05 June 1998
MP attacks farmers on food safety

By Trevor Mason, Press Association

FARMERS are “congenitally incapable of producing food that is safe to eat,” a Labour MP claimed yesterday.

Gordon Prentice (Pendle) levelled the charge at Commons question time as he urged that low-level antibiotics should not be used in animal feed as a prophylactic.

“Isnt it the case that we are close to witnessing some kind of biological Armageddon and thats not overstating the issue – well, maybe it is overstating the issue!” he said, to laughter.

“But, seriously, what can we do to persuade farmers to return to more traditional methods of animal husbandry – because people are just sick to death of all these food scares and the fact that we seem to have been poisoned year after year, and the farmers are congenitally incapable of producing food that is safe to eat?”

Jeff Rooker, junior farm minister, replied that low-level antibiotics were not authorised for prophylactic or preventative use in animal feeds, but some low-level antibiotics were authorised as growth promoters under an EU directive.

He said the Government was taking a range of measures to encourage farmers to produce food “without lots of chemicals”, including a rigorous programme of surveillance for pesticide residues.

Tory ex-minister David Maclean (Penrith and the Border) insisted there were “no really good old days of animal husbandry in the past, before some of todays wonderful medicines were invented”.

He said: “It is not the matter of the medicines that is of concern, but how they are properly used.

“If todays agriculture did not have access to the wonderful range of antibiotics and other medicines, … then the standards of animal welfare in this country would not be the highest in the world, which they are.”

He pressed the minister: “Will you ensure that sufficient guidance is given to all farmers to ensure that medicines are not used inappropriately?”

Mr Rooker replied 34,000 samples of residues were examined last year by the veterinary laboratory and 0.01% of the results were over the limits.

“Youre quite right, there was never a golden age and its a mistake to assume there was,” he added.