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Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I shared breakfast with my hon. Friend this morning, but I shall not tell the House what she had to eat—or what I had to eat, for that matter.
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It is not just a question of whether people are rich or poor, but a question of knowledge. When one knows how to cook, one can provide good meals cheaply. I recently visited Bell Lane school in my constituency and talked to the kids about what they ate, and I was impressed by the fact that many children from minority ethnic backgrounds still ate very healthily, because of the knowledge of their families, inherited through the generations and brought from overseas. Part of the problem is that much of that knowledge among the traditional English community has been lost. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to educate parents as well as improve schools?

Mary Creagh: Absolutely. I am aware of an agricultural tradition among minority communities—whether they be Irish, Bangladeshi or Pakistani—that often carries on. I am a great fan of the allotment tradition. It helps to teach children how to cook and grow their own food.

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): On that particular point, Lowther primary school in Barnes in my constituency decided that it would not introduce healthy eating only for children, so it combined with Roehampton university and the primary care trust to take healthy eating out into the community. Thus whole families learn how to grow food—an allotment has been placed on the school site—and the message is carried through every day and week of the child's life. Does the hon. Lady agree that that is a constructive way in which to deal with these issues?

Mary Creagh: I agree with the hon. Lady and I know of schools in my constituency where part of the school playing field has been given up as an allotment and the children go out every day to plant their seeds, water their vegetables, watch things grow and learn about the seasons. When they take those vegetables home, it is imperative that they are cooked with the care and reverence that the children showed in bringing them forth from the soil.

A school in Yorkshire started a breakfast club for pupils who were turning up late because they had paper rounds. One of the teachers commented:

It is not hard to work out which is best when it comes to toast versus crisps or cola versus milky tea.

At schools in Wakefield, we are enjoying better school dinners, thanks to the Government's investment this spring, but the latest announcement is better news. The Bill has three further parts—a ban on junk food marketing aimed at children, school lessons on cooking and growing food for children and a new duty on the Government to promote sustainable and healthy eating to children.

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham) (Con): The hon. Lady said that it was obvious that a cup of warm, milky tea was preferable to a glass of cola, but did she see the research from the Food Standards Agency that suggested that a glass of cola was far healthier than a milkshake? There is a lack of consensus about what is actually healthy.

Mary Creagh: I was not talking about milkshakes, but the food industry makes the argument that the FSA
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profiles put breast milk in the category of evil food and burgers in the category of great food. One can make a case for all foods to be put in either category when looked at in isolation, but we have to look at the overall balance of children's diets and how Government intervention and regulation can help, given that we have a public health epidemic of childhood obesity and we are storing up a physical time bomb in the next generation. That is why we need regulation of advertising.

We need a ban on junk food advertising, because advertisers treat children as consumers. Last year, they spent more than £700 million advertising to children. Parents are tired of being pestered by their children to buy foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt, simply because they recognise Bart Simpson, Bob the Builder, Thomas the Tank Engine or any of a host of Disney characters on biscuits, cereals and yoghurts when shopping in supermarkets.

I turn to the case of the mysterious, disappearing Mr. Greedy. I bought a tin of hotdogs a month ago in a high street supermarket. This is the tin I bought—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. May I explain gently to the hon. Lady that visual aids are discouraged in the Chamber.

Mary Creagh: I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although the menu from Didcot appears to have escaped similar notice. I bought the tin a month ago in which the hotdogs were 40 per cent. pork and 40 per cent. mechanically separated turkey. Mr. Greedy appeared prominently on the label and it was clearly marketed at children. The label does not say that the sausages contain more than 4g of salt, which is more than the entire recommended daily intake for a five-year-old child. We all now know that 6g is the recommended adult daily intake.

I went back a couple of weeks later and bought the same product. Mr. Greedy had disappeared, interestingly, and chicken had replaced the mechanically separated turkey—another win. Crucially, the salt content had also been halved. That shows that food companies will make reasonable, healthy products that one would consider giving to one's children, but only if they are forced to do so. If that is what can happen to one product that is named and shamed, how much more powerful would a ban on such marketing be?

We need to get the multinational food companies out of our schools, our classrooms and our hospitals. Why should they be given access to places where children are at their most eager to learn or, in the case of a children's ward, at their most vulnerable? Those companies sponsor walking buses and exercise books, print leaflets and publish websites, all with one simple aim: product placement and brand promotion, aimed at children and disguised as philosophy. It simply has to stop. Little children must be protected from big business.

Mr. Forth : I hope that before the hon. Lady finishes her exposition she will give us her assessment of the role of the parent in all this. I searched the Bill for "the parent" and finally found a mention in clause 5(2)(a),
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but only to say that the regulations that the hon. Lady proposes would not apply to

That is sensible, but what role does the hon. Lady see for the parent in taking the prime responsibility for guiding children and protecting them from the evils that she alleges exist?

Mary Creagh: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his valuable point. I shall come on to that because the second part of the Bill is about teaching children how to cook and grow food.

There is a generation, and I count myself among it, that has not been particularly well taught about cooking at school. I can remember reducing one of my home economics teachers almost to tears in my attempts at making chocolate éclairs, and that was when I was 18, so there was really no excuse. People of my generation are not particularly good at cooking, and with more women in the work force there is less time for mothers and fathers to cook and more pressure to buy pre-packed and processed foods.

When we teach children about the environment, they go home and educate their parents about the environment. If we teach children about food, they will choose healthier food and help to educate their parents as well. In disadvantaged areas with Sure Start, mothers and fathers are learning much more about food and food co-operatives are being set up. One of the problems in areas with poor public transport is that parents cannot get to a supermarket to buy cheap, healthy produce. They are stuck in a food desert, so they cannot buy any fresh produce, locally produced or not, but are reliant on small local shops, which predominantly sell pre-packed and tinned foods.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Following on from the point made by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), does my hon. Friend agree that it is difficult for adults, particularly parents, to make informed choices about the food that they buy because information on the products is often misleading and it can be difficult to ascertain precisely how unhealthy some food is?

Mary Creagh: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. To determine the salt content of the hotdogs that I mentioned, one has to multiply the sodium content per 100 g by 2.5 and then multiply it by 2.1 because the product weighs 210 g. The packaging may say that the food contains only 0.8 g of sodium per 100 g, but that is saltier than sea water. Unless one is extremely good at mental arithmetic—those of us with small children do not spend time in the supermarket getting our calculators out—it is difficult to make a judgment. Food labelling is key to this issue.

Jamie Oliver's programme showed parents and children the realities of school food, but we should not rely on TV celebrities to educate children about what goes into a Turkey Twizzler. That work has to start at age five and continue until age 16. At the moment, children leave school able to quote Shakespeare but unable to boil an egg—I happily confess that that was the case with me. They need to be able to use pots and
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pans as well as a tin opener. In parts of France where there is a food education programme, obesity in children has risen by less than 1 per cent. in 10 years, compared with an increase of 98 to 100 per cent. in the rest of the country.

Finally, the Bill places a duty on the Government to promote healthy foods to children and equip them to make informed choices about food. We need to wean children off processed food and promote fresh, local, seasonal produce. That is an ongoing challenge.

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