HC Deb 17 December 1964 vol 704 cc131-2W
Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether the Government accept the Report of the Departmental Committee of Inquiry into the Aberdeen typhoid outbreak 1964; and whether he will make a statement.

Mr. Ross

Yes. In general we accept the Committee's findings. One of the main findings is that the most probable cause of the typhoid outbreak in Aberdeen was corned beef from a can containing the typhoid bacillus; and that most probably this bacillus came from unchlorinated river water used at the time for cooling sterilised cans at a particular canning establishment in South America. In view of this my right hon. Friends and I are particularly glad to note that the Committee have recorded their conviction that "where canned meats are produced under satisfactory hygienic conditions and where water of an acceptable standard of purity is used in the canning process they will be free from any health hazard as well as being a valuable and nutritious article of diet."

The Committee make a number of detailed recommendations, some of which have already been acted upon. Overseas suppliers have been provided with a detailed statement of our hygiene requirements for the production of meat and meat products and the staff engaged on overseas inspection of meat production establishments has been augmented. These are two of the things the Committee recommended should be done. A re-examination of the Scottish bacteriological services, also recommended by the Committee, is in train. A standing committee will be set up to advise on the risk of infection which may arise from the consumption of any particular food. With regard to the remaining detailed recommendations, many of which would require amendments of the law, we shall be discussing these as appropriate with the parties primarily concerned and any announcements about them will need to be deferred until these consultations are complete.

In the light of the Committee's finding that given a safe method of pasteurisation the cans of cold meat at present withdrawn because they were cooled in impure water could be treated and released for sale, we are considering this possibility in consultation with the trade and advisory bodies. The results of the work of experts advising the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the possibility of a safe method of pasteurisation will shortly be published. In the meantime we advise that the canned meat withdrawn on the advice of the Chief Medical Officers of the Health Departments in June, whether connected with the Aberdeen outbreak or not, should continue to be withheld from sale. In asking for this further self-restraint in the interests of the health of the community, my right hon. Friends and I wish to pay tribute to the sense of responsibility of the firms concerned in the withdrawals of canned meat, and to their co-operation with the Public Health staff of local authorities whose efforts last June ensured that as a precautionary measure pending the findings of the Committee a potential health hazard was promptly removed.

Although the Committee find that corned beef from the Government stockpile was not involved in the outbreak my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, will not release from that stockpile any meat which in the light of the report might be unsafe unless and until it has been subjected to a safe method of processing.

Finally, my right hon. Friends and I would like to record our indebtedness to Sir David Milne and his colleagues on the Committee for the exceedingly thorough way in which they tackled their assignment and the promptitude with which such a large and detailed task was completed.