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Shona McIsaac: On that point, farmers markets and the option of buying direct from the farm are becoming more popular in this country. The hon. Gentleman said that something should be done, but is it not up to the
Andrew Selous: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who is quite right. I am pleased that she mentioned farmers markets. In my constituency, the market town of Dunstable has had a farmers market in the past; Leighton Buzzard also has one. I very much welcome that initiative, which restores the connection between the consumer and the place where food is produced, enabling local people to come face to face with the producers and have the opportunity to support local farmers. Like the hon. Lady, I believe that that initiative should be encouraged, and hope that we will see more farmers markets in future.
In conclusion, I am pleased that we have had an opportunity to debate the Bill, an extremely important piece of legislation that has the support of the farming community and consumers. I very much hope that it will make fair progress in the House and that procedural or other means will not be found to kill it off.
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes): First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) on his speech. As the daughter of a chef, the grand-daughter of a cook and somebody who spent many years on magazines such as Woman, Bella and Chat, editing recipes and producing food writing, let me say that food is a passion is mine. Whether shopping for it, cooking or eating, it is very much the love of my life. When I shop I always look for the best-quality products that I can find. The information given to the shopper or consumer is vital, so I was pleased when I learned that the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) was introducing a Bill on food labelling. However, I have one reservation, which relates to some of the points made by hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton) about nutritional information, especially in relation to fat-free products. I believe that the hon. Gentleman should address that.
I have another reason for thanking the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar. I decided to do some essential research for the debate, and delved into the nether regions of my larder and freezer to check the food labels. I wanted to see the countries of origin of the food in my larder and the type of information that was provided on labels.
I am eternally grateful to the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar for providing me with that opportunity. I realised that, because of my lifestyle as a Member of Parliament, there were far too many out-of-date products in my larder. They have now been consigned to the bin. The experience was also educational, as it was essentially a tour of the world. My larder contains Puy lentils, Camargue red rice, borlotti beans and cannellini beans, all of which will soon be out of date as I do not eat many of them; many varieties of pasta, tabbouleh, falafel, couscous and tahina mixes; and jars of cornichonsgherkins to most of us.
Angela Watkinson: If I may lower the tone for a moment, I admit to being one who has recently had to resort to that wonderful inventionthe ready meal that comes out of the freezer and goes into the microwave.
Shona McIsaac: I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. The issue is vital regardless of which product one is buyingwhether it is a ready meal, a tinned meal or a frozen meal. The information on the label is also vital regardless of whether it concerns origin or nutritional value. Hon. Members have already mentioned the issue of food allergies, and that information, too, is vital.
Despite the lifestyle that we lead as hon. Members, which seems to necessitate snatching food as we can, there are many very good recipes that we could make using natural ingredients. I could share some of those recipes with hon. Members later[Interruption.] I could put them in the Library.
Mr. Stephen O'Brien: My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) made an interesting point in her intervention. One of the issues that arose when I was promoting my Food Labelling Bill, of which the current Bill is an amended version, was that main ingredients comprising at least 25 per cent. of the product should have label information on the country of origin and standards of productionwhich the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) omitted to mention when talking about nutritional value. Therefore, a ready-made shepherd's pie, for example, would have to have label information on country of origin and standards of production for the potato and the meat. If it were a Cornish pasty, there would have to be such information also for the carrotwhich the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton) failed to mentionbut not necessarily for the spices. Those were some of the provisions. I hope that that helps the hon. Member for Cleethorpes.
Shona McIsaac: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and I appreciated the point about a major ingredient comprising 25 per cent. or more of the product. However, I hope to explain later why I am concerned about that aspect of this Bill.
After I threw out all the food from the back of my larder that I should have thrown out years ago, and because the Bill deals particularly with meat productsas I think the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar would admitI went to my freezer, which was slightly more horrific than my larder. Many of the meat products that were in my freezer have now also been consigned to the bin. All that seems to be left in my freezer now is something called "Phish Food", which, for those who are not in the know, has nothing to do with fish but is a variety of ice cream. It is delicious: chocolate, marshmallow, caramel. It is wonderful stuff. Food, as I said, is my passion, and I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if occasionally I get a little carried away about it.
The labelling on that ice cream, which was made in the USAanother flavour is "Cherry Garcia"; the company is quite good with its nameswas far more extensive than that which I have seen on products made in the United Kingdom. I was gratified to see that amount of detail on nutritional information and welfare standards. The particular company is also very keen on obtaining its milk from cows that are raised with very high welfare standards.
Like the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar, I want to see honest and unambiguous labelling, and I have some worries about food labelling. Many people are trying to lose weight or diet, as my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne said, but the nutritional information on labels is absolutely scandalous. Because of the way in which the information is calculated, the labelling is completely wrong and totally misleading to consumers.
Products in supermarkets often proclaim that they are "lower fat" or "80 per cent. fat free", but water is often included in the calculations. Rather than working out the percentage of calories that is derived from fat, percentages are calculated on the basis of gross weight. Consequently, manufacturers will say that such products are 80 per cent. fat free, whereas in fact, based on dry ingredients alone, products such as "low-fat" mayonnaise are astonishingly high in fat. That may explain why my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne has discovered that many foods that are labelled as being healthier, good for dieting and lower in fat are far from it. Such labels are completely misleading. I am concerned about the provision specifying that major ingredients are those which constitute 25 per cent. of the product's weight because it does not get round the problem.
Mr. Pickles: I apologise for intervening, as the hon. Lady is making a very interesting point. I suspect her concerns might more appropriately be dealt with by new regulations under the Food Safety Act 1990. Although we could examine the issue in Committee on my Bill, I suspect that we shall have to ask Ministers to introduce regulations. I believe that the Secretary of State already has the power to do precisely what the hon. Lady is suggesting.
Shona McIsaac: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. If the Bill is considered in Committee, I hope that that point is addressed. I was using the illustration of food such as lower-fat mayonnaise as an example of how the consumer can be hoodwinked by labelling. I would not want the hon. Gentleman to fall into that trap by specifying that labels would have to identify the country of origin of any ingredient representing 25 per cent. of a product by weight. I feel that it would have to specify dry weight, otherwise some producers would be able to avoid stating the country of origin of an ingredient by playing around with statistics.