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Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for making those points, which are well taken. I agree with him that a far higher standard of information and safety is needed. One of the primary responsibilities, as I hope I made clear in my response to the noble Earl, is the communication strategy which the new agency will develop. There is clearly a need for responsible information to be spread widely. I hope that in the appointment of independent commissioners those skills will be some of the ones looked for. They will be there in the professionals who will staff the new communications unit which will form an important part of the work. It is also true to say that what comes out clearly from some of the evidence which has been produced recently from the Consumers' Association's survey, for example, is that at the moment the vast majority of people feel that there is inadequate sensible information upon which they can make their personal judgments and take their personal risks. That will be an important role.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I join in congratulating the Minister and her department on moving towards what I would regard is an authoritative body which may, if used rightly, do much to reduce the opportunities for creating scares and mass hysteria. We all accept that there will be a price to be paid. I share the noble Earl's view that the costs should be spread widely and not imposed solely on the producers. Is the Minister aware that there will be a warm welcome for what I shall call the ancillary bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? I hope that they will enable the Minister of Agriculture to continue to do all that he can to advance the claims of Northern Ireland, not on territorial or political grounds, but on the uniquely high standard of animal health and traceability of animals in Northern Ireland, which is not matched anywhere else in Europe.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am aware of the points made by the noble Lord. We have seen today some public indications from Brussels that there is a recognition of the high standards of hygiene in Northern Ireland, which will be addressed in the detailed regulations which are to be drawn up under the agency's
Lord Rea: My Lords, as chairman of the Parliamentary Food and Health Forum, and as a member of the National Heart Forum, I greatly welcome my noble friend's words when repeating the Statement made in another place. A body such as the FSA is something that many of us involved in public health have been suggesting and for which we have been pleading for many years. I realise that food safety, in terms of protection from the various forms of food poisoning, is high on the public agenda.
Will my noble friend reassure me that the agency will not shy away from the issue of the poor nutritional rather than the microbiological quality of the nation's diet, which is also seriously at fault? We eat too much fat, too much sugar, too much salt and too few vegetables and fruit. Careful recent research can now demonstrate that about one-third of the deaths from heart disease and cancer in the UK and many other countries is diet related. Those two diseases are the top two causes of death. Attention to the quality of our nutrition could save many more lives than could the elimination of food poisoning, which claimed only 74 lives last year, although it caused a great deal of nuisance as well. That compares with the 275,000 deaths caused by heart disease and cancer. I hope that my noble friend can assure me that the Government will stand firm against those powerful sections of the food industry which have already tried to persuade them to emasculate, if not eliminate, the important advisory role of the FSA on nutrition and nutritional standards, in addition to its food safety role from plough to plate.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, first I pay tribute to my noble friend's long and distinguished record in promoting these issues within the Palace of Westminster and outside in his role as a public health doctor. Many of the matters to which he referred are primarily still for my honourable friend and colleague the Minister for Public Health, not specifically for the FSA. The agency's job is clearly to provide authoritative information about healthy food so that consumers can make informed choices about their own consumption. It will not be charged--I must repeat this, because the noble Earl referred to the spectre of the "nanny state"--with telling people what they should eat, although it will, I hope, be able to give clear and authoritative information about what a healthy diet is.
It should be made clear that the broader responsibilities--for example, those for coronary heart disease and cancer, to which my noble friend referred--will remain the responsibility of the Department of Health. We recognise clearly the responsibility of diet within those major health problems. My noble friend will agree that nutrition is not the sole cause of cancer or coronary heart disease. So, although we need to pay
Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, I join in the general welcome for the new agency. The Minister said that the Meat Hygiene Service would be taken over by it. Since that service took over from the local authorities, costs have rocketed. Abattoirs and slaughterhouses are having great difficulties in surviving. Will she give some assurance that that problem will be looked at carefully by the agency and that some balance will be found between costs to the new agency and to the producers? Otherwise slaughterhouses will continue to close, jobs will be lost and inevitably the price to the consumer will rise.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the noble Lord is correct that the agency will be responsible for licensing meat plants and will take over the responsibility for the Meat Hygiene Service. It will also take responsibility for dairy hygiene enforcement work which is at the moment carried out by the agriculture departments in England and Wales.
As to the point about rising costs, one of the reasons for that is that since the Meat Hygiene Service took over the supervision and organisation of that service much more stringent, detailed and specific regulation has been supplied systematically. Those around the House who have welcomed the introduction of an overarching agency to improve standards would hope to maintain those high standards which we hope are beginning to reduce, for example, the BSE element in the human food chain.
As to the overall question of the cost of the agency, in my response to the noble Earl I did, I hope, make it clear that that is something which is still open to consultation. We do not feel that there is theoretically any reason to suppose that the industry should not make a contribution, but what that contribution should be and how it should be arranged is something which is genuinely still open for discussion.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I have had a glance at the White Paper. I was pleased to see that the preparation of animal feed is to come under the new agency. There is little doubt, from the latest evidence that I have seen, that the change from batch preparation of bloodmeal and that sort of thing to a lower temperature and cheaper continuous operation has been responsible for the enormous expansion to 170,000 cases of BSE in our cattle in this country. So I welcome that.
Why is it that in this time of greatly improved hygiene people seem to be more susceptible to food poisoning? Some years ago I was in Mexico visiting farms with a Mexican government vet. After a long day, we came to a roadside stall. My mouth watered at what I saw, but he stopped me, saying, "It's all right for me; but it's all wrong for you". It appears that we should examine people's susceptibility to food poisoning.
The noble Lord asked about the human immune system and spoke of his experience in Mexico. Earlier this week the British Medical Association published extraordinary figures, suggesting 1 million cases of food poisoning. I speak largely anecdotally and from personal experience rather than with enormous general authority. I think food poisoning is attributable to a number of causes. Often, there is concern about the temperature level at which people keep their domestic refrigerators. There is also concern about the public's lack of ability to understand information about proper preparation. For example, I and I am sure other Members of your Lordships' House often use fast food. One must read the label carefully to know exactly how long it needs to be defrosted and cooked in order to ensure that it is safe. Incorrect use can often lead to food poisoning, even in the most organised household.
Furthermore, there is some truth in the noble Lord's example about Mexico, which I know from experience. I am sure that Mexico would not care to be called a third-world country; but in countries where domestic refrigerators and fast food are less widespread people appear to have greater immunity to some of the problems we confront, even if we go on holiday and drink the water in the hotel bathroom in a well organised city which has normal standards of hygiene. I am in no position, certainly not as an immunologist, to discuss why the human immune system appears to becomes less resistant as we become more civilised, but there must be an element of truth in that.
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