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Irradiation of Food

Mr. Speaker : I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

10.15 pm

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John MacGregor) : I beg to move

That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 10377/88, relating to irradiation of foodstuffs ; and supports the Government's intention to seek to ensure that a directive is adopted that will allow the use of the process under conditions that will fully safeguard the interests of the consumer.

I announced in the House on 21 June that the Government intended to provide for the irradiation of some foods in this country. I made it clear then that we regarded this process as a useful additional weapon in our large armoury of measures and activities aimed at ensuring food safety--I stress, only one of many.

That takes me straight to the flaw in the second half of the Opposition's amendment, stating that they believe that

"improving regulations and monitoring along the food chain are the best ways of solving the current epidemic of food poisoning". We monitor constantly. We regularly improve regulations whenever necessary. That happens anyway, but irradiation adds one further benefit--one further improvement in regulations and systems--which is why it is right that we should now make it available.

I said on 21 June that our approach was to extend consumers' freedom of choice by making available for those foods for which it is suitable this extension to the range of preservation processes that can be used to keep food safe.

I emphasised that I was well aware that it is only suitable for some foods and should be available only for them, and that no one in Government had ever claimed or would claim that it could be used across the whole range of food to deal with all forms of microbial contamination. Above all, I underlined that it will be a matter of freedom of choice for the consumer, because there will be full and clear labelling of foods that have received this treatment. No one, whether primary producer, manufacturer, retailer or consumer, will have to use irradiation or eat irradiated food if they do not wish to.

Our whole approach in making available this additional option to the consumer and to the food industry is based fundamentally on food safety and consumer grounds. Tonight we are debating the European Commission's proposals for harmonising the laws on food irradiation across the whole Community--and here again consumer considerations are well to the forefront.

Just as in the United Kingdom, we adopted a cautious attitude to food irradiation, setting up our own independent expert scientific assessment of the process, rather than simply acting on the basis of the international work carried out for the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation. So too did the European Commission. The considerable data on this subject were re-evaluated by the European Community Scientific Committee for Food before this proposal was put forward.

Like the international committees and the United Kingdom's own independent committee, the European Community committee was entirely satisfied as to the safety and wholesomeness of irradiated food up to the

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overall average dose of 10 kilogray. The one difference of approach favoured by the European Community Committee has been that it recommended restriction to a particular list of foodstuffs for which a technological need had been demonstrated. Essentially, that meant that it recommended restrictions to those foodstuffs already accepted by one or other of the member states. Our preferred approach--like that of the World Health Organisation--has been to argue that the licence issued to a particular firm should set out the particular foodstuffs and the treatments that could be applied to them. This approach is slightly different from that recommended by the European Community Scientific Committee for Food, but essentially would involve the same degree of official control.

The heart of the directive is in four articles--5 to 8--which contain the essential control conditions. Article 5 makes labelling mandatory. This is an absolute must and we shall see to it in our discussions with our partners that clear and precise requirements are laid down.

Article 6 requires member states to provide for prior approval of applications to use the process and subsequent monitoring of compliance with the conditions by a competent authority. As the House will be aware, we are proposing to exercise this control within central Government. Article 6 also stipulates that approval shall be given only if the plant meets the requirements of the relevant Codex recommended international code of practice, which covers detailed design and operational aspects of the irradiation plant and premises. We have no difficulty with that--we would recommend the same.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington) : How will a customer in a restaurant know whether the food that is served has been irradiated?

Mr. MacGregor : As I made clear in exchanges in the House the other day, we shall have to include that point when we come to the detailed regulations to ensure that the customer does know.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. MacGregor : In view of the shortness of the debate, it would be better if I did not give way again because I know that many hon. Members wish to speak and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Ryder) will answer their points when he replies to the debate. Article 7 lays down detailed documentation requirements and article 8 provides for imports to be permitted only from countries that can demonstrate to the Community that they comply with equivalent conditions and achieve equal standards. The article envisages inspection of irradiation plants in third countries and the listing of officially approved establishments there.

These are the core conditions of the draft directive and, as the House will readily appreciate, they are in line with our recommendations for a control framework for this country and so they clearly form an acceptable basis for the detailed discussions that will be necessary. We shall, of course, examine closely just how the provisions should be applied in practice. I can assure the House therefore that we shall be taking a close look at the criteria to be applied by approving authorities ; at the conditions that will be laid down when approvals are granted ; at the matters to be examined during official inspections ; and at the circumstances in which approvals will be withdrawn or

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modified if conditions are found on inspection not to be fully met. We shall also need to look carefully at the record-keeping requirements and at details of the labelling provisions. For imports, we shall need to scrutinise with particular care the Commission's proposals for measuring the equivalence of the controls and the standards of third countries.

