§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Viscount Gage asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Whether they will require fuller disclosure of the ingredients used in the manufacture of animal feedstuffs.
My Lords, the Government welcome the recent announcement that the major feed compounders are to switch to full ingredient listing for most compound feeds. The position is being monitored and further action will be taken, if necessary.
§ Viscount Gage
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. I believe that UKASTA, which represents the majority of the major compounders, after many years of pleading from the National Farmers Union has agreed to list the ingredients fully on feedstuff packages. But I have learnt since tabling my Question, as the Minister will be aware, that it will shortly become a criminal offence for farmers to possess feedstuffs which contain suspect feed. While this voluntary agreement reached with UKASTA is welcome, does my noble friend agree that it is now time to make the listing of ingredients mandatory?
My Lords, my noble kinsman is right. It is an event due to happen once we have put arrangements in place for removing all suspect feed from farms and enabling farmers to clean out their feed stores properly. Whether it will be right to insist on mandatory total ingredient listing at that time or whether we shall rely on farmers wishing to purchase only feeds that list the ingredients or when they can receive satisfactory assurances are matters that we are looking at very carefully.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, is the Minister aware that farmers and their organisations have been seeking full 1159 feed ingredient listing for a very long time? Is he further aware that it has been resisted by a number of the feed manufacturers and that it is only the BSE crisis which has forced a change of heart? Does the Minister agree that if full feed ingredient listing had been in place we would have been able to trace the source and use of the infected feed and deal with the BSE crisis much more quickly and effectively?
My Lords, looking back, farmers were quite happy with the practice of feeding meat and bonemeal to cattle before it was discovered to be dangerous. Once it was discovered to be dangerous, it was banned. Therefore, I do not believe that there is anything that farmers would have gained from knowing what the feed contained. Nonetheless, this is a positive step. It represents at last a recognition by the supermarkets and others that they have a responsibility for the history of the food that ends up on their shelves. I believe that it will encourage them to be much more supportive of the farmers who supply them and to develop a much more co-operative, rather than a confrontational, relationship with them. That will be all to the better for farming and for food in this country.
§ Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is believed, as far as it is understood, that scrapie-infected feedstuffs are the principal cause of BSE? Does he also agree that many of the cattle which it is now anticipated will be slaughtered in fact became infected after the bail on scrapie-infected feedstuffs had been imposed? The crux of the matter is that cattle have been infected since the ban and this is the key area. Does the Minister further agree that it would be a strong weapon in the armoury of the British Government in their martial exploits in Brussels if this issue were thoroughly understood? Therefore, I support my noble friend in his Question. I shall be interested to hear the answer.
My Lords, as doubtless the House knows, we have published our plan for eradicating BSE. I believe that that plan is available in the Library, from the Ministry of Agriculture and in the Printed Paper Office. Clearly, part of it includes the total elimination of mammalian products from mammalian feed. The reason why that has become necessary and was enforced this year is that it became apparent that the original ban, which was just on feeding such products to ruminants, was not effective because of cross-contamination occurring in mills and farms and other problems. It took a while for us to find out that that was a problem because there is a five-year incubation period with the 1160 disease. Now we know that there is that problem, we have taken all the necessary action to make sure that there is no further infection from this source.