Labelling of Food and Toilet Preparations

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd April 1969.

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3.37 p.m.

Photo of Mrs Joyce Butler Mrs Joyce Butler , Wood Green

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to confer powers in relation to the provision of information or instructions on the sale of food and toilet preparations; and for purposes connected therewith. I ask the indulgence of the House for having chosen the wrong day to present this Bill, but it is an important subject. Food labelling has greatly improved since I introduced the first Labelling of Food Bill in February 1965, due to the Government's own food labelling Regulations and the provisions of the Trade Descriptions Act, which I greatly welcome. It might, therefore, be felt that nothing further need be done, but this would be a mistake, since a number of loopholes still remain in food labelling Regulations and others will be discovered as knowledge of food processing is extended.

For this reason, the Bill differs from the previous Bills which I brought in, in that it is an enabling Bill, giving powers to the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Social Services to take into account changes in the law and to make Orders for provision of information or the making of instructions by label when food is sold.

In particular, the existing food Regulations do not require manufacturers to specify the names of the additives which they use. Although the types of additives and the amounts which may be added to food are controlled for the most part, consumers have a right to know exactly which additives are being used in the preparation of the ever-increasing numbers of foods in which they are found. Thousands of these additives are already in use as colours, flavourings, emulsifiers, humectants, preservatives and so on and I am informed by the trade that the number at present in use is small in comparison with the flood which we may expect in the next few years.

While each tiny amount of additive in itself may not be harmful, no one knows what is the effect on health of taking all these minute amounts of chemicals in almost every food and beverage every day. Therefore, it is essential that the most specific information possible should be given to the consumer. The importance of this is illustrated by the case of cyclamates, the artificial sweeteners, in regard to which disquieting reports of recent studies accompanied by improved labelling regulations have recently become available from the United States.

In this country a maximum advisable daily intake of cyclamates is recommended, yet labels do not have to disclose the presence of this additive or give the quantity in which it is present, simply that the product contains an artificial sweetener. A special provision of this Bill would enable Ministers to close this loophole.

In addition, two particular consumer demands are met. First, there are provisions to ensure that the date by which any vacuum-packed food should be consumed is shown on the pack. Secondly, frozen foods will indicate, by an ingenious device, whether or not there has been any material and therefore possibly harmful rise in temperature before such foods reach the consumer.

The Bill would extend its provisions in regard to disclosure of additives to a wide range of toilet preparations. The colours and other chemicals used in cosmetics may affect health—through the skin, through the mouth in the case of lipsticks, and through the eyes in the case of eye-shadow—almost as much as the additives used in foods. At the very least they may aggravate allergies in particular people who at present have no means of identifying such substances.

The volume of toilet preparations of all kinds now in use is almost unbelievable. In case any hon. Gentleman may feel superior about the vanity of women in this respect, I would remind them that male cosmetics are now big business and sales are booming.

That there is public demand for this Bill is shown by the fact that the National Association for Health, of which I am an officer, the body which prepared this Bill, has the support of 500,000 signatories to a petition in support of its principles. The Consumer Council, which assisted in preparing the Bill, also has given support, as has a wide range of organisations of size and status such as the National Union of Townswomens' Guilds.

Consumer questions are often regarded as being somewhat trivial in comparison with great matters of State which come before the House, and particularly on a day like this one sometimes feels that what one is saying is out of place. But no one should underestimate the importance of the health and happiness of the individual. Much of this health and happiness depends on the food we eat. It is because I believe that the right to choose the food we eat, with full knowledge of the facts, is so important, that I ask the House to give me leave to bring in the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mrs. Joyce Butler, Mrs. Braddock, Sir Stephen McAdden, Mr. Farr, Mr. Rankin, Mr. Thorpe, Miss Joan Lestor and Mr. Gardner.