Moved by Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb
208: Clause 32, page 29, leave out lines 36 to 44 and insert—“(1) The Secretary of State must by order under section 87(1)(a) establish a body to be known as the Animal Food Product Traceability Authority (“the Authority”) with the functions of monitoring and regulating the labelling and marketing of animal food products in accordance with regulations made under section 35 of the Agriculture Act 2020.(1A) The Authority may be assigned functions that are exercisable in relation to England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland under section 87(1)(b) and relate to—(a) collecting, managing and making available information regarding the identification, movement and health of animals, or(b) the means of identifying animals.”
The need for an authority such as this is clear, the horsemeat scandal being just one manifestation of a badly broken system. It would create a trusted system of information for consumers to make better decisions on what they are eating, how the animals are treated and where they came from. The key difference in my amendment, between my wording and the Government’s, is that it would turn a power into a duty, meaning that this authority would definitely be established. I do not understand why it is not already written like that, but perhaps the Minister can reassure me on this issue. I beg to move.
Some 27 years ago, as a Member of the Commons, I moved an amendment from the Opposition Front Bench for the establishment of a cattle identification and traceability service. I did so having been prompted by the British Cattle Breeders Club. In 1998, the scheme was set up in Workington, in my former constituency, in the form of the BCMS—the British Cattle Movement Service. At its peak it employed over 1,000 people, although with efficiency savings and the application of new technology, it now employs some 400 people and is one of the largest employers in west Cumbria. It was with some surprise that we noticed reference in the Bill to
“Identification and traceability of animals” under Clause 32. The Bill having cleared its Commons stages, I was asked to seek some assurances in the Lords.
The Explanatory Notes, in describing the proposed amendments to the legislation for identification and traceability, state:
“The purpose of the clause is to prepare for the introduction of a new digital and multi-species traceability service, the Livestock Information Service (LIS), based on a database of animal identification, health and movement data. Subsection (1) … will allow the Secretary of State to assign to a board … functions related to collecting, managing and sharing certain information in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. This information is identification, movement or health data of animals. It will also allow the assignment of functions relating to the means of identifying animals such as issuing individual identification numbers to animals … These amendments enable the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) to be assigned the function of managing the new Livestock Identification Service.”
First, what is the driver behind the introduction of a new digital and multi-species traceability service, now to be called the livestock information service? Secondly, what is the construct and day-to-day role of the board in the new
“data collecting and sharing functions”?
In what sense would it be able to
“enable the assignment of functions relating to the means of identifying animals”,
“disapply … EU legislation on the identification and traceability of cattle, sheep and goats”?
What are the implications of that disapplication here in the United Kingdom? Thirdly, where it states that the board will be able to assign
“functions relating to the means of identifying animals”,
does that have implications for the management of the current service in Workington? On that matter, we are told that the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board will
“be assigned the function of managing the … Livestock Identification Service”.
What is the thinking behind that?
Why am I asking these questions and probing Ministers for answers? I am simply trying to establish, for the benefit of the people in west Cumbria, what stands behind these proposals. At the same time, I seek an assurance that the high-quality service currently provided in Workington will be retained in the long term and will perhaps be further developed with additional services now that we are leaving the European Union.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. I opposed him in 1987 and did my level best to become the next Member of Parliament for Workington, but sadly it was not to be.
I congratulate the Government and my noble friend on bringing in Clause 32 on identification and traceability of animals. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, who will speak next, served on the Select Committee with me when we looked at the implications of horsegate, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, referred in bringing forward her Amendment 208, which I thank her for. That was a classic example of the supermarkets taking as gospel the food that was provided to them, and there is a very real need to bring forward the highest standards of traceability. Will my noble friend, in summing up, see whether the clause as it stands achieves the purposes he would intend it to?
My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, because this area of animal traceability needs to be strengthened. I served in the other place under the very able chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, when she was chair of the EFRA Select Committee. At her instigation, we as a committee undertook a direct inquiry into the horsegate scandal at that time. For me, that was a very instructive period and it told me that there was a need for a stronger body, an animal food product traceability authority.
Like the noble Baroness, I want to ask whether the Minister feels that Clause 32 as is significantly strong to combat the problems that could occur along the way in relation to those who may wish to flagrantly abuse animal traceability standards. Hence my support for the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, because I feel we need very strong legislation and an authority equipped with the legal armoury to protect our food production. I am quite happy to support that, but seek that information from the Minister.
