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Lord Northbourne: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may seek clarification. I do not understand the position. Is the noble Baroness saying--as I hope--that the principle of proportionality will be written into a statement of objectives or government guidelines, or is that just the pious hope of the Government?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the agency will be required to operate within the framework of better regulation. That framework clearly states the need to assess costs and benefit and to act proportionately. We have given a commitment that that is a general responsibility on public bodies. But we have given the further commitment that the agency's statement of objectives and practices will embrace exactly the principle of better regulation so that the way in which the agency operates is made explicit. That is a precise response to the question of proportionality and the need to avoid heavy-handedness, as discussed in Grand Committee.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response. I am also grateful to other noble Lords who supported the amendment. I am still somewhat perplexed by her response and the fact that it appears that "main" is not necessary in its present context in the Bill. At this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 1, line 14, at end insert ("through the institution throughout the United Kingdom of a labelling regime").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 3 I speak also to Amendment No. 9 which is linked with it. These amendments deal with the question of labelling which we debated at great length in Grand Committee. Amendment No. 3 seeks to insert the words,

I doubt that any in this Chamber and those beyond have missed the hectic events of the past few days. There have been many pronouncements by senior functionaries involved in farming and food processing and by MAFF, the Department of Health, the Foreign Office, and so on. Action has been taken by supermarkets and education authorities and there have been many protests by enraged farmers. Today, pig farmers have protested outside. We have seen the

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effects of BSE, dioxin and sewage sludge. Too many have suffered from E.coli, salmonella and listeria and still the Bill contains no reference to labelling.

This Bill has probably more public support than any other single measure introduced by the Government; it carries an enormous amount of popular expectation. The public want labelling, as the Consumers' Association has confirmed. The public want to know the origin of the food they buy and will not understand legislation that does not specifically charge the food standards agency with the duty to introduce a comprehensive, compulsory labelling scheme. Mark the important word "compulsory". There are those of us who fear that if the agency is not charged on the face of the Bill with the duty to deal with labelling, it will be all the easier for businesses, and entire nations, to avoid it.

As to Amendment No. 9, for many years we have recognised that certain religions do not allow their adherents to eat certain items. Similarly, it is standard practice for specimen menus to contain a sentence at the bottom to the effect that a vegetarian menu is available on request. In Grand Committee many references were made to the fact that some people have allergies. We now see the growth of consumerism to regulate the methods used to kill animals and prepare food. The outcry against genetically modified crops or the use of antibiotics as marker genes may be media inspired; it is nevertheless lasting fairly well. The revulsion against veal crates led to a famous ban. The rules that regulate our abattoirs are not grounded solely in the BSE crisis. The British rejected the killing of animals that had not been properly stunned and the slitting of the throats of millions of conscious birds. They also stopped, perhaps temporarily, the irradiation of food produce.

With this increasing fastidiousness come doubts and questions about how sure we can be that the food we eat is not genetically modified, contaminated with pesticides or antibiotics, covered in bacteria or produced from animals that have been treated inhumanely. Earlier this year I asked the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, whether he would confirm or deny a report that Portuguese abattoirs were flouting the EU slaughtering regulations. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, answered my query, for which I was grateful. She confirmed that the rules were not being properly adhered to.

The interesting, and apparently unanswerable, question is: what happened to the meat which was produced under sub-standard conditions? Did any of us eat it? Did it go to our food processors and end up in steak and kidney pies, beef chop suey, pork pies or chicken tikka? Can we be sure that tonnes of this meat cannot still be found in European meat stores or reposing in home deep freezers all over the Continent? These may sound flippant questions, but they are crucially important.

One of the reasons why there are no answers to some of these questions is that the labelling of our food products to show the country of origin is not standard throughout Europe. Moreover, it is frequently

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intimated that it is illegal to demand that imported goods indicate the country of origin. I quote from an Answer given by Mr Rooker to Mr Gray in March 1999:

    "Rules on the labelling of food products are harmonised by EC legislation. Generally, the place (but not necessarily the country) of origin of any food must be given if omitting it could mislead the purchaser about the true place of origin of that food. The place of origin may be taken as the place in which the food last underwent a substantial change".

