Anyone would think from the speeches of Conservative Members that this whole issue had been invented by people other than their own spokespersons. Despite their protestations, any lingering doubts we may have had about the validity, if not the total accuracy, of the remarks made before Christmas by the former junior Minister, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), have been dispelled by subsequent events.
The comical sight of Ministers rushing to defend the indefensible as their friends in the food production and distribution lobby cried "foul"—contradicting themselves and each other on radio and television over eggs, poultry and cheese—proves that the Prime Minister's first priority must be to make "foot in mouth" disease notifiable, at least for her Ministers.
For once, the media have managed to get it right. There is a justifiable crisis of confidence in our food production which will not be dispelled by the largely cosmetic actions which Ministers have taken so far. There can be no argument about the facts. Food poisoning has increased dramatically in the last 10 years and, according to recent reports, is continuing to rise. To the long-standing problem of salmonella has been added the new fear of listeria, a common enough bacteria the potential for harm of which has only recently been recognised as new methods have enhanced the risk of infection and the medics have recognised how serious the consequences can be.
Let us not forget how serious food poisoning can be. Gastrointestinal infection can be a major systemic illness, causing high fever, copious diarrhoea, vomiting and pain. Weight loss and dehydration are severe and death in elderly and infirm people is all too common.