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The second reading of the Agricultural Produce Grading and Marking Bill Lords came before the House of Commons on April 19th. The measure has passed through all stages in the House of Lords. Mr. Guinness Minister of Agriculture said the object of the Bill was to lay the foundation for a better system of marketing home produce by developing arrangements for grading and marking. Anyone who took the trouble to look at the produce now offered for sale must be convinced that very much home produce of excellent quality was spoilt by its unattractive presentment. Foreign supplies, benefiting by their reliability and uniformity, were often far ahead in the appearance they made in our markets. The remedy was to grade home produce so that the poor quality did not depress the value of the better quality. The Ministry of Agriculture had carried out practical experiments on a commercial scale, and demonstrations during the last couple of years at agricultural shows. These demonstrations had taken place with eggs and poultry, fruit, potatoes, pigs, pork and bacon, and farmers had been quick to take up the new idea. In the big centres of population markets were coming more and more to demand bulk supplies and uniform quality. Foreign competition had taught the advantage which was to be found in the condition and reliability of supplies if they were packed in standardised nonreturnable containers. The home producer could no longer afford to stand aside from this movement, and must take steps to comply with modern developments in the markets. If the Bill was passed, the Ministry proposed at once to deal with two branches of production. Already the Ministry had prepared schemes for the grading of eggs which had been developed by the Poultry Advisory Committee of the Ministry upon which producers and distributors were represented. The schemes had been approved by the various interests concerned. Grades had also been worked out for fruit and schemes for applying them provisionally agreed upon with the National Farmers' Union. Clause I. enabled the Ministry to define by regulation grade designations. It would be entirely voluntary, and nobody would need to use the grades, but if they were used, then they would constitute a warranty under which the purchaser would have a remedy if the goods were not up to standard. Under Clause II. the Minister was empowered to prescribe grade designation marks and authorise any person or body of persons to use such marks. The same mark would be used on all standard productions, and would only be authorised in the case of goods of defined standard and quality. To build up this reputation and goodwill of the mark, its use would be safeguarded by being limited to those who would conform to certain conditions. The use of the national mark would be controlled by a National Mark Committee, which would be advised by trade committees representing the various commodity interests. Clauses 3 and 4 dealt with preserved eggs and the cold and chemical storage of eggs, and were for the protection of producers and consumers of newlaid eggs. The operation of these clauses would be dependent on an order being in force for marking foreign eggs under the Merchandise Marks Act. As Clause 4 stood it was proposed that the eggs should be marked before being moved into the store. He had, however, received representations from the cold storage trade, and proposed to move an amendment in committee to provide that eggs need not necessarily be marked before being placed in these stores, but must be marked before they were moved out. He hoped the Bill would receive support in all quarters of the House. The World Economic Conference which met at Geneva last year stated that the improvement of agriculture must, in the first place, be the work of agriculturists themselves. Amongst the methods suggested at the conference was the standardisation of agricultural produce in the interests both of the producers and the consumers. The three political parties in this country in their published programmes had recently stressed the importance of grading and standardisation. He did not suggest that marking alone could restore the agricultural industry to prosperity, but the proposed reforms must be of great assistance. The Bill was not brought forward as an emergency cure, but the proposed developments were absolutely necessary if the producer was to secure a fair return. Mr. A. V. Alexander moved That, whilst this House is in favour of a proper system of grading and marking agricultural produce and is prepared to consider proposals to this end, it objects to the second reading of a Bill containing provisions relating to the marking of imported eggs contrary to the findings of the standing committee of inquiry appointed under the Merchandise Marks Act. Speaking on behalf of the cooperative movement, he said it was impossible to buy level grades of home produce in sufficiently large quantities and with a sufficient guarantee of continued supply to fill the distributing centres. But he doubted whether the proposals of the Bill were adequate to meet the situation. In the Dominions the grading was carried out by Government officials. Regarding eggs, he believed the Government had adopted an entirely wrong procedure. It had tried deliberately to get behind the findings of the committee set up to deal with the application for the marking of eggs.Mr. Macquisten, speaking as an egg consumer, asked what right Mr. Alexander had to prevent him knowing where his breakfast egg was laid. There was far too much deceit of customers all through the retail trade.Sir J. Simon asked if the Bill was not put forward in flat defiance of the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Eggs set up by the Ministry of Agriculture. That Committee said that if the best imported eggs were marked they would derive more advantage than homeproduced eggs, unless a substantial improvement were first effected in the home methods of grading and marketing. He did not imagine that the British barndoor fowl was not as capable of doing her duty as the corresponding lady in other parts of the world, but were the facts as these experts statedMr. Macquisten Were these gentlemen egggrowers Mere evidence is no guarantee because the Leader of the Opposition did not know whether a hen cackled before or after laying an egg. Sir J. Simon This report in very straightforward terms asserts that to mark the best imported eggs in the present state of affairs is not going to produce the good results desired by this Bill. The Committee say as their principal recommendation An Order in Council Marking Order in respect of eggs should only be made when sufficient improvement has been made in the collecting, grading, packing and marketing of British eggs to remove, or at least mitigate, the danger of the best imported egg obtaining a better market in the United Kingdom than the homeproduced egg. It is no good to say that we want to help the poultry farmer when there is this report warning us that if we adopt this very natural course we may be doing a very foolish thing. I want to know what the Government says in face of that report in justification of what they are doing.Mr. Lloyd George regarded the Bill as a very important step towards marketing produce. Unless they had improvement in marketing, every scheme to assist the agricultural industry must prove a failure. At present we were importing 327,000,000 worth of produce of the very kind which the climate of this country would enable us to produce. Marketing was the first essential in solving the problems of the agricultural industry. The next thing was grading. With better grading better prices would be secured. He was very glad the Minister of Agriculture had introduced the Bill, and he hoped it would be passed.Mr. Guinness, in reply, pointed out that the Bill did not lay down any regulation as to the marking of foreign eggs or any other produce. Its purpose was to enable us to get better grading, packing and standardisation of our own produce. Whether foreign eggs were marked or not the Bill would enable British eggs to be properly graded, but long before eggs were graded under the Bill he hoped to see the grading of this year's apple crop, with the same excellent result on prices as was found last year in the case of the experiment that was tried. He could also reassure Sir J. Simon that, far from upsetting the recommendations of the Committee, the Bill aimed at carrying them out. The debate had suggested that there had been a nefarious plot to get behind the Committee, and that his action in trying to carry out the recommendations of the Committee was a menace to the purity of English public life. No attempt had been made to interfere with the discretion of the Committee.On a division the amendment was defeated by 237 votes to 97, and the Bill was read a second time.
British Food Journal – Emerald Publishing
Published: May 1, 1928
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