He went on to say:

    "More specifically, the Beef Labelling Scheme requires that any beef labelled with country of origin information must derive from animals born, reared and slaughtered in that country. National origin labelling of beef is expected to become compulsory from the year 2000".--[Official Report, Commons, 9/3/99; WA 189.]

Since my preparation for my response, many events have happened over the weekend. In this Chamber last Friday we welcomed the report from the European Union on organic farming and the European Union. Perhaps I may draw your Lordships' attention to a section on imports on page 10. It states:

    "Documentary evidence demonstrating that the imported products were manufactured according to production and inspection rules equivalent to those applicable in the EU must be provided along with the application. All organic products, whether imported or produced with the EU, must be traceable back to the farm of origin".

The report earlier lays down stringent rules.

On 22nd October, the MAFF release stated that new GM labelling measures will be agreed in Europe. In his speech yesterday to the NFU, Nick Brown spoke of products and labelling, and said:

    "I am particularly concerned at the development of products with labels with British sounding names that are being used to market imported pig meat".

Indeed, I have raised the issue several times in this House, as have my honourable friends in another place. He continued:

    "I am determined to tackle the issue of misleading labels, and I am today issuing new, strengthened guidance to Trading Standards Officers to act upon cases of misleading British brand names on geographic association ... given to imported produce. I have three objectives: To give clear information on real place of origin--not the place of processing or place of slicing".

All noble Lords in this Chamber would welcome that. Too often produce which has not been produced and finished in this country has a British stamp on it. Recently when someone opened a piece of pork which was understood to be a British product the word "Danish" had not even been removed from the side. It is a disgrace. Nick Brown continued to list his objectives:

    "To clamp down on misleading place of origin descriptions. And to make further progress on lobbying the European Commission and other member states for a system of clear origin labelling. I am seeking to have this raised in Codex committee on fool labelling"--

the Minister responded to that issue earlier at Question Time--

    "and I will be raising the issue with our friends and allies in the United States when I next meet for bilateral discussions".

I could go on. There are many examples of that big problem that we face.

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An important new agency is being established. As I said in Grand Committee, I find it extremely worrying that there is no direct reference in the Bill to labelling. In many instances, it refers to "information", but as I said in Grand Committee, information and labelling are totally different. The Minister having had a chance to reflect upon what I said then, and my highlighting of the difficulties we face, I hope that the noble Baroness can respond with more encouraging news.

It seems that we can label our own produce--the agency could draw up guidelines to ensure that we do so--and retailers have to abide by that. For some produce even Europe is prepared to insist on national labelling. I believe that the Bill should lay upon the agency a duty to introduce origin labelling of all food products sold in this country and at the same time demand ancillary information of great interest and importance to our consumers. I beg to move.

4 p.m.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment. However, I can foresee a number of enormous difficulties in particular on Amendment No. 9; not least of those is the difficulty of providing on small products a label which is large enough for the consumer to read. In Grand Committee I was somewhat laughed at for talking about being a "small cheese producer"--making small cheeses. I explained then that there would be that difficulty.

I foresee other problems; for example, how do we deal with retailers of loose fruit and vegetables? Is every single piece of fruit or vegetable to have a label with its nutritional value, country of origin and all the other information which the noble Baroness seeks?

Perhaps I may suggest that the noble Baroness does not ask for the amendment to be dealt with at this stage, but takes it away and puts in a number of exemptions. For example, a producer or packer who is selling direct to the consumer could be exempted because he is there to talk to the consumer about his product.

There is a problem when referring to ingredients. At present, in some cases if an ingredient comprises less than, I think, 2 per cent of the final product it does not have to appear on the label. There may well be such exemptions. I should very much like to support the noble Baroness on this amendment, but I cannot do so.

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