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Mr. Brown: I strongly agree with what my hon. Friend has said about choice. The only way in which to provide proper consumer choice is to ensure that consumers are given adequate information at the point at which they make their decisions, and that means clear labelling. I have some sympathy with what the hon. Member for South Suffolk said about labelling, but I should feel more sympathy if the Conservatives had done more when they were in government.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Food Standards Agency. The Government's proposals were broadly welcomed, by the Scrutiny Committee among others. The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, has held a number of public consultation meetings throughout the country to discuss the Government's policy on the agency, and there has been an overwhelming welcome for the principle. Where there has been disagreement, it has concentrated on the method of funding.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): I think there is general agreement in the House that the Minister's response has been entirely appropriate in relation to public safety, and that he has given consumers the necessary reassurance that this unfortunate incident poses no health risk to them. British farmers, however, may take a rather different view of the impact on them.

Some of what the Minister has said is confusing. Will he clarify it, and tell us exactly which countries are taking action against all European Union food exports? In his statement, he suggested that Canada was taking action, but in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) he said that it was not. Will he list the countries that are taking action, and will he demonstrate that he is taking the American threat, in particular, much more seriously than he appears to be? Is he, for instance, referring America's action to the WTO, given that the impact on British pig farmers would be particularly serious?

Mr. Brown: The action against British pig farmers is the most serious of the United States actions. If anything

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could be more unfair than the totality, it is that. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the pig industry is experiencing difficulties in both the European Union and the United States. The prohibition of the relatively small but important volume of exports of pig products--worth about £8 million--from entry into the United States is disproportionate, and is not warranted by the facts.

I hope that it will not be necessary to take up the issue through the WTO. In my statement I referred to three countries: the United States, Canada and Singapore. The Canadians have banned only imports from Belgium; the ban does not extend to European Union products covered by the feedstuffs statement which come from outside Belgium. The United States and Singapore, however, have banned all European Union products that are covered by the European Union statement on affected products. The Government are making known our view that we regard such action as disproportionate, and we are already achieving some success in getting the action scaled back to what it properly should be.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): My right hon. Friend will know that when contaminated food is removed from a food counter in a shop, the shopkeeper has the right to claim against his insurance policy, thereby affecting the premiums paid by all policyholders nationally. Has my right hon. Friend considered co-ordinating action by insurance companies--which, from what I have heard, must have been faced with a very large bill--with a view to bringing an action for negligence against the Belgian authorities, who were negligent in failing to reveal the information that they had on contaminated food in circulation?

Mr. Brown: I can foresee a number of civil actions arising from the incident, and there may be criminal actions as well. I have no statement to make now on those matters, which are for the civil courts and the appropriate authorities. However, my hon. Friend was quite right to say that food that may be a risk to the public has to be destroyed. That was the main thrust of the powers that we exercised between Thursday and Saturday last week.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden): Does the Minister accept that, when farmers are being asked to dig into their pockets to pay for traceability, the current situation only serves to show that their investment could be in a flawed traceability system, and therefore not worth their while?

Mr. Brown: I do not think that. Traceability is of enormous importance for farmers and underpins consumer confidence. Moreover, if such a situation should arise in the United Kingdom, for example, we would be able to trace it back to its real source, rather than have a broader and perhaps more alarmist series of bans, with a detrimental effect on consumer confidence. Traceability ensures that United Kingdom consumers are able to have confidence in United Kingdom produce.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): While I agree with everything that the Minister has said, and congratulate him on his swift action, is it not the case that people in the United Kingdom are still suffering from the previous Government's denial of information on food safety? Is

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there not still an attitude of fear in any food scare? Although it is right that we should be cautious of any additional risk from dioxins, dioxins are widespread--almost universal--in the environment. If one had a garden bonfire in which plastics were burned, dioxins would be present in fairly high concentrations. The risk from dioxins is always there.

The Minister said, and I fully accept, that his actions were proportionate. However, would it not be helpful if we stated the risk of dioxins in understandable terms, and compared that risk, even in Belgium, with that facing someone who is a smoker or a drinker? About 4,000 cancers are caused annually by alcohol. Would it not be sensible if we helped the public to understand and assess risk by stating it in numbers? If we were to do so, we would not have an entirely irrational situation in which food from the United Kingdom and many other European countries--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Gentleman has gone on far too long. He must be aware that other colleagues wish to contribute.

Mr. Brown: I am extraordinarily sympathetic to what my hon. Friend has said. The Government have tried to do two things: to ensure that we protect the public in a proportionate way, and to do so without the issue causing alarm and unfounded fears.

My hon. Friend asked me about quantification--or at least explanation--of risk. Work is currently being done by my Department and by the Department of Health to examine how that might best be done. For the moment, however, we rely on the English language and on phrases such as "very small", which are insufficiently precise for the types of discussions that we are not infrequently finding that we have to have. I therefore agree with my hon. Friend that more work has to be done, so that we are able to explain risk in a measured way.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Does the right hon. Gentleman have any estimate of the total value of the goods that have to be destroyed throughout the European Union, and in the United Kingdom in particular, as a result of what has happened? Does he recall the enthusiasm of the then Belgian Government and the Belgian Members of the European Parliament for the establishment of a European Parliament inquiry into Her Majesty's Government's handling of the BSE situation? Will he use his best endeavours to encourage the European Parliament to set up a similar inquiry into the Belgian Government's conduct of this difficult situation?

Mr. Brown: That is very tempting, but no. [Hon. Members: "Why not?"] Let me answer. I am content to leave the policing of the matter to the Commission, which has responded promptly, fairly and proportionately. Commissioner Fischler has made it clear that he is considering legal action on behalf of the Commission. It is appropriate that the matter should remain with him.

I do not think that the value of the goods to be destroyed in the United Kingdom is very great, but the situation is different throughout the European Union.

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The sums of money involved in Belgium and to a lesser extent in France, Holland and Germany may--I repeat may--be considerable, but I have no firm estimate.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Perhaps my right hon. Friend might succumb to temptation. Many moons ago, when Madam Speaker and I were among the Members of this Parliament indirectly elected to the European Parliament, we noticed that our partner countries were somewhat more tardy in coming clean about their scandals than we British. May I press my right hon. Friend to find out by what mechanism countries can be made to be a bit more candid with one another more promptly?

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that traceability in the retail trade is as active as animal traceability, following all his good work?

Finally--I do not expect an answer immediately--my right hon. Friend referred to studies of the industrial processes. I have great confidence in the scientific advice to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food under all Governments. Will my right hon. Friend put in the Library the basis of the Government's concerns about the industrial processes, dioxins and cancer?

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