Food Labelling

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:42 pm on 5 May 2004.

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Photo of Lord Brookman Lord Brookman Labour 8:42, 5 May 2004

My Lords, I beg leave to speak in the gap. This is another occasion when the House is indebted to my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester. The effort that he puts into what I call worthy causes is remarkable. If this had been a football match—we were talking about sport a moment ago—the score at half time would be the Co-op four, Sainsbury's and the others nil. It looks that way so far.

I declare two interests. I am, as the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, said, co-chair of the newly formed all-party coeliac group, which works closely with Coeliac UK, and I am pleased to be doing that. Like the noble Lord, Lord Graham, I knew nothing about this disease—it is called a disease—until it struck home, so to speak. Then I took an interest. I have a grandson who is on a dairy-free diet, and that is common across the country these days. In our family, food and healthy eating is a keen subject.

I will concentrate on coeliac disease. This disease is one of the most common chronic, childhood diseases, unknown to many of the public, with a prevalence of one in 100. There are studies showing that. Coeliac disease is life-long, and therefore affects one in every 100 adults. I am beginning to improve my knowledge of the subject. This disease is caused by allergies to wheat, barley and rye. Some have a problem with oats. Remaining on a gluten-free diet is the only way that they can survive and continue a normal life.

There must be many thousands of sufferers of this disease in the country who are unaware of it. The symptoms are weight loss, diarrhoea and, in the case of children, failure to thrive with consequential poor growth. I am here this evening because I want to see the clear listing of all ingredients on food labels, as it is of vital importance. It is necessary that any gluten-containing ingredients are clearly identified to consumers. There has been some improvement, and the Minister may refer to that. More needs to be done, so that people are aware of what they buy. Shopping can be difficult.

Enforcement of the European Directive 2003/89/EC on allergen labelling in foods is imperative. We need the adoption of that safe, realistic standard for gluten-free products, as we do across a wide range of products, which can be enforced by UK enforcement officials.

Finally, there is, in my view, a need for more research and awareness. I hope that the Minister will address that. More serious research and awareness would assist in what we are debating today. We need better, more effective and more informative labelling that, in the long run, would be of enormous benefit to our society and the people of this country.