asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is aware that traces of arsenic were found recently in potatoes on sale in Coventry, and that this has engendered disquiet in the city; and if he will make a statement upon his Department's regulations covering the use of arsenite spray on potato plants prior to picking.
Yes, Sir. But my right hon. Friend is informed that the quantities revealed by analysis were well within the limits recommended by the Metallic Contamination Sub-Committee of the Food Standards Committee. The Regulations under the Agriculture (Poisonous Substances) Act, 1952, follow the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Poisonous Substances in Agriculture and Food Storage.
Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that, in so far as Coventry is concerned, the chief public health officer and the city analyst have expressed strong views about this matter? Is he further aware that they feel that the use of this spray involves an unnecessary public health problem for sprayers, consumers and potato pickers, who often take children into the fields with them? Is the Parliamentary Secretary also aware that this Question was put down purely for the purpose of eliciting information, and could he make any comment on it?
As far as consumers are concerned, I think that the position is perfectly satisfactory in that the quantities involved are very small indeed, though I agree that it is a matter to which we must pay careful attention. As regards those who work in these conditions, there are, of course, certain regulations in regard to workers having to wear protective clothing at the time and immediately after the sprayers are used.
There are no official statistics of the area of potatoes sprayed with arsenical compounds, but it is thought that about one eighth of the crop is treated in this way. The examination of the foodstuffs offered for sale to the public is the responsibility of food and drug authorities, and no evidence of excessive arsenical contamination has come to my right hon. Friend's notice.
Would the Minister comment on the suggestion which has been sent to me that sulphuric acid should be used as an alternative? Is it correct to say that up to the present sulphuric acid has proved satisfactory and less dangerous to all concerned—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]—in spite of the disbelief on the part of some of my colleagues?
Sulphuric acid is certainly used and is very good in many circumstances, but it is also a most dangerous acid and has to be used subject to all sorts of restrictions. I am not sure which is the worse of the two.