Salomonid eggs are made safe by disinfection before entering Great Britain. The risks of introducing gyrodactylus salaris through contaminated fishing tackle or clothing are low and do not warrant changes to legislation, but nonetheless we advise those fishing abroad to take precautions such as drying or disinfecting equipment to avoid the accidental spread of disease.
When they last met with representatives of (a) Consumers for Health Choice, (b) the Society for the Promotion of Nutritional Therapy, (c) the Council for Responsible Nutrition, (d) the National Association of Healthfood Stores, and (e) the Healthfood Manufacturers Association to discuss the ban on vitamin B6 supplements; and whether they will identify those among the above organisations which have supported the ban; and
What recent representations about the ban on higher dose vitamin B6 they have received from Dr. Derek Shrimpton or other Fellows of the Royal Society of Medicine; and whether any such representations supported or opposed the introduction of the ban.
Lord Donoughue: The Government have no intention of imposing a ban on higher dose vitamin B6 products. They have decided that the level of vitamin B6 in dietary supplements sold under food law should be limited to a maximum of 10mg per daily dose. This limit will be introduced by regulations made under Section 16(1) of the Food Safety Act 1990. However, higher dose products licensed as medicines for the treatment of specific clinical conditions will continue to be available from pharmacies and on prescription.
The Government's decision to limit the level of vitamin B6 in dietary supplements sold under food law was based on advice from two independent committees, the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT) and the Food Advisory Committee (FAC). In formulating this advice the Committees took account of information supplied and views expressed by organisations with an interest in the subject matter. The organisations were invited to submit to the COT data on the safety of vitamin B6 which was considered before the committee finalised its advice. Their views on the possibility of a voluntary limit of 10mg of vitamin B6 per daily dose were also sought by officials from this department as part of the FAC's consideration.
The Government were aware of the views that had been expressed by interested organisations when it considered the advice of the FAC. Its decision to accept that advice was announced on 4 July. On 23 July my honourable friends the Minister of State at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Minister for Public Health met with representatives of various organisations, including Consumers for Health Choice, the Society for the Promotion of Nutritional Therapy, the Council for Responsible Nutrition, the National Association of Healthfood Stores, and the Healthfood Manufacturers Association in order to listen to their concerns about the proposed limit. All of the organisations invited to the meeting had questioned the need for the proposed limit.
Dr. Derek Shrimpton was present at the meeting on 23 July. He also met with officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food earlier on the same day. On both occasions he questioned the validity of the scientific evidence upon which the proposed limit is based.
Interested organisations who had not expressed any reservations about the proposed limit were not invited to the meeting on 23 July. However, my honourable friend the Minister of State has written to a number of those organisations, specifically the National Consumer Council, the Consumers' Association and the National Food Alliance, asking if they wished to make any comments.
The Government have every confidence in the ability of the COT and FAC and in the quality of their advice. They are also satisfied that the proposed limit on the level of vitamin B6 in supplements sold under food law is a proportionate response to the public health risk posed by high-dose vitamin B6 supplements.
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