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Miss Johnson: The right hon. Gentleman makes an interesting intervention, does he not? I understand that he is the author of the part of the present Conservative document that suggests abolishing the expert group on vitamins and minerals, although that group has produced evidence that the industry and the Government agree would be a fine basis for the dosage levels, if we could get the European authorities to accept it.
Miss Johnson: I am answering the question. We believe that choice can be maintained, but that safety is the overriding factor. Indeed, all of us who take the supplements in one shape or form must have regard first and foremost to our health and well-being, which is what the supplements are supposed to promote.
We come to the question of the operation of the single market. It is important for hon. Members to accept that between 1990 and 2002, some 29 infringement procedures were initiated in cases relating to food supplements. There were also cases in which such procedures were not initiated, although there is no formal record of them.
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I was fascinated by the gem about negotiation from the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) versus his Front Bench. Is it not a delight to see how the Tory party still cannot agree on such fundamental issues? The hon. Gentleman would withdraw unilaterally from Europe on all fronts, but even the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell knows that that would be a disaster, as I noted from his response.
Mr. Cash: Does not the hon. Lady accept that the motion includes a reference to repealing the regulations that have been passed under the Food Safety Act 1990? The Opposition are committed to repealing them if satisfactory renegotiation does not occur. Will she consider the question of who will make decisions during the period of grace up to August 2005? She has been going on about collaboration among various parties, but does she not accept that the European scientific body will call the final shots and only then will the matter be referred back to the United Kingdom? Surely she is effectively in hock to decisions taken by an unrepresentative body on safety standards in the European Union. Who sits on that body, and do they represent people here?
Miss Johnson: The hon. Gentleman asks quite a few questions, but he should direct them to his Front-Bench colleagues. The question of whether to repeal things seems to divide him and the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell. The hon. Member for Stone and the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who has already left the Chamber, are questioning
Miss Johnson: Shadow Cabinet, eh? [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Wokingham and the hon. Member for Stone seem to be of the same mind in rubbishing the experts. The right hon. Gentleman rubbishes the work of the expert group on vitamins and minerals by suggesting that its job could be better done another way and that the group should be abolished, whereas the hon. Gentleman rubbishes the work of the European Food Safety Authority and the expert advice that it takes.
The directive was adopted in July 2002, providing three clear years until the end of the current part of the process in July 2005. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell says that the process is illogical, but I have news for him: I disagree. The industry has been aware since 2002 of the need for dossiers, but even though the deadline is only a few months away we are aware of fewer than 30 dossiers in preparation. I realise that we may not have all the information: some members of the industry have been reluctant to share information both
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with each other and with the Government on grounds of commercial confidentiality. Such concerns are perfectly proper, but they mean that we might not have some of the information about what is happening.
July 2005the date by which the dossiers have to be submittedis not an absolute cut-off. Sources can be added after that date. Let me make it clear that, with the exception of six minerals, all vitamins and minerals are represented on the positive list; sources are on a separate list. The list is an open list, not a list of exclusions or a closed list as has been suggested. There are 112 items on the positive list. Many sources of calcium, for example, are already listed, but some preparations might use other sources which are not yet on the positive list, but which could be added if a dossier is presented.
Mr. Roger Williams: Without dossiers, the Government have said that many foodstuffs are safe or unsafe for our constituents. They have told us, with a lot of support, that salt is harmful, but make no effort either to regulate our intake or to ban it. That is why people feel that the Government are being inconsistent. How do the Government know, if they have no evidence, that the other things that they say are good for us, such as cabbages and other vegetables, are entirely safe? Eating tonnes of cabbage at one sitting would prove fatal, I am sure.
Miss Johnson: There is a tonne of expert evidence about the dangers of salt, but salt is essential to our diet and it occurs naturally in many foodstuffs. The hon. Gentleman's point is therefore a little off the mark.
Sources can be added to the positive list after July 2005 but will not receive derogation to remain on the market pending EFSA's decision. Sources on which dossiers have been received will remain on the market until December 2009, and in perpetuity if EFSA accepts the dossier.
At my request, the Food Standards Agency contacted raw ingredient suppliers in the EU, the United States trade attaché and officials from the US embassy to discuss the obligation to provide information to the industry to support the preparation of dossiers. What is important is the position of ingredient manufacturers. There are several such companies, several far from smallMerck of Germany, for example, recorded sales of €7.202 million in 2003. That is an extremely large sum. Another company in the UK generates sales of about €4.1 billion. These are not small companies.
We know from what the industry has told us that it is having considerable difficulty with manufacturers of ingredients because they are not taking seriously the need to produce dossiers. As I have said, in many instances these are large or substantial companies that could produce dossiers. The FSA has indicated, at my request, that it would be content to deal with any of the resulting inquiries from the industry as a result of the contacts that have been made.
Mr. Brazier: Earlier, the Minister suggested to me that vitamin strengths were not at risk. I came to the Chamber specifically because my son's practitioner told me that they were. In reply to an earlier intervention the Minister hinted that her expert committee was examining the issue of vitamin strengths. Will she or will she not give a clear assurance to the House that strong doses of vitamin C will not be threatened by future legislation?
Miss Johnson: The hon. Gentleman does not understand what has happened historically. There is an expert group on vitamins and minerals, which has produced an evidence base about the levels at which it is safe to take various of these supplements on whatever dosage a day, or whatever. Both the industry and the Government agree that that is a good evidence base on dosage levels. It is the evidence base of the expert group that the Conservative party is trying to abolish. It has been submitted to the European Food Safety Authority. We are arguing that that should be the basis of the work that is done on dosage levels.
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