HC Deb 03 December 2002 vol 395 cc743-4
6. John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)

When he next plans to meet the chief executive of the Food Standards Agency to discuss the Meat Hygiene Service. [82621]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ms Hazel Blears)

Ministers have regular meetings with the chairman, deputy chair and chief executive of the Food Standards Agency to discuss issues of mutual interest, including the Meat Hygiene Service.

John Thurso

Is the Minister aware of the grave concern being expressed by vets throughout Scotland about the way in which the recent contract for official veterinary surgeons was awarded, and in particular about allegations that officials from the service pressurised vets by telephone into lowering their tenders? Is not such horse trading posing a real threat to both the quality of the service and the quality of meat for human consumption?

Ms Blears

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is absolutely vital that the Meat Hygiene Service puts quality first and has due regard to public health. He will know that the procurement process has been carried out in accordance with the Government's rules through the clear drawing up of a specification, the inviting and evaluation of tenders, and the making of awards. I am informed that there are 13 contracts in the highlands and islands, eight of which have been retained by local vets. A deliberate attempt was made to ensure a variety of suppliers, and local vets were encouraged to take part in the tendering process.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey)

The Minister will know that obesity in children has been a cause for concern in the past couple of years. I wonder whether she has discussed with the Food Standards Agency applying to food the same principle that has been applied to tobacco: labelling food that has all the wrong sugar content, so that parents can know how dangerous such foods are.

Mr. Speaker

Order. That point has nothing to do with the question before us. I call Mr. Fabricant.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

When does the Minister meet Ministers from other Departments to discuss the illegal importation of meat? Is she aware that, from time to time, meat that should be banned is being brought into this country and is entering the food chain? Is she further aware that in Australia, New Zealand and the United States, sniffer dogs are used to prevent such importation? When will she have discussions with Treasury and Home Office Ministers to ensure that ports of entry are tightly controlled to prevent such illegal meat importation?

Ms Blears

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Ministers are in constant contact with Ministers in other Departments and in other jurisdictions to ensure that the meat that enters this country is of a high quality. As I said to the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), public health concerns are obviously a key issue in all our considerations. The hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) will also know that we have had considerable success in discovering criminal gangs involved in the adulteration of meat in this country. They have been prosecuted by local authorities, and substantial penalties have been imposed on them. This Government take the issue of ensuring that our meat is of the highest quality, and that the supply chain has integrity, extremely seriously.

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