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Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): When the Cornish purchaser is buying clotted cream, what percentage of the milk in that cream will be from Cornwall? Perhaps the Bill would be a way of finding out whether the milk used is imported or from the United Kingdom.
A regulatory set-up in the EU covers whether a product is Cornish clotted cream or clotted cream produced by the Cornish method. My Bill would demonstrate to the Cornish purchaseras the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury would have donethat the product was indeed a product of the United Kingdom, or at least of England and Wales.
Mr. Gardiner: The hon. Gentleman has been extremely kind in giving way on many occasions this morning. Does he accept that many people find the Bill disappointing precisely because it does not seek to prescribe certain elements? It would not inform people about the problematic ingredients to which many people have allergic reactions, such as nuts. Many people thought that the Bill would provide that if food contained nuts, that would have to be specified on the label. It is a source of great disappointment that the Bill does not seek to tackle something that is a very real problem for many people in this country.
Mr. Pickles: Those issues are covered by other labelling regulations, but I am not a proud man and if the hon. Gentleman wants to enhance my Bill, I will willingly accept his help. If he wants to help the Bill through the Committee, I will lobby the Labour Whips. I will have more to say about nuts and potato crisps shortly.
Mr. Stephen O'Brien: The critical question that was raised by the hon. Members for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton) and for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) underpins the intent behind the Bill. As I understand it, the Bill is not just to do with the latest substantial-change treatment to the raw materialor to the material in the form in which it is received at the plantas is the case under current legislation. It is to do with the overall content. We want consumers to be confident about what they are buying. Knowing the provenance of a product, as well as being aware of the standards of production that led to the last substantial change, gives consumers confidence. Knowing where the milk came from is as important, if one wants to be sure that it has been treated at the original source in a way that will give consumers confidence, as the latest substantial-change treatment. Hence, a main ingredient is defined as anything that is more than 25 per cent. of the content. I hope that helps to address the points that were raised.
Mr. Pickles: My hon. Friend is quite right. During the last debate on this issue, we spent some considerable time on this almost de minimis point. My hon. Friend was quite keen to ensure that we do not become bogged down in clotted cream or shepherd's pie, as it were. He reminds me that I should have said that the remarks of the hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) came close to protectionism and the desire to ban imports. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention because it has taken a couple of pages off my speech. [Interruption.] He put it far better than I could.
Mr. Bryant: The point about 25 per cent. content is very significant. Let us consider lemon tart, or tarte au citron as they call it in other countries, not to mention Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury, although not in Tesco. Actually, to most of us in Wales, it is lemon meringue pie. Clearly, lemons never constitute 25 per cent. of a lemon meringue pie, however it is made. None the less, a lemon meringue pie without lemons, or without significant lemon taste, or when one cannot identify where the lemons come from, might be a lesser lemon tart.
Mr. Pickles: I am not certain about most things in life, but I am certain that someone who wishes to sell a lemon tartor even a tarte au citrontends to put the description on the label. What we should be concerned about is making sure that what is on the label is honest. There is no reason why the label should not display the fact that the lemons are Israeli, or Palestinian, or come from Spain. That seems perfectly reasonable.
A number of things have happened since our last debate. We have had the voluntary code, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury has rightly pointed out, the farm assurance scheme. I think that that has been a success, to some degree, in attracting people's attention and increasing awareness of the quality of UK products. That is quite right. Indeed, it has been said from the Government Front Bench that British food remains the best in the world.
However, confusion still exists. We have managed to increase awareness, but not the way in which consumers can act on that awareness. Consumer and farming organisations are still demanding a fairer labelling system, backed by the law.
The second development is less welcomethe outbreaks of classical swine fever and foot and mouth disease. As I have said, although my constituency fortunately escaped classical swine fever, it did suffer from foot and mouth. That was an awful experience, devastating not only for the people directly involved but for the wider community.
One of the features of previous agriculture debates in which I have participated has been the analysis of farm incomes published at this time of year by the accountants Deloitte & Touche. The October figures for this year have just been released, which is timely. It is shocking to hear that on a typical 500-acre family-run farm, annual profits
Total income from farming for the year 2000 has fallen by 27 per cent. in real terms to £1.88 billiondown by more than two thirds over the past five years. To give some kind of comparison, I must tell the House that in 1996 it was more than £5 billion. Bank borrowing by the agriculture industry continues to rise, amounting to some £10 billion, while investment levels on farms are the lowest since the early 1970s.
Most shocking of all, the National Farmers Union estimates that about 47,400 farmers and farm workers have left the industry in England and Wales over the past two years. I know about that from my local farming sector. I met its representatives in early October and they talked about their sons' and daughters' reluctance to enter the farming industry. In my area, the tradition of farming continuing down the generations is, in some cases, about to end.
The most dramatic effects have been on the pig industry. Over the past 10 years, the size of the UK herd has fallen sharply, and now stands at its lowest level for more than 50 years. Imports of pigmeat have consistently risen. Between 1994 and 1999, the UK was a net exporter of fresh pork in every year except one. Last year, the position was reversed and the home producers could not sustain their share of the market. In short, the retailer and the food service sector in general are importing food produced to a lower specification.
I emphasise the fact that my Bill does not seek to outlaw that, but simply to ensure that the purchaser has a right to know which products conform to the standards that the British consumer has long come to expect.
Angela Watkinson: The hon. Gentleman and I do, indeed, share a constituency boundary. A farm in my constituency, only one mile from that boundary, was one of the earliest sufferers from foot and mouth disease. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that the Bill is non-discriminatory towards imports of products of any origin that find themselves in our shops? It is the honesty in labelling that will enable the customer to understand the variation in prices, which reflect the variation in standards of production. Production costs in this country are higher because of the high standards of animal husbandry. If customers know where the products come from, they will have an explanation as to why some imports are cheaper than some home-produced items. Customers will know that although they are paying a little more for a product, they are getting a higher-quality product. Is that not why honesty is so important?