Neil Parish calls for clear labelling and traceability of food

Neil Parish calls for greater traceability and a food labelling system that clearly identifies the country of origin of the principal meat ingredients in a processed product.| Parliament TVNeil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): May I apologise for not being here at the start of the debate?It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer), who made some strong points about the traceability of the product in this country. From when animals are in the farmers’ field to the time they are slaughtered and processed, we know exactly where they have come from: the red tractor mark identifies farm assurance, giving us certainty that we are buying the right product and that it is beef.I wish to say clearly to hon. Members that we have not suddenly got to this situation, as these things have been happening for years. I was a Member of the European Parliament for 10 years, serving on its agriculture committee. Time and again, we said, “We want greater traceability. We want to be able to follow these products across Europe. We want to be confident that it is not just a paper trail and that we actually have physical inspection of this meat and meat product.” None of that has happened. If there is a silver lining to this situation, it is that it is a wake-up call. We can therefore make sure we put in place a process whereby we identify the product and consumers can be absolutely confident that they are buying beef and not horsemeat.That leads me on to the fact that what has been happening is fraud—it is criminal activity—as we should be able to buy a beef burger in the shops, even a cheap one, and have confidence in it. We have talked a great deal about educating people on how to cook meat, and that is a great step forward, but we have reached a stage where, rightly or wrongly, many more people eat processed food. We in this Chamber are not going to roll that back, so when a consumer buys a beef burger, even a cheap one, he or she should be confident that it contains beef and not horse.People no longer want to spend their time cooking the types of meat we have used over the years—the slow-roasting joints and so on—or perhaps they do not have the time available, so much of that meat and meat product can go into cheaper burgers. There is therefore no excuse for what has been happening. I say clearly, making the same point as my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood did, that in 1970 we were spending more than 30% of our income on food whereas the figure now is about 12%. Although the percentage of their income that people are spending on food has dropped dramatically, they should still be able confident of what they eat.We expect the food industry to stand up and be counted, and to be certain that the product it is selling is exactly what it says it is. We have seen supermarkets use a great deal of muscle in the past, and they will do so again, to try to drive prices down. In many ways, one could argue that that is of great benefit to the consumer, but that is only if the consumer gets a product they can trust and be confident in. We must be careful of the day when we go against all processed food, because processed food is not necessarily bad for us. If it is processed in the way it should be and it contains what it says it should on the label, we can eat it with confidence. We can do that if we are eating British food produced under our farm assured system.I look forward to what the Minister is going to say in reply, because we now need to ensure that we have confidence in our food industry. We need to bring in a food labelling system that will clearly identify the country of origin of the principal meat ingredients in a processed product, so that we know where they come from and so that if we are concerned that they have come from other parts of Europe or across the world where we do not have the same confidence in the food chain, we will not buy that product. At the moment, we have only “processed in the EU” and “processed in the UK”, and we do not know where the principal ingredients came from. I urge Ministers, when they go to Europe, to make sure that we finally get proper labelling, so we can identify where our food came from. We can then act much more quickly to bring criminals to book. That is what they are: criminals who have put the wrong meat in a burger, which may bring problems. I look forward to hearing what the Minister of State has to say.| Hansard| Parliament TVEarlier intervention in the same debateNeil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): The Secretary of State made the point yesterday that tracing processed meat products is a paper chase. I am keen that we have proper inspections of the meat and meat products that come into this country, so that we can see what is in the lorries, which is otherwise signed off when it comes into the UK.Mr Paterson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but I confirmed a few minutes ago that I am concerned that the problem is a paper-based system. The problem is that there is too much faith—the certificate and manifest on the content of pallets is taken on trust and there is not enough testing of the material. I will discuss that with Commissioner Borg tomorrow, as I discussed it yesterday and today with the noble Lord Rooker. We agree we can improve on the current system within the current arrangements by introducing some form of testing regime. Lord Rooker had some interesting ideas on how we might do that. My favoured concept is a form of random testing, but he might be more systematic. There will be a lessons-learned exercise afterwards, which I am keen to push on with.| Hansard