LONDON (B)--A bid by the Conservative opposition party to introduce "simple, clear and honest" labeling of food was blocked by the government in the House of Commons March 3. Deputy Agriculture Minister Joyce Quin talked out Stephen O'Brien's Food Labeling Bill, warning it was in contravention of EU law. By continuing to talk when time ran out for the measure and Quin left the bill with almost no chance of becoming law.

Opening second reading debate on the Bill, O'Brien said: "The purpose of my Bill is to ensure that consumers are properly informed about the country of origin and the standards of production. It is intended to give the force of law to simple, clear and honest labeling of foods."

He said at present a pork pie labeled as being produced in England could include Belgian pork.

"The consumer is unable to tell where the ingredients come from," O'Brien said.

The Bill has cross-party support and backing from the Consumers Association, the National Farmers Union and the National Pig Association, but Quin said that to pass legislation in contravention of EU law was "tantamount to an abuse of Parliamentary procedures" and would leave Britain open to court action under EU law.

"It is simply impossible to give the Bill fair passage...It would mean acting unilaterally in areas where we have agreed to act within the European single market framework."

The Government, she stressed, was already taking action on food labeling and it was better to leave the matter to ministers, who had given a strong commitment to giving consumers the relevant information.

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