Examination of witnesses (Questions 680
THURSDAY 11 MARCH 1999
and RT HON
680. They are in pig meat production which
was discussed before the House this morning.
(Mr Rooker) Pig meat production is a very good
example. It was one I was going to refer to. How can I put it:
the idea that we are going out of our way currently, let alone
under the Agency, to put more onerous conditions on British food
manufacturers than our European partners is something I do not
think holds up. Clearly in the case of BSE and its aftermath we
freely admit we are. There is no meat and bonemeal available for
feed and I do not think in the very near future that will be the
case. There are no animals going into the food chain, cattle that
is, over 30 months old. I have to say British pig meat producers
had eight years to get ready. This Parliament freely voted for
the legislation in 1991 I think it was. It is true that we have
got a voluntary arrangement. This is the kind of thing that would
happen in the future. Where there are differences we would try
and get a voluntary arrangement with those importing food particularly
where it is animal welfare considerations to try and get equal
treatment with our importers and that is what we will try and
do. We have not got a Single Market in every single item. Much
to my astonishment I found we had not got a Single Market in chocolate
when I arrived. This was one of the issues we had over milk chocolate
and the arguments there. There are some still loose areas even
relating to Britain's membership relating to 1971. The idea is
to get a Single Market where we have got a common set of rules
within the European Union on food standards and food law including
labelling. That is the objective of the exercise and we can do
some aspects of this by regionalising our foods as well as important
marketing aspects in terms of the labelling in terms of what you
can claim and what you cannot claim. We are making progress. It
is going forward rather than backwards. Pig meat is a good example
but it will be some years before we can persuade our European
partners to operate legally the same rules we have got here. However,
as we know, the big importers, the supermarkets, have given a
commitment that they will not import pig meat into this country
that is produced to lesser welfare standards than required in
681. That is fine on welfare standards but
we are talking about health protection.
(Mr Rooker) The issue with pig meat is welfare
standards; it is not the quality of the meat.
682. In Continental Europe meat and bonemeal
can be fed to pigs but they cannot be fed to pigs in this country
on the grounds of health protection.
(Mr Rooker) That is right.
683. What can the Food Standards Agency
do on the grounds of health protection, if it agrees with the
United Kingdom Government's policy which effectively it has got
to do, to prevent pig meat coming into this country which is fed
on meat and bonemeal?
(Mr Rooker) Nothing at the moment. The reason
for this is that this is a BSE enforcement measure. This is not
something in the normal run of the mill in terms of food safety.
Let's be serious. I am not saying you are not being serious but
the fact is we have had 174,000 recorded cases of BSE. The next
highest country in Europe is about 250. I am not sure about the
current figures for Portugal where there is a ban. We have got
a meat and bonemeal mountain in this country which we have got
to get rid of which is well over 300,000 tonnes simply because
we do not allow cattle into the food chain over 30 months old.
That is still the case. We have got some unilateral rules in this
country, the SRM controls, because Europe refused to bring them
in on beef imports which we implemented ourselves because, as
we freely admit, we were not prepared to have beef coming in unless
it had followed the same SRM controls and we do send consignments
back. I would not like that situation to exist for any longer
than it has to but given the fact we want the Food Agency up and
running, if we can, before the middle of next year, it is likely
that situation will still be around. That will be a legacy of
BSE. That is not a central issue of food safety and standards
684. Let's take something that has not got
anything to do with BSE, growth promoters in poultry. We are bringing
in poultry from outside the European Union which have been fed
growth promoters. We have banned them right across Europe, we
have certain banned them in this country and presumably across
Europe as well because it is a EU Directive but is it for the
Food Standards Agency on health grounds, which is the reason we
banned them, to ban the imports of poultry that have been fed
on growth promoters?
(Mr Rooker) No, in that respect it would be for
the European Commission to try and get that because this is a
European wide ban and also it is only four growth promoters. They
call them dietary enhancers or digestive enhancers. They do not
like the term growth promoters but I am quite happy to use it.
We all know what we are talking about. The fact is those four
were banned because of the human health risk with antibiotic resistance.
The ban has not quite come into force at the moment. The concern
of the agricultural ministers who decided that was what about
imports from third countries into the European Union. They are
going to address that issue in June (because that is when the
ban will actually come into force) because they are conscious
that we have imposed because that is when the ban will actually
come into force, a ban on the use of a drug for animal feed for
growth promotion which would put European producers, both pig
and poultry, maybe at a disadvantage. It is not their intention
that that continues and therefore the Commission will be asked
to come forward with some proposals to make sure that produce
into the European Union meets the standards of the European Union.
You are absolutely right, it is very serious and very important
and Nick Brown made that point when he made the statement about
the decision on the banning of those four growth promoters.
685. What you are saying is that the Food
Standards Agency in terms of health protection in this country
could not take that decision unilaterally?
(Mr Rooker) No it could not because the decision
was taken by the Commission, by the Council of Ministers and that
is where the buck would stop, if you like. This would be a European
Union decision you are talking about not a United Kingdom decision
because that was the decision. It is European-wide in effect.
It is what is coming into the European Union that we have to consider.
