Diet and Disease (Report)

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th December 1984.

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Photo of Mr Peter Mills Mr Peter Mills , Torridge and West Devon 12:00 am, 6th December 1984

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has come to any decisions about the report of the Committee on the Medical Aspects of Food Policy on Diet and Disease.

Photo of Mrs Peggy Fenner Mrs Peggy Fenner , Medway

Our officials are examining those recommendations of the report which fall within our responsibility, and are discussing their implications with interested parties. We hope to be able to make an announcement of our response to the report within the next three months.

Photo of Mr Peter Mills Mr Peter Mills , Torridge and West Devon

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that a greater threat to the dairy industry than milk quotas is the health lobby? The continually declining level of consumption of milk products must be taken seriously by the Government. Will she also bear in mind that doctors and others have phases and fads? A few years ago we were told not to eat bread and potatoes, but now we have to eat them for roughage purposes, and some of us are chewing the cud in the evenings.

Photo of Mrs Peggy Fenner Mrs Peggy Fenner , Medway

The report recognises that the evidence is short of proof, but the recommendations are based on a careful review of all the available evidence, and the report represents the best scientific and medical advice that is available to the Government. The nation's health is of vital importance. Changes in diet resulting from that report will not take place overnight. They will result from consumer choice. The trend to healthy diet has already begun and is not an attack on a particular sector. I assure my hon. Friend that consumers are free to choose their own healthy diet.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton

Is the Minister not ashamed of the United Kingdom's conspicuous placing in the world's coronary league? The separate countries of the United Kingdom—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]—are in three of the top five places for males — [HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]—I am going to say it anyway. And in two — [HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."] of the top five for females, for cardiovascular disease.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton

I have not finished yet, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Gentleman may have a quick look at his question, but he should not read it.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton

I am going to have my say, because this is an important matter.

Does, the Minister share the concern of the medical profession for Government action to improve food quality? [HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."] Why do the Government not take preventive measures such as those that have been adopted in the United States, Canada, Australia and Scandinavian countries, which have had an impact on heart disease, or has she completely sold out to the vested interests in the big food corporations?

Photo of Mrs Peggy Fenner Mrs Peggy Fenner , Medway

Of course the Government are concerned, and that is why COMA produced this considerable report, which we are studying. We are also looking at the ways in which we can implement those recommendations that require action by my Department.

Photo of Mr Michael Meadowcroft Mr Michael Meadowcroft , Leeds West

I welcome the tinge of encouragement in the Minister's reply, but does she accept that not enough is done towards the prevention of disease rather than trying to cure it? Will she use her influence on her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and bring to bear whatever powers she can to make him realise the crucial need for prevention?

Photo of Mrs Peggy Fenner Mrs Peggy Fenner , Medway

The import of the report was to encourage prevention. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's criticism. At the moment we are looking at the practicalities of the problems of labelling food with a fat content. We are having discussions with consumers and enforcement authorities on the best way to do this. We are commissioning a study of consumer attitudes and understandings of labelling, because if we are to label we want to be sure that the labels are intelligible. We are discussing with the drink trade alcoholic strength labelling, and we are discussing with industry how it can introduce ways to produce food with less fat and less salt. I am sorry to answer at some length, but the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) questioned the action that we are taking, so I have told him about it.