In short, we are concerned to get all the arrangements right to ensure that the essential aim of consumer protection is fully met and that there is uniform application of conditions across the whole Community.

Some people no doubt will attempt to argue that consumers have said that they do not want irradiated food on the market. Such market research as has been done so far and which I have seen--it is far from complete--does, indeed, suggest that many consumers will not want to use irradiated food at least in the early stages. That is fair enough ; no one has ever suggested they should have to. On the other hand, a sizeable number have also said that they would like the opportunity and wish to make use of it. This is entirely in accord with the Government's approach. Given the proper controls, we see no reason why they should now be denied that opportunity.

Moreover, it is worth remembering what consumer bodies such as the National Consumer Council are saying. The NCC has explicitly accepted the safety of food irradiation properly applied and monitored--as we shall ensure that it is. It has pointed to the need for nutritional monitoring. We have already said that we shall build this into the on-going "food-watch" that we maintain. The NCC statement stresses also that irradiation must form simply one part of a comprehensive approach to the safety of food and must never be regarded as a substitute for good manufacturing practice. My statement in the House last month has already made clear that this is also the firm position of the Government.

I turn now in what is inevitably a short debate to what I regard as the misconceptions and myths which are being raised both about the process itself and about what it can do. It appears that some people still fear that food irradiation will make food radioactive. They are, however, confusing irradiation with fall out of radioactive substances--which is entirely different. Moreover, they overlook the fact that radioactivity is actually present anyway--in the environment, in food, and, indeed, in all of us.

The most graphic rebuttal of the radioactivity argument that I have seen is in the report of the European Community's Scientific Committee for Food to which I referred earlier. The committee referred to studies carried out to show how much radioactivity could be induced by that process. Those studies, which relate to the energy and dose levels that would apply to food irradiation, showed that the amount of radioactivity produced--and I quote from the report-- "is below the detection threshold".

Indeed, that infinitesimal extra amount of radioactivity is, according to the committee, approximately 100,000-fold smaller than the level that occurs naturally in fresh foods. That puts the subject properly in its context and needs to be emphasised time and time again--it is 100,000-fold smaller.

Some comments currently being reported seem also to be based on the mistaken assumption that the process can

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disguise sub-standard food. Let me emphasise once again that food irradiation cannot reverse the natural ageing processes of food. If the food is sub-standard, it will remain so. Irradiation cannot disguise the natural signs that food has gone off. It will not improve appearance ; it will not cover up unpleasant odours ; and it cannot take away a nasty taste. The process, in other words, cannot make good food which is bad in those ways.

In any case, the Government are quite clear that food irradiation shall be applied only to food in normal, sound condition. We propose to build into our controls a requirement for checks to be made on the food before it is treated.

Some people claim that irradiation cannot make any contribution to the avoidance of botulism. I simply do not know why that point is being raised, because no one has ever claimed that it could. What we have said is that it had a useful contribution to make by killing large numbers of salmonella, campylobacter and listeria bacteria. That is where the particular effectiveness of food irradiation has been demonstrated, and that is the benefit that we want to make available to consumers. It is also, of course, one of the prime food safety concerns in certain foods. So let us concentrate on the real targets, which are very important ones, and not on false targets for which irradiation is not appropriate in the first place.

There is another aspect, too, on which I want to set the record straight. I have seen several newspaper reports which say that food irradiation will not prove effective in reducing the threat posed by salmonella and campylobacter. In some accounts, that is said to be because the bacteria will leave behind toxins and that those will do the damage. In other accounts, it is stated that those bacteria will produce spores that the process cannot touch and that further bacteria will grow from the spores. I am advised that, quite simply, that is scientific nonsense. Salmonella, campylobacter, and listeria are non-sporing bacteria and they do not excrete toxins into food. The illness that is caused results directly from consuming the bacteria themselves. If the bacteria are killed off, the threat that they pose is eliminated. Helping deal with that, which irradiation does, undoubtedly makes a very worthwhile contribution to the reduction of food-borne illness.

