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I shall deal with the question of dosage levels. At the end of the day, when the EFSA has opined on what it thinks the right basis should be, there will be negotiations and discussions. There will be work to be done. That process will take a considerable amount of time. We shall be batting for an evidence-based view following the expert group's work, which we and the industry support. That is our position and it will remain our position. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that will be the basis on which we shall work on this topic.
Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): I do not understand the dosage argument. An individual who wanted to take a high dose of a vitamin or mineral could simply take more of the tablets. When an excess is taken of some vitamins and minerals, they are passed out in the water. That seems to be a ridiculous waste of money.
Miss Johnson: My hon. Friend is right. Nothing will ever stop people taking more of something if they would wish to and they believe that it will do them good. We will not be able to halt that. However, we will be providing the best evidence-based advice on dosage levels, and that is right.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab):
My hon. Friend puts her finger on one of the points that has caused me to oppose the directive. When the directive is
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confirmed and finally introduced, it will drive people to purchase products off the internet. What will the Government do about that? It will drive people to take more tablets to get the same dose. Therefore the directive is pointless. What will the Government do about internet sales, for which consumers will have to pay much higher prices?
Miss Johnson: The internet is a challenge, and it always poses problems for regulation, as I am sure my hon. Friend is aware. It also provides a route for people to bypass safeguards, and we must consider what measures we can take. It is up to the Government to make sure that the health of the consumer comes first. If people wish to ignore that advice, it is a free country[Hon. Members: "Not any more."] It certainly is a free country.
All parties supported the setting up of the Food Standards Agency, and there was not a Division on the Second Reading of the Bill that established it. It is an independent food safety watchdog with the principles of putting the consumer first, being open and accessible, and operating as an independent voice. It has high credibility as an agency that protects consumers. I therefore hope that Opposition Members are not confusing a challenge to the directive with a challenge to the authority and actions of the FSA.
The positive lists can be added to at any time, subject to a dossier being accepted by the EFSA. The aim is to protect consumers as well as open the single market, and consumers will want to be confident about the safety of these products. Indeed, it is in the industry's interests that consumers have that confidencewe saw only too clearly in the BSE tragedy what can happen to an industry if consumers do not have confidence in its products.
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): Part of the Government's argument is about wanting to play safe, and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) referred to the precautionary principle. Would the Minister explain to the House why that applies to food supplements when the Government have ignored the precautionary principle on mobile phones and will not change the law on masts under 15 m? Why are they in favour of the precautionary principle one day but against it another, after mobile phone companies have given them £22 billion?
Miss Johnson: Scientists have recently produced another report on mobile phones. We are not here to debate mobile phones, but advice is being studied by the Government, and appears to be in line with previous advice and expert opinion.
There are still open doors for the industry on dossiers. The EFSA has offered derogation for any dossier received by the deadline. It requires only one dossier to
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be submitted for each source, and it does not have to be submitted by a UK company or even in the UK. If we know that a dossier has been submitted in another member state we will provide derogation, and that has been made plain to the industry. The EFSA has said that derogation will apply where a slim dossier is provided. On the question of costs, we are happy to accept slim dossiers rather than larger ones. However, I do not think that the demands of producing a dossier are necessarily too great for much of the industry. The problem appears to be a lack of action by the industry and a lack of co-operation between its members. We are not asking for one dossier per companywe require one dossier per source, and it can be submitted in any member state by any company.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): In response to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) about internet sales, my hon. Friend said that it was a free country. Does she accept that some of us did not find that response satisfactory? What on earth is the point of preventing people from purchasing these things in shops, where there is at least a measure of control and supervision, and driving them onto a wholly unregulated internet market? Why is she taking this step without, apparently, introducing any proposals to regulate internet sales?
Miss Johnson: That is the same kind of argument as saying, for example, that we may as well legalise drugs because we are driving people underground to buy them. [Hon. Members: "It is not the same."] Well, it is a parallel argument, which I do not accept.
In transposing the directive we are acting on Food Standards Agency advice. We must remember that producers are there to serve consumers, and it should be in producers' interest to ensure the safety of consumers. The measure has a more liberalising effect on the EU market. [Laughter.] Many member states have more restrictive regimes than we do. We are spreading the liberal culture more widely across the EU Ultimately the industry will benefit, with the market opening up to allow supplements to be freely traded in member states.
Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con):
Does the Minister understand that the problem is that the quality of the expert advice on which she relies is extremely dubious? When I chaired the Agriculture Committee, we conducted an inquiry into vitamin B6. An apparently robust case for the Government's proposals was demolished by the Committee's investigations. I urge the hon. Lady to reflect that there is a prejudice in the scientific community in favour of conventional science and against things that they do not understand or do not
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like, or from which they do not indirectly derive any money. I urge her to reflect on the quality of the advice on which she is relying.
The fact that the right hon. Member for Wokingham has placed the expert group on vitamins and minerals on his hit list of the quangos that the Conservatives plan to abolish is a classic case of shooting the messenger. Apparently, he does not like the message, although the industry does.
I stress again that only one dossier is needed per source, and that dossier can be submitted to any member state. There is no reason why, in a few months, any existing preparation should not continue to be on the market. There is provision for that and it has been in place for three years, so the industry could have acted on it.
Miss Johnson: There are requirements for the dossiers, but we have indicated that anything that we receive which is a reasonable attempt will be counted as a dossier and will be put forward to EFSA. It is also clear that the work that will then go on will include discussion with EFSA about what other information might be needed as part of that work. It can therefore be progressed in that way.
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