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Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): I am particularly keen to speak on the crucial issue of food labelling because of the many farmers in my constituency. Herefordshire beef is probably the finest beef in the world; in fact, it is definitely the finest beef. We also have Ryeland sheep, of which hon. Members may not be so well aware, but they are equally tasty. We farm chickens for the Sun Valley foods consortium.
I visited a pig farm only the other day and was witness to the fact that the pig farmer was prepared to go the extra mile. That involved crawling into stallswell, they are sheds more than anythingto change the straw twice a day throughout the winter, so that people could be confident that they were eating free-range piglets. We also produce dairy to such an extent that Cadbury's has situated its factory in my constituency to gather milk. The roads run red with the potato lifting that goes on, and we are famous for our cider apples. I also draw hon. Members' attention to Peter Davies of Claston farm, who has been pioneering the dwarf or hedgerow hop, which will, I hope, lead to at least 50 per cent. of all British hops being produced in Herefordshire.
With that in mind, it is repulsive to the House that not a single Liberal Democrat has deemed it worth while to turn up. It is hard to tell whether it is more repulsive when they are here or when they are not. It is deeply offensive to the farming community.
Mr. George Osborne: Is it not extraordinary, given the pontifications of the Liberal Democrat leader that he is in some sense an Opposition to the Government, that not a single member of his party is here, particularly as so many of them represent rural constituencies?
The Bill is crucial because it gives the wherewithal for shoppers to support the farmer if they so wish. No one has to buy British, but at least the consumer would be supported by the strength of the law.
Information is helpful, not destructive. [Interruption.] A Liberal Democrat Member has now come into the Chamber, but it is too little, too late. Freedom of speech and information is helpful, not destructive. Indeed, a new Gallup survey suggested that animal welfare is now even more important to shoppers than it was before the foot and mouth epidemic60 per cent. more important. Mike Sharpe, spokesman for the RSPCA's freedom food label, has said that consumers would be able to improve welfare conditions with their purchasing power and that
Every time we hear mention of animal cruelty, our conscience should remind us that if we do not support the Bill we will have done more to promote cruelty than any huntsman has throughout his entire life.
On Tuesday we shall debate the movement of animals, with the humane idea of cutting the number of journeys that animals make. This Bill would do far more to cut the misery of animals abroad than anything proposed in that forthcoming Bill.
The focus of previous opposition to this Bill has been removed by the re-wording. We are now looking to promote only the highest levels of animal welfare, which is surely best practice. Labelling clearly and accurately must surely be the priority of the Government, particularly after the mix-up of cow and sheep brains during the BSE-scrapie investigation. Perhaps Ministers will now have learned their lessons about labelling and will wish the Bill to be implemented swiftly.
Eco-warriorsincluding a Liberal Democrat peerdestroy genetically modified maize. We want to know whether food is genetically modified or not. We also want the right to know that our meat has been reared under the best welfare conditions, and we need to know that in the shop, at the point of purchase.
I live in the country and I am proud to be British. I have nothing against eating French golden delicious apples, or oranges from South Africa, so why will the Government not help me to buy pork chops from pigs that I know have been raised, slaughtered and packaged in the UK?
Poultry farmers do not receive subsidies but their customers, the supermarkets, insist on assurance schemes and back them up with crates of paperwork. I have been shown a crate full of the paperwork required to produce just one turkey. Assured schemes insist on high welfare, so that, for example, pigs have straw to rootle in and do not lie in their own soil. Likewise, grain has to be stored in areas where rats and mice are poisoned, and farmers must have plastic light guards so that glass from broken light bulbs cannot get mixed into our food. Assurance schemes are paid for by farmers and are undermined by imports from abroad. We must help our farmers by ensuring that assured food is not compared with food of lower standards or even no standard at all.