Now the Food Agency would not have a role in deciding that. That
would be for the United Kingdom Government working with our partners
in the European Union. The decision would be taken at a different
686. What I am trying to get at is let's
say the Food Standards Agency was existence, it had been involved
in research into growth promoters, enhancers, whatever we want
to call them, and had decided that they were a danger to public
health protection and they had recommended to the United Kingdom
Government that no poultry should be available for public consumption
in this country containing those growth promoters. We have arrived
at the decision by a slightly different route. You are saying
they would still not have the power to recommend to the United
Kingdom Government that we did that in the interests of protecting
the United Kingdom consumer?
(Mr Rooker) They could publish the advice but
for the United Kingdom Government to bring in a unilateral ban
would leave us subject to proceedings from the European Union.
We would have to have good scientific grounds for bringing in
such a ban. If it was thought because of international
687. You did it on beef on the bone imports.
(Mr Rooker) Sorry? What do you mean, beef on the
688. Imports of beef are supposed to be
off the bone, are they not?
(Mr Rooker) Yes.
689. So you have done that unilaterally.
(Mr Rooker) No, we did that with specified risk
materials as well.
690. But you have done that?
(Mr Rooker) Yes.
691. And you are saying you cannot do it
with poultry meat?
(Mr Rooker) We would have to have good scientific
reason for doing it is what I am saying. In other words, what
you are giving me an example of is if the Food Standards Agency
actually discoveredthe example you have given is a growth
promoterthat a growth promoter was causing a problem with
antibiotic resistance, this is essentially a matter for both the
Department of Health and, of course, the Veterinary Medicines
Directorate by the way because that was where the advice came
from, it was not within the joint group, it came from the Veterinary
Medicines Directorate, that was the subject of international negotiation.
If you are asking would it happen unilaterally here in the UK,
if the Agency gave the Government advice based on some sound science
that there was a problem the Government would actually consider
that, decide whether to act or not, and if it did act it would
have to report its decision to the European Union, to the Commission,
that it had acted on this science, and put the science to the
veterinary committees and to the food safety committees of the
European Union to get approval for what we had done. It may be
other countries find the same problem, hence you can sometimes
get a collective decision and indeed a European wide decision.
If you have got good scientific grounds to act yourself then you
can do but you have to do so on the basis of some evidence which
you then offer up to the Commission.
692. I hoped that we had introduced this
ban on growth promoters on the basis of good scientific grounds.
(Mr Rooker) We did, that is why we got a majority
in the Commission.
693. Therefore, I do not see why we cannot
go to the next stage.
(Mr Rooker) Which is?
694. Which is to have a unilateral ban on
third country imports.
(Mr Rooker) That is where the European Commission
has got to have some discussions and think about our world trading
obligations and argue the science at a global level rather than
at a European level.
695. And the UK consumer continues to eat
these products that you have already decided are inferior or a
(Mr Rooker) No, they are not inferior. They would
not be allowed in the European Union. We have got these four growth
promoters, and I am not going to try to pronounce them I have
to say, Chairman, that there has been a debate about for a while.
This did not pop up out of nowhere, the debate had been ongoing
for a considerable amount of time. There have been other cases
where the UK Government have gone to Brussels and have been in
the minority where we have wanted to do something, maybe stop
something happening, and have found ourselves in the minority.
Part of the price of being in the European Union is that we accept
the majority decision. Then we have to think about our own producers
and I should imagine the French Government and the German Government
and the other governments are just as good at thinking about their
producers as we are of ours in respect of third country competition
and third country imports. There is a whole set of rules and regulations
involved in this which in some ways, while the food agencies will
be involved to a degree, go way beyond the Food Standards Agency,
they cut right across the whole of Government.
696. I am not going to labour this point
any more, Chairman. I am going to conclude it as I see it. We
have, at a European level, banned a series of veterinary medicines,
growth promoters, whatever you want to call them, on the grounds
of protecting public health.
(Mr Rooker) Yes.
697. But we cannot follow through, even
though we accept those grounds, in banning imports that contain
those growth promoters which are being consumed by consumers here.
(Mr Rooker) I just said it is not true to say
we cannot follow through. What I said was the Commission and the
ministers are going to consider this matter again in June with
this very point in mind about what we do about third country imports
into the European Union where these growth promoters have been
used. It is not true to say that nothing is happening, this matter
is of very serious importance to poultry manufacturers in the
European Union which is why the ministers have got to address
the issue and why the Commission has been asked to come forward
698. Forgive me, Minister, I am not arguing
here on behalf of the poultry manufacturers, I am arguing on the
behalf of the consumers who are supposed to be protected by this
Agency. We are saying that we cannot do anything to protect the
consumer because we have to take a decision in the light of how
it affects poultry producers at the European level. If this is
a matter of health protection and we have taken a decision on
the basis of the evidence that these things should be banned then
surely they should be banned from all the poultry meat consumed
in this country, not just the poultry meat which is produced in
(Mr Rooker) That may in due course be what happens.
I am not ruling that out.
699. I was hoping I was going to be able
to ask you some simpler questions. I want to concentrate on the
structure of the Food Standards Agency. Today we have been given
a couple of sheets listing all the various advisory committees
on food related issues. Unfortunately it is a bit short of information.
They all report to the FSA or others but it does not actually
say who they are accountable to and who they have been set up
by. Perhaps "report to" means something specific to
the Civil Service. I really want to know something about accountability
especially where you have got committees which report to at least
three agencies and in one case four agencies.
(Mr Rooker) Yes.