Consumer Panel

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th June 1990.

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Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley , Glanford and Scunthorpe 12:00 am, 28th June 1990

to ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when his consumer panel last met; and what matters were discussed.

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

The last meeting of the consumer panel was on 2 May 1990. We discussed a wide range of issues, including water quality, food labelling, BSE, food irradiation and hygiene training for food handlers. A copy of the minutes of the meeting is in the Library of the House.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley , Glanford and Scunthorpe

Does the Minister agree with the recent Consumers Association report, which says that the public are losing confidence in the Ministry's assertions about all the recent food scares? The Consumers Association says that the "bland assurances" that the public have received have failed to reassure them on a whole range of issues and that what is needed is an independent food agency. Does the Minister agree with our view that we need a food standard agency, independent of both the industry and the Government, which can give the public and the consumer the assurances that they need?

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

Despite the best attempts of the official Opposition to rubbish British beef, more than 80 per cent. of our consumers are still buying it because they are content to believe the assurances of the British Government, the independent experts who advise us and the chief medical officer. The hon. Gentleman asks for a source of independent advice. What does he think the Food Advisory Committee, the Advisory Committee on Pesticides, the Veterinary Products Committee, the Tyrrell committee and the Southwood committee are there for? The hon. Gentleman asks for independent advice, but when we get such advice and act on it, the Labour party goes out and tries to rubbish the self-same advice that it claims it would like to believe.

Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford

When my hon. Friend next meets the consumer panel, will he impress on its members the remarkable contribution that is made to our economy by the agricultural sector of the food industry? Will he express his regret that the efforts of the farmers of Britain should be undermined and maligned at every possible opportunity by the Opposition, when they should be praised for their productivity, dedication and effectiveness?

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

I think that the official Opposition will regret some of the wilder statements that they have made about British beef and other food issues in the past few months. British consumers realise, as my right hon. Friend said on the day when he was made Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, that farmers' interests and consumers' interests are one. If the consumer is satisfied with the quality of our food, that is in the interests of our farmers who produce such excellent food.

Photo of Mr Geraint Howells Mr Geraint Howells , Ceredigion and Pembroke North

After months of adverse publicity, does the Minister agree that it would be advantageous for consumers and producers in Britain if hon. Members or official agriculture spokesmen from every political party in the House were to issue a joint statement saying that British beef and British foodstuffs are healthier than any others in the world?

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

I wholeheartedly endorse what the hon. Gentleman has said. It is notable that throughout this issue he has followed the scientific advice and accepted the facts as given to him and he has been supported by the Welsh nationalists, by the various Irish parties and by all other parties present in the House late on Thursday 7 June. The hon. Gentleman's remarks are very welcome and I support his initiative.