Another odd argument is that the process will not achieve much because it cannot be used to protect eggs. Again no one ever said that it could. But what it can do through its effectiveness in killing bacteria is to enhance safety standards in poultry meat, in some shell-fish and in herbs and spices.Of course, it cannot be used for all foods, but that is no argument for failing to take advantage of it where it can be useful.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. MacGregor : No, I had better move on, because several hon. Members wish to speak.

On the subject of herbs and spices, there is of course a particular advantage to the public in the use of that process. At the moment the decontamination needed by those products--because of the conditions in which they have to be stored in the countries of origin--is by fumigation with ethylene oxide gas. It is essential to replace the use of that chemical because of its possible adverse effects. Its use will be banned within the European Community from the end of 1990. The only effective

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alternative for the treatment of herbs and spices is irradiation. Irradiation of herbs and spices thus involves the replacement of a treatment that is causing concern.

Another fallacious objection is that it is wrong to be thinking of introducing the process now, when research has so far not come up with a detection test. I have to say that the heavy weight of informed opinion takes the opposite view. The World Health Organisation, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the United States Food and Drug Administration-- indeed, the Governments of 35 different countries--have concluded, after detailed scientific consideration, that adequate control can be achieved over the use of the process through a strict system of licensing and official inspections of operations and of records. The view of our own independent scientific inquiry by the Advisory Committee on Irradiated and Novel Foods was that a detection test could provide a useful supplement to the control mechanism, but satisfactory controls could be maintained without this. The Government have accepted this conclusion--though we shall, of course, continue to pursue the research that we are funding with the aim of producing suitable tests.

Import controls are a matter of particular importance in the overall control regime for food irradiation. I can assure the House that we shall support the imposition of strict, Community-wide controls, with detailed documentation and labelling requirements, to give the necessary reassurance to the consumer on the quality of irradiated foodstuffs whether treated here or at approved, officially controlled premises overseas.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North) : That has not worked thus far.

Mr. MacGregor : I invited the hon. Gentleman to provide me with his evidence on this and I am going through it. He knows that I am doing precisely that. I do not believe that his evidence adds up to the charge that he has just made, but it is up to him to give further evidence, if he thinks that he can find it.

When we have the ban on irradiation lifted in this country, to which I hope the House will agree, and we have suitable controls for certain products and it is Community-wide, the imposition of strict Community-wide controls will be important.

I have spoken of the benefits for consumers in making available the option of food irradiation as an additional measure to protect the safety of those foods for which the process is suitable. I have drawn particular attention to the effectiveness that the process has demonstrated in relation to salmonella, campylobacter, and listeria--those bacteria cause the vast majority of food-borne illness. In the case of salmonella and campylobacter the process could have particular value in being applied to poultrymeat. I have mentioned also the benefit that consumers would gain from the irradiation of herbs and spices, in relation to which the process would provide a much safer way of achieving insect and bacterial decontamination than the present chemical fumigation methods which will, in any case, shortly no longer be available for use. There is, of course, further benefit in fruits whose season is longer and which will keep for longer in the home. Extension of shelf-life is usually referred to as a benefit for the retail trade. So it is, no doubt, but we must not forget that larders and kitchens have shelves also. If goods last longer, then this clearly helps the consumer as

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well. But that is an additional benefit. It is not among my reasons for proposing the lifting of the ban, which are based solely on food safety and consumer choice grounds.

For all those reasons, the Government welcome the Commission's initiative in proposing harmonised rules for food irradiation. As I have stated, the draft directive's proposals for a control system are very largely compatible with the proposals that we had ourselves outlined. Clearly, we shall need to examine in detail the implications and the precise application of the draft. The general framework--relying as it does on the Codex code of practice--is clearly fundamentally correct and should provide a firm basis for detailed control conditions that will fully safeguard the interests of the consumer. I assure the House that the Government will be both diligent and vigilant in ensuring that this essential requirement is met. I commend the motion to the House.

10.33 pm

Dr. David Clark (South Shields) : I beg to move, to leave out from "foodstuffs" to the end of the Question and add instead thereof : opposes the Government's intention to introduce irradiated food for import and sale in the United Kingdom ; notes that irradiation exposes the consumer to chemical changes in food and that microbiologically contaminated food could be sold as clean ; and believes that improving regulations and monitoring along the food chain are the best ways of solving the current epidemic of food poisoning and ensuring that the consumer has confidence in the safety of food.'.

