Dioxin

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th July 1989.

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Mr. Alan W. Williams:

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the maximum permitted concentration of dioxin in common foods; and what is the dioxin content of mother's milk.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

There are no maximum permitted levels set for the dioxin content of foods. Work carried out at my Ministry's food science laboratory shows the dioxin content of mothers' milk to be approximately 1 nanogram—that is, one thousand millionth of a gram—per kilogram.

Mr. Williams:

Given that dioxin has been responsible for more than 4,000 children in the United States being born with severe congenital abnormalities due to Vietnam veterans having been exposed to agent orange, given the toxicity of dioxin, and given that dioxin enters the human body mainly through our food, what do the Government intend to do to tackle the problem of dioxin in food and in the environment?

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

There can be no comparison between people sprayed with dioxin in Vietnam and dioxin levels in mothers' milk. We had a survey carried out in seven European countries and in three other countries which showed that dioxin levels were all comparable and very low. The reference level is 1 picogram, which is one millionth millionth of a gramme. The hon. Gentleman must be careful not to suggest that there is a serious problem. I accept entirely, and repeat, the advice of my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Health that breast milk is still the safest and best means of feeding a baby. There is no problem with dioxin.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell , Daventry

I welcome my hon. Friend to the Front Bench and I welcome his last response. Will he confirm that instead of spreading scare stories the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) should be paying tribute to the skill of the scientists in their ability to detect such minuscule quantities, to the strength of the regulatory system and to our readiness to publish this information which shows, contrary to the opinions of the Opposition, that there is no danger in breast milk either in Europe or in the Third world?

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. He is right. We have some of the best scientists in the world. As I said to the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams), we have carried out studies in Europe. It is wrong to suggest that there is a serious problem with dioxin in breast milk when we are talking of levels of one thousand millionth or one million millionth of a gramme.