My Lords, these two amendments in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, deal with the identification and traceability of animals. The highest standards of traceability are essential. The British public, whether they live in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland or England, are very interested in where the food they eat comes from. Does the pork in their sausages come from Denmark and Holland, or does it come from British pigs raised in outdoor fields? Does the steak they buy for supper on Saturday come from beef cattle raised in Hereford, in Devon or north of the border in Scotland? The purchaser is generally interested, so it is important that all animal food products are properly labelled as to the country of origin.
Small independent butchers and farm shops proudly announce where the meat they are selling that week has come from; which local farm has produced the lamb, which the pork, et cetera. The information is vital to their survival and to that of the farms that supply them with meat. The proper labelling of meat and meat products is going to be all the more important as the UK enters into trade deals with countries outside the EU. I hope the Government will rise to this challenge and provide the transparency that we are all seeking and set up an animal food traceability authority.
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in yet another detailed debate this evening, with expertise and enthusiasm equally displayed. The identification and traceability of animals is hugely important for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to food safety and consumer confidence.
Amendment 208 envisages the establishment of a dedicated public authority to carry out a variety of duties in relation to the identification, the movement and the health of animals, with a particular emphasis on enforcing marketing standards. Given the importance of how food is marketed, and the potential implications for public health should something go wrong, there is merit in having a body responsible for this. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours for bringing the House’s attention to the work he completed in another place many years ago on the movement and traceability of animals. He rightly asks what the purpose and construct of the new data collection service is, as well as several other important questions, seeking assurance that the current high-quality service already established in Workington is retained.
The power to establish such a body and confer functions exists in the current drafting, but it would help the Committee if the Minister could outline how it is envisaged this process would unfold, including indicative timings. Will the body be created from scratch, or will functions simply conferred on an existing organisation? Is there potential for different responsibilities to reside in different places—perhaps not Yorkshire—and, if so, how will day-to-day operations be co-ordinated?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for Amendment 208. Clause 32 enables the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board to run the new livestock information service, which will provide a multi-species traceability system in England. As animals can and do move across borders, Clause 32 also provides for the AHDB to exercise functions, such as handling data on animal movements, voluntarily shared by the devolved Administrations, to provide a complete picture of livestock movements across the whole UK.
The new service will replace separate species-specific systems and allow faster, more accurate livestock traceability, benefiting disease control and trade. This is a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, but I emphasise, as the Minister for Biosecurity, that I place the highest importance on having as accurate as possible a livestock traceability system as we can provide. The service is not designed to cover food products or govern labelling and marketing of animal products. Powers relating to the labelling and marketing of animal food products are set out in Clause 35.
On Amendment 210, Clause 32(1) inserts new Section 89A into the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 to assign functions to a body established under that Act that are necessary to run the new livestock information service. There is an existing duty under Section 97(5) of the NERC Act to consult organisations representative of affected interests. In 2017, Defra set up the livestock information traceability design user group, a partnership of interested industry and government bodies, which have been involved throughout the design and development of the livestock information service. Having attended some of those meetings, I know that the active endorsement and engagement is strong and clear indeed. Defra is consulting organisations representative of affected interests on its plans to make an order under subsection (1).
I am also well aware of the important work of the BCMS at Workington, and am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for referring to its important and productive work. It is our intention to carry on using the valued staff there, who have a good reputation with farmers, as part of the new service, subject to arriving at an agreement between the RPA and Livestock Information Limited. It is worth noting that some of the work of the BCMS will transition to Scotland and Wales at the same time, as the BCMS currently serves England, Scotland and Wales.
I have tabled a government amendment requiring that the Secretary of State should secure approval from the devolved Administrations for functions of the livestock information service, such as the handling of movement data shared with AHDB by those Administrations. This amendment would enable colleagues in devolved Administrations to recommend legislative consent to their respective legislatures. These UK-wide functions are vital for purposes such as disease control.
I am very much available to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for further discussions about this new system, if there are any outstanding points. I actively endorse it and think it will be of great benefit. With those assurances and confirmations, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and especially at such a late hour—it is certainly late for me anyway. I thank the Minister for his assurances. I am afraid it is too late for me to be coherent on anything; I will pore over Hansard tomorrow to see exactly what his assurances were. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 208 withdrawn.