It is sheer effrontery for the Government to bring this debate forward in such a restricted form when so many hon. Members want to participate. We know that when another Minister spoke on this subject a couple of weeks ago he assured the House that there would be ample opportunity for a good, long discussion on it. This is not the appropriate time at which to do it, but it exposes one of the Government's intentions, which is to try to minimise reporting of their proposed action.

What is the Minister proposing? Is he proposing to lift the ban regardless of what happens with the EEC? Will he lift the ban before the Community takes a decision? That part of his speech was a little confused.

The Minister started strongly, but he set up all manner of aunt Sallies that I have never heard before and then attempted to knock them down. I thought that he was disingenuous from the beginning. It has been the Government's policy not to update regulations, to reduce the number of public servants involved in monitoring food and to cut essential research into food safety. As a result, we have a food poisoning epidemic. There is no doubt about that.

The Government are contemplating cuts in the veterinary colleges when we are importing veterinary surgeons at a rate of one a day. They have reduced the number of personnel in the state veterinary service by 25 per cent. during the past 10 years. They have cut the training of environmental health officers so that we are now 400 short. They have cut vital research into salmonella and botulism. After 10 years of this Government, public health is at its worst for years.

For the Government, irradiation is a technological quick fix but, like so many other quick fixes, the long-term effect will be additional and fundamental problems. Before I pursue that, I shall take up one of the Minister's aunt Sallies. He mentioned radioactive food. He said that the

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Opposition always argue that the food is radioactive. I have never argued that, and I have never heard any other Labour Member argue it.

Irradiated food is not radioactive. It is irradiated by a radioactive process. We should get that clearly on the record. It is done by using gamma rays. The easiest and best comparison is to radiotherapy for cancer. We all know that the use of a radioactive process poses a potential threat. The Minister is right--radioactivity is in the environment, but we must not expose people to extra radioactivity.

I am not suggesting that the consumer is affected, but I want the Minister to consider whether we can justify exposing people who work in food processing irradiation plants to extra radiation. The Minister shakes his head. I am just asking whether he thinks that that is justified. He is aware of the point because it was in the paper that he produced for his previous speech.

The key weakness in the Minister's speech was his acknowledgement of the fact that there is no adequate testing procedure. He advanced that argument two months ago. He said that there is no simple diagnostic test. It appeared from recent press reports that such a test had been devised but, on investigation, it seems that such claims are hollow. In a submission to Sub-Committee D in the other place, the Ministry said this morning :

"There still seems little prospect that a single test will ever be applicable to all foods, and no guarantee even that tests for individual foods or food classes will be developed in the foreseeable future for every food likely to be treated by irradiation." That is the Minister's view, and it is my view.

It is difficult to devise a proper monitoring and control system when it is not even possible to test whether food is irradiated. Even the Minister's own experts say that to guarantee public safety, irradiation levels must be below certain dosages. The Minister himself made that point tonight. The EEC document sets special dosage levels for separate products. As no diagnostic test is available, how can the Minister give an assurance about irradiation levels? Further, how can food be tested to determine whether it has been re-irradiated? As the Minister knows, the kilogray levels are cumulative, and if food is irradiated at the maximum of 10 kilogray twice, it will have received a dosage of 20 kilogray, which exceeds the Government's safety level. In the absence of a diagnostic test, there is no way that irradiated food can be properly monitored. The Minister and the EEC document both make the point that irradiated food must be labelled as such. It is widely predicted--the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) made this point again tonight--that most irradiated food will be used in the catering trade. I have put this question to the Minister before, and right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House await his answer : how can he ensure that the customer in a restaurant or cafe will be made aware that some of the food available there is irradiated? Will he give the House a guarantee that where irradiated food is used in a restaurant or cafe it will be identified as such on every menu? Unless the Minister gives such a guarantee, he cannot claim that the consumer will be offered a choice.

The argument extends from diagnostics and labelling to the process itself. As the Minister knows from previous

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debates, not all bacteria are harmful and some perform a benign function. However, when a product is irradiated, all bacteria--good and bad--are killed, so irradiated food could still be contaminated by new bacteria. Furthermore, simply because food has been irradiated, it may be handled less hygienically than otherwise would be the case.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Clark : No, because the Minister gave way only once, and then not to an Opposition Member.

If the bacteria load is only reduced, the bacteria remaining after irradiation can, unless the food is kept under appropriate conditions, multiply. It is our belief, and that of many food scientists, that many people will regard irradiation as an alternative to proper food hygiene. The public will be lulled into a sense of false security, and therein lies the danger.