Cages for battery hens are to be made larger, allowing slightly more freedom of movement. How do our Government support our egg producers? They allow eggs to be imported from abroad where they have no control over the cage size. Germany is poised to outlaw battery cages in egg production, going beyond EU requirements. The new rules will ban conventional cages within five years and EU-approved "enriched cages" from 2012. Labelling will not change the size of the cage, but it could allow our shoppers to choose which eggs to buy. It will also give our producers a unique selling point.
Mr. Pickles: My hon. Friend has hit on the essence of the Bill. Nothing in it will outlaw any practice that is currently legal within the EU. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent the importation of those products. What it does do is empower the purchaser to make a choice.
We are trying to lift standards of poultry competitiveness, rather than punish the kind farmer. Young farmers could better see what customers want, and provide it, instead of watching as they are punished for their kindness by lower prices.
Traceability is the new burden on farmers. Cruel ear tags hang from every cow and, soon, every sheep, so that we can trace any disease straight back to the farm. Why can we not do the same for our shopping?
My constituency would benefit from being able to raise, slaughter and package all Herefordshire beef and lamb so that it could be marketed under the Marches meat label. We are technically able to do that already, but to ensure the same standards of traceability for food as we do for the live animal, it must be a legal requirement so that consumers have faith in the labelling.
I have a little red tractor logo stuck to my fridge so that my family do not forget to check to ensure that we are buying British. It is not always easy to do so. Yesterday, in the Tea Room, a colleague who was about to eat a burger said that he hoped it was British, so even in the House we have lost our confidence in food labelling. That loss of confidence is due, perhaps, to the unscrupulous behaviour of some retailers. We need to know that the full force of the law will be used to ensure that we know what we are eating.
I praise the Meat and Livestock Commission for its efforts to promote British meat, including the annual barbecue that it holds to ensure that Members are aware of the sheer excellence of British meat. Now is the time to use our shopping baskets to support its efforts.
The Bill will not save anyone from buying cruelly produced meat, but it will ensure that, by reading the label, people are able to save themselves from doing so. This morning, as I had my breakfast, I read my Weetabix packet. The contents list stated that Weetabix contained folic acid, and told me how many vitamins it contained, but I could not tell where the wheat came from, which would have been useful because more than 25 per cent. of the product is wheat.
We must avoid the European plug syndrome, in which the highest standards are dumbed down to ensure European satisfaction. The electrical three-pronged plug used in this country is the safest in Europe because it is independently fused, but the rest of Europe has not adopted our high standards as it is too expensive to do so. We should not allow such an attitude to determine our diet. We must support the Bill as we would support our electrical plugs, because British is safer.
We know that far more can be done to stop illegal meat imports. I could see no signs at Gatwick airport telling me not to bring in meat, or stating the legal limit for such imports. We must take action to prevent the smuggling in of food from abroad, and we must do everything that we can to stop the import of bush meat. We certainly do not want to import Afghan heroin, and perhaps the Government might apply some of their anti-Taliban sentiment to preventing the smuggling of all illegal imports into the UK.
The foot and mouth crisis was certainly imported. The Bill would make it less worth while and more difficult for people to bring in diseased meat, and would provide for them to be prosecuted for doing so. That is the kind of action that we need to take.
This is a great legislative opportunity to help British farmers, who have had a tough time. Indeed, a farmer whose claim form for the countryside stewardship scheme arrived at DEFRA's office in Bristol on 3 October had it returned with a letter dated 15 October saying that his claim could not be accepted before 1 October. As one might expect, he has little confidence in the Department. This is a chance to remove that sense of persecution.
We know that the Government have given billions of pounds to farmers in foot and mouth compensation. We know that better labelling is wanted by the Prime Minister. We know that the Bill will help, and that it has been drafted to take into account the worries of Labour Members. We know also that the Government could put energy into finding a way round EU constraints, for the benefit of European animals if nothing else.
We always buy dolphin-friendly tuna, so why should we not buy other friendly foods, such as pig-friendly pork and chicken-friendly eggs? The answer is that we do not know which foods are friendly, and we should know. The Bill is constructive and helpful, and we should all support it because it promotes freedom of choice, freedom of information and freedom from cruelty.