In the 12 months to May 1989, 20,812 boxes of 360 eggs were inspected for compliance with egg marketing standards regulations. None was impounded.
Will the Minister confirm that egg imports into the United Kingdom trebled between January and April this year, largely because of housewives' continuing lack of confidence in the quality of British eggs? In view of the continuing problem of salmonella in eggs, what action do he and his Department intend to take to improve quality control of egg imports?
I do not have the figures for egg imports with me, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that egg exports have increased in the past few months because foreign countries have great confidence in the rigorous quality standards in Britain following the salmonella outbreaks. The standards that we impose for salmonella testing at the ports are among the most rigorous in the world and everyone in this country should have perfect confidence that we can detect any salmonella coming into the country through eggs. One consignment was detected and we took the matter up with our opposite numbers in the EEC.
While my hon. Friend is on the learning curve of his new post, will he ask his officials to confirm that an egg is an anaerobic capsule designed by nature to keep out germs and that unless the eggshell is cracked or the semi-permeable membrane disturbed an egg cannot contain enough of any kind of bacteria to make one ill? All this stuff and nonsense worrying people about eggs comes under the heading of "poppycockus hystericus" and the public should be told, after my hon. Friend's officials have confirmed it, that a freshly cooked egg is perfectly healthy, whether it is English or foreign.
My hon. Friend makes her points in he own inimitable way. Although I have not had a briefing on this matter yet, I understand that eggs are porous and that it is not true to suggest that eggshells are completely impermeable to contamination. Part of the problem with the salmonella outbreak is that invasive salmonella involves transovarian transmission, whereby the disease is transmitted from the bird through the ovary into the egg.
At what levels do egg consumption and production now stand, following the complaints made by the hon. Gentleman's former ministerial colleague, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), about the possibility of salmonella poisoning? Does he agree that what is needed is a Minister who is seen to protect the interests of consumers, who continue to lack confidence in the food available in our supermarkets?
I understand that egg consumption is up to more than 80 per cent. of its former level. The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) said that he would judge us by our actions, and I assure the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr Alton) that he will be happy to reach the conclusion that our actions will be in the best interests of consumers in this country.