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Food Safety

Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the President of the Council if she will make a statement on the current work undertaken by the Ministerial Group on Food Safety. [141642]

Ms Stuart: I have been asked to reply.

The Ministerial Group on Food Safety was dissolved on 9 November 1999. The Food Standards Agency advises the Government on food safety and standards matters. The agency is a non-ministerial department accountable to Parliament through Health Ministers.

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The agency has as its main objective in discharging its functions the protection of public health and the interests of consumers in relation to food.


Drugs Dispensing

Dr. Tonge: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what discussions he has had with the pharmaceutical industry concerning the cost of drugs to (a) consumers and (b) the NHS following the requirement to dispense drugs in blister packs. [144761]

Ms Stuart: No medicines are legally required only to be dispensed or sold in blister packs. The type of packaging used for medicines is a commercial decision for the manufacturer concerned, provided the quality and safety of the product are maintained. The Department for Health has frequent discussions with representatives of the pharmaceutical industry and those discussions have on occasions included issues relating to the packaging of medicines.


Mr. Hammond: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if value-added tax is chargeable on (a) supplies of recombinant factor VIII for the treatment of haemophiliacs and (b) supplies of conventionally produced factor VIII; what representations he has made to HM Treasury in respect of charging VAT on these substances; on what date he made those representations; and what response he has received. [146958]

Mr. Denham: Value Added Tax is a matter for Her Majesty's Treasury Ministers. The United Kingdom exempts from VAT whole human blood and components and derivatives of human blood such as human Factor VIII fraction, when used for therapeutic purposes. Synthetic 'blood' products such as those of animal origin or genetically engineered products are not exempt from VAT. In November 1996, this decision was upheld by a tribunal. Given that a judgment has been made, we have not asked HM Treasury to reconsider this matter.

Animal Feed

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what advice the Food Standards Agency has provided to the Government on the scientific justification for a ban in the United Kingdom on the use of fishmeal in animal feed. [146405]

Ms Stuart: The chairman of the Food Standards Agency advised my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that the agency did not see an immediate human health risk from the use in animal feed of fish meal and certain animal material. Nor was there a need on purely public health grounds to launch a major recall scheme for feeds containing fish meal and the other material, although their use should be phased out as soon as practicable.

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Meat Imports

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assumptions about French BSE controls underlay the advice from the Food Standards Agency on French beef imports. [144316]

Ms Stuart [holding answer 8 January 2001]: I am advised by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) that its advice on French imports was based on the assumptions given in Dr. Christl Donnelly's study published in "Nature" on 13 December 2000. These were that if the over-30-months (OTM) rule is fully enforced there is virtually no risk from French beef imported to Britain. If the OTM rule is only 75 per cent. enforced then risks posed by British and French meat sold in the United Kingdom would be comparable. The FSA estimates that enforcement levels in the UK are above 75 per cent. This allows for the fact that there may have been under-reporting of BSE cases in France and that the French feed ban may not have been fully effective until late 2000.

Inspection missions to member states are carried out by the European Commission's Food and Veterinary Office (FVO). An additional programme of urgent FVO missions is currently under way to all member states. France was visited in the week beginning 4 December 2000. The report of the mission will be published in due course in line with normal practice.

In advising on the safety of French beef imports, the FSA has made clear that it keeps the position under constant review, taking account of the latest available scientific and other information. This will include the outcome of the FVO inspection mission to France once it is available.

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what proportion of imported cattle carcases are individually checked for specified risk material contamination. [147857]

Ms Stuart: Imported cattle carcases are generally checked for the presence of specified risk material (SRM) on a targeted basis. Imports from other parts of the European Union (EU) are checked by the Meat Hygiene Service at licensed meat plants in Great Britain, or by local authorities at other meat plants. Imports from non-EU countries are checked at border inspection posts, where checks in all cases are made of the accompanying veterinary certificate (declaring that SRM has been removed) and where a sample of consignments are in addition subject to physical checks. Only imports from Australia and New Zealand are exempt from these requirements under the Specified Risk Materials Order 1997.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has advised that the checks should be proportionate to the risk. Recently, and as a response to the identification of SRM in imported beef from Germany and the Netherlands, the MHS has been instructed by the FSA to check 100 per cent. of carcase beef imports from Germany at GB meat plants. The MHS has also been required to give special attention to imports from abattoirs in other countries from which previous consignments of beef with SRM attached were imported.

The FSA has also instructed the MHS to step up the level of checks on imported meat, in recognition of the likely increase in the volume of imports, due to the effects of the foot and mouth disease crisis on domestic supplies.

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Mr. Cawsey: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what action he has taken following the discovery of spinal cord in imported beef from other EU countries. [149915]

Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what investigations he has carried out into the presence of spinal cords in beef imported into the UK from Germany; what the findings were of those investigations; and if he will make a statement. [150222]

Mr. Ruane: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what measures he is taking to stop the import of meat that contains specified risk material; and if he will make a statement. [155296]

Ms Stuart: The Government are advised on matters of food safety by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Controls on specified risk materials (SRM), such as spinal cord, are a crucial part of the protection of United Kingdom consumers against BSE, and the UK has had rules requiring the removal and safe disposal of SRM for several years. New, harmonised European-wide SRM controls were introduced with effect from 1 October 2000. Responsibility for ensuring that SRM controls are being enforced by all member states lies with the European Commission, which is currently carrying out inspection missions to all member states to check on this.

Where consignments of beef imported into the UK have been found with SRM attached, the issue has been taken up vigorously with the European Commission, and with the authorities of the member states involved--Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy. The FSA policy is to press for plant closures if evidence suggests that there is a system failure. It is for the national authorities to review the inspection systems at the abattoirs concerned, and three abattoirs, two in Germany and one in the Netherlands, have had their operating licences suspended by their relevant authorities until they can guarantee that no more contaminated meat will come into circulation on the market. The FSA has also instructed the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) (and its counterpart in Northern Ireland) to inspect every consignment of carcase beef imported from Germany to licensed meat plants in the UK, and all consignments from the other overseas abattoirs concerned. Reports from the MHS show that the large majority of consignments of imported beef have had the SRM properly removed. In addition, local authorities have been advised to check all consignment of imported carcase beef from Germany at meat plants under their supervision.


Dr. Harris: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how much has been spent and is allocated to be spent in England on specialist advice and support in the NHS for smokers wanting to quit in (a) 1999-2000, (b) 2000-01 and (c) 2001-02. [153439]

Yvette Cooper: Details of allocation and expenditure are shown in the table.

£ million

Health action zonesHealth authoritiesAllocation TotalTotal Expenditure

(21) April to September (Figures for October to March not available)

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The table shows investment in National Health Service smoking cessation support services. In 2001-02 health authorities have been given additional resources to fund the new smoking cessation aid, Zyban, and Nicotine Replacement Therapy on NHS prescription.

Research has confirmed that complex services such as cessation services take time to establish. As a result the total allocation was not spent in the first year. The remainder was carried over for expenditure on the services during the following year.

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