Irradiation produces chemical changes in food-- [Interruption.] Conservative Members may not be aware of this point--certainly the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) is not. Irradiation's ability to cause chemical changes is known to cause a reduction in vitamins A, B, C and E. It is also known to produce highly reactive molecules called free radicals- -although they are not political agents. There is evidence to suggest that free radicals can cause cell damage, including that of chromosones, increase the aging process and reduce immunity. The Minister scoffs, but I challenge him to say that the scientists who produced the evidence that I have cited do not know what they are talking about. Some of those scientists are advisers to the Government.

I know that the Minister's advisers have told him about one aspect of the content of food treated with pesticides, which is that that process often leaves residues. The Minister's own research consultative committee residues sub-group has expressed concern about the effect of irradiation on residues. The committee's minutes stated :

"One area of concern was the irradiation of commodities which contained pesticide residues and associated inert substances and the possibility of these residues being transformed into more toxic radiolytic products."

The Minister must answer the point made by his consultative committee.

The Minister must also answer our charge--which he has denied--that irradiation could be used to make bad food appear to be good. Let us take the example of prawns, which are often imported from Asia and can be contaminated with all sorts of micro-organisms. If prawns are infected with hepatitis A, which is not uncommon in some of the waters in the far east, we do not know whether irradiation will kill the virus. All the evidence is that it will not, but we do not have sufficient information about it. That food could appear to be quite harmless and be eaten, although it might contain a high bacterial load.

I shall not discuss the case cited by the Minister and my hon Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), but the Minister is aware of a case in 1965--

Mr. MacGregor : It was 1985.

Dr. Clark : I apologise. The Minister knows the case as well as I do.

Youngs Sea Foods-- [Interruption.] It is rather worrying that, although the Minister is aware of the case, he is not prepared to face the consequences of it. In 1985 Youngs imported some Malaysian warm water prawns. A

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month later they were retested, when it was discovered that they did not meet the company's standards. Those prawns were sent to Holland, where the Dutch firm Gammaster irradiated them, and they were then returned to this country and sold as clean food, mainly to caterers. That is an acknowledged case. The Minister is aware of it because he has seen the files. It was proven that food was irradiated and then sold as clean food.

Our prime objection to the Government's proposal for irradiation is that they consider it to be an alternative to cleaning up the food chain. That will lull the industry into a false sense of security. To illustrate my point I shall quote the British Poultry Federation, which is relevant because the Minister cited poultry towards the end of his speech. It said :

"Following food poisoning scares, the industry was devoting considerable resources, time, skill and money to ensuring hygienic practice at every level of production and processing. BPF believed that this was right, and therefore not only did poultry not need to be irradiated, but its use might give the impression that these health measures had not been successful."

If, as the Minister told the House on 21 June, and repeated tonight, his reason for introducing irradiation is not to extend the shelf life, why do it? Far from making food safer, we believe that the Government's objective is simply to allow, on occasions, bad food to be sold as good-- [Interruption.] Let me finish with this thought for the Minister. If the Government deny the charge, can they answer a simple, straightforward question? If food is in good condition in the first place, why is it necessary to irradiate it?

10.49 pm

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate) : One of the first rules that Oppositions learn if they refresh their memories with the book "How to be a Minister", by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), is that they must abuse the Government's case. That is precisely what happened for the first seven minutes of the speech by the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) ; the rest showed very clearly that no one had been listening to what my right hon. Friend the Minister had said.

I came here with two or three questions to ask my right hon. Friend, because I had been worried by some of the scare stories that I had heard from both the Opposition and that self-seeking publicity organisation the London Food Commission. My right hon. Friend has made a variety of things very clear, the most important being that the consumer is to know whether an item has been irradiated. I am grateful to my right hon Friend for following the line that he took with those of us who were concerned about green-top milk.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg : No ; this is a short debate.

My right hon. Friend felt that if people were to have the choice whether to buy green-top milk they should at least know that there might be problems if they drank it. As long as we know, I do not believe that there is a problem.

My right hon. Friend went on to deal with another of my anxieties : if I went into the Members' Tea Room or the Harcourt Room, would I be certain of knowing whether a particular food had been irradiated? He made it clear that that would be taken care of when the details were worked

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out. It is perfectly simple : all that will be needed is a small asterisk against the name of an item that has been irradiated, and anyone who suggests that it is more complicated than that is looking for difficulties. My right hon. Friend also made the important point that it is impossible to say that every kind of food will be irradiated : it is horses for courses.

