Mr. Pickles: My hon. Friend is right. The Bill is about quality and quality assurance. It is about ensuring that customers are not misled into purchasing what they think is local bacon, because it is called "Wiltshire cure", only to find that it is more likely to have come from
Mr. Pickles: The hon. Gentleman is, of course, most helpfuland absolutely right. I was not speaking in a strictly geographical sense. I am very much aware that there is the Czech Republic and the other part of what was Czechoslovakia, and all the other places in eastern Europe. The point that I was making is that the Bill is about ensuring that standards of husbandry can be assured.
The figures that I read out from the Deloitte & Touche report do not entirely take into account the full effects of classical swine fever and foot and mouth. I am afraid that if we have a similar agriculture debate this time next year, the situation is likely to look even grimmer. I hope I have said enough to show that the estimated cumulative loss to the UK pig industry between 1998 and the end of 1999 was about £340 million.
The importance of the pig industry should never be underestimated. As the distinguished journalist Digby Scottthe winner of this year's David Black awardsaid when receiving his award at an event on Wednesday attended by several hon. Members:
The foot and mouth restrictions did not only affect a tiny farming community: they went deep into the countryside and deep into the suburbs. The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne and I attended a meeting about waterways where we were told about the effects of foot and mouth disease on our inland waterways and about the impact on tourism. We must not underestimate the importance of basic farming production for the infrastructure and social cohesion of the countryside and the general community.
Although I have slightly more time than I anticipated as the first Bill we were to have debated was withdrawn, I think I am in danger of being rather self-indulgent in terms of time, so I shall turn quickly to the clauses. The
Clause 3 is concerned with production standards. The intention is that where food production standards are lower than those that apply in England and Wales reference must be made to that on the label.
Clause 4 is similar to provisions in the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury, but I draw hon. Members' attention to subsection (1) which sets out rules on packaging, and anticipates the growth of web-based and bar-code information systems. The hon. Member for Brent, North expressed deep concern about notes, and paragraph (e) would address that problem. It would ensure that consumers can obtain information on a specific product, either through the web or from bar codes. Hon. Members will be familiar with the little price guns that we see in Safeway, Waitrose or Sainsbury; they contain much more information than merely the price and the product name.
Mr. Pickles: Indeed. The hon. Member for Hendon will like my next point. It is possible to take one of those guns, point it at a packet of Walkers crisps and find out which field the potatoes were picked from. That is obviously of some importance with regard to pesticide controls and the like. Within a very short time it will be possible for people to use such programmed systems, so that someone who has a nut allergy or does not want to buy products from a certain country or wants to obtain particular products will be able to use those guns in supermarkets. They will be an enormous help
Mr. O'Brien: The technology exists; indeed it existed 18 months ago. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) has also done a great deal of work in this area, and he and I have talked to some of the corporate entities who are at the leading edge. There is already a link between everything in my hon. Friend's Bill, the animal welfare standards and the food safety regime: computer programmes can help to identify a product on the supermarket shelfhowever it has been treated and presentedback to the field, the animal or the farm whence it came. For instance, Swedishtasty.com will explain exactly where a piece of beef came from[Laughter.] Swedishtasty.com is a particularly good siteI recommend it strongly. It is a good example. I intervened because my hon. Friend is right and I endorse his point that the Bill offers an opportunity to enhance and bring together the various strands to deliver benefits to producers and consumers alike.
Mr. Pickles: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. I had heard that he was a great devotee of the website Swedishtasty.comI was delighted to discover that it was about meatballs[Laughter.] Perhaps we should gently draw a veil over that point.
The proposals will bring honesty into labelling. They attempt to build on EU legislation, and will offer help to the farming industry without asking for subsidy or unfair advantage. The Bill will empower the consumer to make informed purchasing choices and gives strength to measures that the House has previously adopted with enthusiasm.
Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): I am delighted to speak on the Bill. I compliment the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) on his tenacity in holding the House captivated for the past 50 minutes. I congratulate him on his good fortune in securing such a significant place in the private Members' ballot. I am glad that he has let the rest of the House into his secret. I shall make sure that I enter my house number in the ballot next year in order to secure similar good fortune.
I begin by looking at the issue of nutsa cause of great concern in relation to food labelling regulations. Nuts are the most prevalent of the allergens in food that can cause significant trauma to people. For many, many years a sizeable lobby has pressed for better legislation to ensure that the labelling of food products is simple and clear.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's remarks about transparency and honesty in labelling. That is of fundamental importance. I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman had known of them, he would have been extremely supportive of the questions that I put earlier this year to the former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food asking what steps he was taking to ensure standardisation of food labels so that universally recognised symbols could be adopted for descriptions of foods that, first, contain nuts; secondly, and equally important, do not contain nuts and verifiably have not done so in any part of their processing; and, thirdly, might contain traces of nuts. That is the clarity and honesty in food labelling for which many people have been calling.
My son could die if he ate something with a trace of nut, or nut oil in it. He is four years old. We can't leave him with family and friends because it is too easy to forget that this simple food could kill him. But it would be far easier if we knew that anyone who was minding him could look at a product and know straight away if it had nuts or notand if so, it should state if it is nut free."