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Baby Milk (Labelling)

Dr. Lynne Jones: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his policy on the labelling of baby milks with particular reference to the health risks of bottle feeding. [9736]

Mrs. Browning: The labelling of baby milks is controlled by the general requirements of the Food Labelling Regulations 1996 and more specifically by controls in the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 1995. The latter require that infant formula is labelled with a statement concerning the superiority of breast feeding, a statement recommending that the product should be used only on the advice of a health care professional, instructions for appropriate preparation and a statement warning against the hazards of inappropriate preparation.

The Government have at present no plans to change these requirements.

Organic Farming

Mr. Flynn: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what new proposals he has to increase the acreage devoted to organic farming. [9705]

Mr. Boswell: The Government have introduced organic aid schemes throughout the United Kingdom to provide financial help to those converting to organic production. These will be kept under review. Last June, I was pleased to launch the organic conversion information service in England. The service offers a telephone "Helpline" and free advisory visits to farmers and has generated considerable interest; we hope that this will encourage more farmers to convert to organic production. Similar services are available in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Food Safety and Hygiene Prosecutions

Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many successful prosecutions have been brought since 1990 for infringements of the food safety and food hygiene regulations. [9709]

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Mr. Boswell: According to the statistical returns made to the Department by local authorities, the number of establishments convicted each year is as follows:

No data are available for 1990.

Sheep Scab

Sir Hector Monro: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the outcome of public consultation on control of sheep scab. [10457]

Mrs. Browning: I am pleased to say there was a positive reaction to the Government's proposals for new legislation to help farmers control the spread of sheep scab, which were issued for consultation in December 1995.

Following comments, our original proposal making it a criminal offence to sell affected animals will be replaced with one to cover the movement of affected animals, except to slaughter. In addition, we propose to make the provisions to deal with sheep scab on commons more flexible. We will proceed with our plans to make failure to treat affected sheep a criminal offence.

We will now circulate our updated proposals, and invite further comments on the draft regulations which we are currently preparing. We expect the new legislation to come into effect in late spring or early summer 1997.

EU Agriculture Council

Sir Hector Monro: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the outcome of the Agriculture Council held in Brussels on 16 and 17 December. [10458]

Mr. Douglas Hogg: I represented the United Kingdom at the Agriculture Council in Brussels on 17 December, accompanied by my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office. My permanent secretary represented the United Kingdom on 16 December.

I reported to the Agriculture Council the decision of the Government, which I had announced to this House on 16 December, to proceed with the selective cull of cattle at most risk of BSE. I also informed the Council of our progress in implementing the other conditions laid down in the Florence agreement and our intention to submit proposals for a certified herds scheme to the Commission early in the new year.

The Council reached agreement by qualified majority on a Commission proposal, brought forward at UK instigation, to amend the directive laying down minimum standards for the protection of calves. In the modified terms agreed by the Council, the amended directive will bring in significantly improved conditions for the housing of calves. Calves up to eight weeks old will have to be given enough space to turn round, and calves over eight weeks old will have to be housed in groups, with more space allowed as they grow in size. In addition, the Commission undertook to set rules requiring the inclusion

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of a minimum of iron in calves' diet, and fibre for all calves over two weeks old. As to timing, the Council agreed that all new calf housing must conform with the revised rules with effect from January 1998, and that existing installations must meet the new rules by 31 December 2006. On the latter, I argued for a shorter transition period but received no support. This agreement will lead to significant improvements in the way veal calves are treated throughout the European Union. The proposals on which Italy voted against, and Spain abstained, will be formally adopted early in the new year.

The Council reached agreement on a number of other veterinary and plant health measures, including the conclusion by qualified majority--Finland voting against--of a veterinary agreement on trade between the European Union and New Zealand in live animals and animal products. The Council considered, but failed to agree on, a proposal banning the use of specified risk materials in the manufacture of animal feed and food stuffs. The Commission undertook to consider making further proposals in this area in the light of advice from the EU Scientific Veterinary Committee.

The United Kingdom welcomed the Commission's announcement of early proposals on the welfare of animals in transport, specifically in respect of staging points for animal journeys. The United Kingdom opposed proposals to modify the arable area payments scheme in ways which would have weakened the penalties falling on arable producers for excess production. In the beef sector, the Council held a wide-ranging discussion of the operation of the beef early marketing scheme and the calf processing scheme. The United Kingdom pressed the Commission to review the rates of aid payable under the latter so as to prevent undesirable distortion of the market.

Rendering Industry

Sir Hector Monro: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he will decide on the final arrangements for financial support for the rendering industry in 1996-97. [10459]

Mr. Douglas Hogg: I announced in April that the Government would be providing temporary financial support to the rendering industry of up to £118 million this financial year. Since then, we have made payments of about £59 million on account pending final decisions on the form of this support. We have met our objective of ensuring through this support that the essential links in the meat supply chain are maintained.

I am now pleased to announce that the Government have finalised support arrangements for 1996-97. These take the form of a non-statutory scheme and follow detailed consultation with representatives of the rendering industry. I am placing in the Library of the House copies of the scheme and the agreement which companies receiving support will have to sign.

As with the payments on account support will be based on renderers' loss of income by comparison with 1995-96. However, support will be adjusted to take broad account of renderers' actual levels of throughput and costs this year. We have ensured in particular that the rendering industry does not receive support under this scheme in respect of material being processed under the over-30-month scheme. In devising the detailed

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arrangements we have sought to strike a fair balance between the interests of renderers' and the taxpayer and between different renderers.

Any differences between payments on account and entitlement under the scheme will be made up through adjustments to payments under the scheme. Depending on the level of sales income and throughput in the remainder of the year the final scheme is expected to cost the taxpayer in the region of £100 million to £110 million.

As a condition of receiving support rendering companies will continue to be required to maintain their prices and charges to their suppliers at the levels applying before 20 March 1996.

In order to assist them in devising support arrangements for the rendering industry, the Government engaged the services of Coopers and Lybrand. Its report to the Government on the rendering industry is being published and copies are being placed in the Library of the House.

We have announced that up to a further £59 million support to the disposal chain will be available in 1997-98, as slaughterers and renderers adjust to the changed value of animal by-products. We are now opening discussions with the industries about what form this support should take.

Intervention Board

Sir Hector Monro: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects to publish the corporate plan 1996-97 to 2000-01 for the Intervention Board executive agency. [10455]

Mr. Baldry: I am pleased to advise that the corporate plan 1996 to 2000-01 has been published and copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

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