The hon. Member for South Shields made much of the shortage of environmental health officers. This is not the first time that we have heard about that ; those of us who have served for many years in local government first knew of them as sanitary inspectors, and there was a shortage of sanitary inspectors under various Governments. It is far too simplistic to say that the blame lies with the present Government.

Ms. Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg : No. With the greatest respect, I have already said that I will not give way. If I do so, the hon. Lady will deprive some of her colleagues and mine of a chance to speak. It is not correct to say that a shortage of environmental health officers is due to actions taken by the present Government. That shortage is due to the fact that the job may not be as popular as it used to be, or as it should be. It is not an easy job ; under an inefficient council the environmental health officer may do a very good job of work and then find the council's legal department so incompetent that cases cannot even be taken. That will knock the stuffing out of a good, reliable EHO.

Having come here with two or three questions that have been worrying my constituents, I find that the Opposition have no case. My right hon. Friend has clarified the facts for the ordinary, sensible man and woman on the Clapham omnibus, and dealt with any worries that I may have had.

10.54 pm

Mr. Geraint Howells (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North) : On this occasion the Minister has failed to convince the public and hon. Members that there is a need to have irradiated foodstuffs on the shelves in our shops. It is well known to us all that the proposal is opposed by just about everyone apart from food manufacturers. That does not speak highly of the directive.

There is no detection test to establish whether foods have been irradiated. The Institution of Environmental Health Officers stated :

"Until adequate tests are available, several of the Directive's articles will be difficult if not impossible to enforce ... consumer needs should be paramount and should take precedence over economic and technical needs."

It has been said that irradiation will be used to camouflage sub-standard batches of food, and it is for the Minister to clarify the issue when he replies. It is well known that the long-term effects of irradiation are unknown, as are the effects of other chemicals, such as pesticides, that may be present. I am told that tests have taken place on animals and that these may be unreliable. It is admitted in article 13 that there is a possibility that some health problems will occur in future.

The accepted dosage of 10 kilogray has been challenged by the British Medical Association's board of science. As long as the average of the batch is 10 kilogray, individual

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readings of up to 15 kilogray will be permitted. That is another issue that the Minister should clarify when he replies.

As there is no simple test for irradiation, the Government propose to introduce controls through the registration of premises and inspections. This will probably be done by environmental health officers, and the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) has told us that we cannot blame the Government if there are not enough EHOs. The Government have been in office for 10 years and if the problem cannot be solved over that period, there is something radically wrong with the Government. I urge them to provide extra financial aid to ensure that we have more EHOs in the next two years. If there is a will, there is a way for the Government to do exactly that. We shall see whether we have more or fewer EHOs in 12 months time. The challenge is there for the Government to accept, and it will be interesting to see whether they do so.

We have been told that irradiated food from the Third world will be allowed into Britain. How do the Government propose to check the kilogray level or the quality of irradiated food from the Third world? Food that has been exposed to irradiation will not be labelled. It will be possible to sell such food to the public if it has been irradiated for checking purposes and the level of irradiation is under 5 kilogray. That blows a hole in the Government's case that consumers will be able to exercise their choice.

The real reason for the Government's move to accept irradiation is that some countries are irradiating food already. The Government want standardisation for 1992. The directive and the Government's move are designed to ensure that by 1992 we try to have everything in order in Britain. Perhaps the Government will regret their decision before 1992.

According to annex V of the directive, approval can be given for irradiation if

"there is a reasonable technological need".

The health of the consumer is mentioned, but at a later stage. If irradiation is allowed, we should press for a ban on fractionalised dosage, a ban on any individual item having an irradiation level of more that 10 kilogray, proper funding for EHOs to enable them regularly to inspect premises, and proper labelling of irradiated food instead of the symbol that has been proposed by the EEC. The Minister must clarify that point. When he opened the debate he said that all food would be labelled, but according to the Community directive there is to be a symbol only. There is a big difference between a symbol and a label.

Food containing raw materials that have been irradiated should be labelled. The Government will say that 20 countries use irradiation, that 30 permit it, that there are no obvious health hazards, that it reduces the danger of salmonella and listeria poisoning and that food manufacturers are anxious to take advantage of the technology. I suppose they are, but the Minister should take note of the views of the British Poultry Federation. During the last six months, that sector of agriculture has been clobbered. If any sector of the industry needs help, it does.

According to the paper published by the British Poultry Federation, it is not very happy about irradiation, with

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