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Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, I support what my noble friend said with great lucidity, like a breath of fresh air after the emanations from the Government side during these difficult weeks. However, I am almost in despair at getting across my message about labelling.
The noble Baroness is right. Of course it is necessary for consumers to have all the information in order to inform themselves, but key to that is the way in which the information is presented. My noble friend spoke of comprehensive regulations. That is fine. But they must also be uniform. If they are not uniform, one will not be able to compare goods. I said that at length in Grand Committee; I shall not do so again.
Under the present proposal, one could have a label with a huge list of ingredients in tiny print, printed in grey on white. Noble Lords may think that that suggestion is far fetched. I assure them that that occurs even among the most laudable of our retailers and manufacturers. They often do their best, but in the absence of regulations it is difficult for them.
My noble friend's remarks on Amendment No. 9 do not refer to health claims that are made. That is referred to clearly in the American legislation. I gave the Minister a copy of it. Having retrieved her spectacles, I hope that she has had an opportunity to consider it. Health claims are made: "Healthy choice this; healthy choice that". Only today I ground to a halt at the confectionery department of Selfridges when I heard a lady demonstrating some chocolate for a manufacturer which she represented. She said, "This chocolate contains 70 per cent chocolate so it is much better for you than any other chocolate because it has less sugar". Had it been a French company, I would have intervened on the spot. However, it was a Swiss company and under the circumstances I thought that perhaps it was not the right moment to do so. But that is an example of misinformation.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, we on these Benches have considerable sympathy for the objectives set out in the amendments, particularly in the light of the events of the past few weeks and the heart-felt speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. We debated these issues at considerable length in Committee. Like the noble Countess, Lady Mar, we do not believe that the amendment will do the job required of it. It appears to limit the effect of Clause 1 rather than extend its ambit and that gives us considerable cause for doubt.
We also believe that the amendment is overprescriptive in its intention. The regime it imposes would create great difficulties for a number of food producers. However, we welcome the speech made yesterday by the Minister of Agriculture. We do not believe in an overhasty reaction to such matters. We believe that improved food labelling is necessary, but it must be considered and be the subject of consultation.
In Committee, the Minister assured us that labelling is clearly part of the objectives of the agency. We on these Benches accept that. However, it would be of great value to hear from the Minister precisely what steps will take forward what the Minister of Agriculture said yesterday. We believe that his move was constructive, but how will it be applied? What statutory powers will the Secretary of State and the agency have to improve labelling? Will he be given only guidance, or will he be given something with more teeth in order to ensure that consumers are genuinely reassured that our food is safe?
I am still not confident that when I send a bullock to market with all its ear tags I will get the same bullock back from the slaughterhouse. The labelling is such that when I buy back the carcass of an animal I have sold at market, even before much has been done to it, I cannot be confident that the animal is mine because the ears are no longer on it. I am not confident about the ability to trace products through the system. We must press hard for a better labelling system or we shall not get far down this road. Perhaps the Minister can explain the steps which will be taken next.
Lord Monson: My Lords, I support the amendment for the reasons expressed so admirably by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. If one wants to avoid excessive governmental nannying and bossiness in this area one should ensure thorough and comprehensive labelling and then allow adults to make up their minds about what to eat and what to avoid.
My noble friend Lady Mar added some valuable and pertinent caveats. If the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, wants the amendment accepted today, perhaps she will undertake to introduce further amendments at Third Reading incorporating the suggestions made by my noble friend.
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Byford. I fear that we shall fall into the trap of saying that labelling is all too difficult and that therefore we shall not attempt it. The proposal is prescriptive and the problem is difficult, but that is no excuse for postponing taking action. I also support what was said by my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes about the difficulty in labelling, for example, a small portion of cheese showing the country of origin, how it was made and its ingredients. Labelling is also difficult if the print is small and black against a colour and is squashed together so that it cannot be read adequately. All that causes problems, but surely it is not beyond the wit of man or woman to solve them.
I find most disconcerting a practice which began, I believe, in the United States of America: product labelling which includes a detailed list of the ingredients. On a bottle of shampoo, for instance, the first item listed is aqua. Bearing in mind that not many of us have a classical education today, nobody knows what the hell aqua is. It is a huge minefield.
I do not subscribe to the view that people are being deliberately misled by manufacturers agreeing in principle to labelling but making it impossible for consumers to find out what is in the product. However, I plead with the Minister to do something. We have in front of us a Bill called the Food Standards Bill and it is most important that all of us should be able to judge what we buy and what we eat. Without nannying, we should then be allowed to make our own judgment. I support my noble friend's amendment in principle.
Lord Rea: My Lords, I am pleased that the noble Baroness has moved the amendment. I do not expect my noble friend to include it in the Bill, but it gives her another chance to explain the Government's position on the nutritional labelling of foods. I hope that that includes nutritional and health claims, too. Perhaps my noble friend will also explain how we should progress with EU harmonisation because it is difficult for us to move alone.
As has been said, it is through labelling that consumers will be able to exercise their choice of foods, particularly those which are packaged or processed. In order for consumers to be able to do that properly, all foods, except perhaps some fresh foods which are of standard composition, should be labelled or categorised clearly and effectively.
I also hope that my noble friend will be able to say that the food standards agency will conduct research into labelling and its effectiveness in helping people to make healthy choices. At the same time, it should examine how effective advertising is in persuading people, particularly children, to make the wrong choices and to consume diets which harm their teeth and general health and make them too fat.
The Earl of Radnor: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. I believe that some labels will be too large. It will be difficult to judge what to put on, say, a tin containing a complicated mix of food and what it is reasonable to leave off. I am worried about showing on the label whether or not the food is genetically modified. Soya is imported into this country in large bulk from North and South America and it soon finds its way into tins on the supermarket shelves. My informants tell me that in North and South America there is little soya that is not genetically modified. It is called RR soya--round-up resistance soya--and it gets into almost everything. I wonder what we can do in a situation like that.
Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, I, too, want to support my noble friend Lady Byford. This morning I heard on the news the chairman of the EU food committee saying many alarming things about the fact that France, for instance, admits that it has worse problems with BSE than it previously thought. He went on to say that he thought something should be done about that. He also said as regards the foods now in the market-place that the most important thing for consumers was to be able to make an intelligent choice and to buy food that was safe so far as they could possibly be informed. How can they do that if there is no information on that foodstuff in the form of labelling?
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I am also generally in support of the amendment, but I have a query on Amendment No. 9 on the labelling of the system of production. Perhaps the Minister, when she replies, or my noble friend in winding up could answer my questions. Would such labelling show whether meat came from animals which had been routinely fed with low doses of antibiotics to make certain that they did
Although I have no medical qualifications whatever, I understand that the number of people suffering from different kinds of allergy is increasing in this country and probably in the West as a whole. I wonder whether all the chemical sprays used on foods might not be one of the causes of those allergies.
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