Food Containers: Safety

– in the House of Lords at 2:53 pm on 6th May 2003.

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Photo of Lord Harrison Lord Harrison Labour 2:53 pm, 6th May 2003

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in the light of the Department of Trade and Industry's 23rd annual report of the home and leisure accident surveillance system entitled Working for a Safer World, they will encourage the food and packaging industries to redesign food containers and cans, for example those containing corned beef.

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Science and Innovation), Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

My Lords, my department has not taken any specific actions with the packaging industry as a result of the 23rd HASS report. However, based on information from earlier editions of the report, during the 1990s my department published a number of research reports aimed at helping manufacturers improve the design of cans and make them easier for consumers to open safely. Statistics show that the number of accidents from corned beef cans has been declining and they are not a major cause of accidents now. Packaging, as with many products, is covered by the provisions of the general product safety directive, which imposes a general safety duty on it.

Photo of Lord Harrison Lord Harrison Labour

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer, but does he understand that many of us still believe corned beef tins and, indeed, other varieties of pull-top cans, to be inherently unsafe? Will he ensure that his department pursues its interest in helping to have those redesigned by the food and packaging industry? Will he also note that the report shows that some 6 million of us each year attend accident and emergency units in hospital, and that some 90 children under the age of five die as a result of accidents at home? Is he satisfied that the Government's accident taskforce has sufficient resources and powers to reduce the incidence of these accidents at home?

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Science and Innovation), Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord has asked me a Question about corned beef cans. I have been answering questions about them all my life and I regard them as one of my real areas of expertise.

There is a real problem about corned beef cans. They have a trapezoidal shape and a key kind of ring. The DTI has done much work on this issue in giving further instructions and also special coatings for the cans which enable the corned beef to be extracted more easily. There has in fact been a remarkable drop in accidents with corned beef cans. They have fallen from 8,720 per year out of 26,000 accidents caused by all tins to 3,091 out of 19,000. I should point out that the really dramatic decrease came after 1997.

Photo of Baroness Sharples Baroness Sharples Conservative

My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether ring-pull cans are safer than ordinary cans which are opened with a tin-opener? Which is safest?

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Science and Innovation), Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

My Lords, I am not sure that I can give exact details between the different kinds of can, but the one which is used for corned beef is particularly disliked by people, mainly because they lose the keys and then attack the corned beef can with whatever is at hand. If the noble Baroness would like to pursue this point, I can probably find her some detailed statistics.

Photo of Lord Razzall Lord Razzall Liberal Democrat

My Lords, will the Minister allow me to rescue him from his worldwide expertise on the topic of corned beef and ask a slightly wider question? Does he agree that, taking the nub of the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison—working for a safer world—a reduction in the use of products which have an impact on the environment would be highly desirable? What steps are the Government taking to ensure that clear, verified information is available to consumers on the environmental impact of such products?

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Science and Innovation), Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

My Lords, that goes wider than my knowledge of corned beef; it strays into a completely different department and area—the impact on the environment. This report is very specifically about recording accidents which take place in accident and emergency departments of hospitals. The impact on the environment is a totally different question.

Photo of Lady Saltoun of Abernethy Lady Saltoun of Abernethy Crossbench

My Lords, is the Minister aware that if, having taken off one end of the corned beef can with the twisty thing provided—assuming that you have not lost it—you then take a common, ordinary, household tin-opener and take off the other end, it is very easy to push the corned beef out of the tin without any danger to yourself?

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Science and Innovation), Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

Yes, my Lords, I was aware of that, and I am very glad that that essential piece of information is passed round for the benefit of this House.

Photo of Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes Conservative

My Lords, does the Minister agree, as the noble Baroness has demonstrated, that most home accidents are avoidable, arising out of carelessness, and that therefore paying attention is one of the best cures?

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Science and Innovation), Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

My Lords, I totally agree. These statistics on accidents are extremely fascinating; they prove that the British public can use practically anything in this world to hurt themselves with. It is understandable that there are an estimated 55 accidents a year from putty, while toothpaste accounts for 73. However, it is rather bizarre that 823 accidents are estimated to be the result of letters and envelopes. It is difficult to understand how they can be the cause of such serious plight. I agree with the noble Baroness that it would be helpful if people paid careful attention.

Photo of Baroness Strange Baroness Strange Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister agree that sardine tins and anchovy tins are also very difficult to open with their tin-openers?