Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Time for UKIP MEPs to grow up

It seems like UKIP MEPs are spending their summer by taking part in a letter writing campaign to their local papers with scare stories about supposed EU plans to require the UK to dissolve dead bodies in acid and tip them down the drain to save on burial space. Nice to know they're enjoying themselves. Unfortunately for them, and they know it all too well, there is absolutely no such plan and indeed the EU doesn't even have the competence to act in this area. It's yet another example of UKIP wasting people's time instead of representing their constituents in a serious manner.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bird flu - mistakes made, and lessons to be learnt

Some interesting news from last week's meeting of Health ministers, where they discussed the reaction to the H1N1 (bird flu) pandemic and by all accounts concluded that by acting together the EU's Member States could have negotiated better terms with the pharmaceutical companies, rather than being picked off one by one with some countries even having to agree to accept all civil liabilities relating to the vaccine.

The Health ministers unanimously agreed to ask the Commission to develop a joint purchasing strategy for vaccines in the event of future pandemics and I fully applaud this move, which should help save money for already over-stretched health budgets in the future.

In the autumn, the European Parliament's environment and public health committee will be hosting a hearing on how the H1N1 pandemic was handled by European governments and what lessons can be learned for the future, where we will invite the Commission, the WHO, NGOs and pharmaceutical industry scientists. It promises to be a very interesting event.

Tobacco control

I spoke today in a debate with Laurette Onkelinx, the Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and also Public Health Minister, who will be leading on health for the new Belgian Presidency of the Council of Ministers over the next 6 months.

Specifically I wanted to know how she would be coordinating Novembers' Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on tobacco control and a protocol set to be adopted on illicit trade in tobacco products.

One of the most effective means of reducing tobacco consumption is using taxation to raise prices, but illicit trade undermines this policy, not to mention stimulating organised crime and reducing the public coffers!
What is being proposed is an effective tracking and tracing system on tobacco products so we can see where individual packs have come from, a ban on internet sales which serves no other purpose than to evade taxation, and also it's about time some of those EU Member States who have ridiculously low levels of taxation, agreed to increase the level, as they only serve to undermine other Member States' public health goals.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hypocrisy from Tories on junk food

It is absolutely disgraceful that, as reported in the Guardian, (No anti-junk food laws, health secretary promises) the coalition government, in the form of Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, has apparently given guarantees to the food industry that it will not introduce legislation to tackle the problematic issue of junk food and its role in the battle against obesity, contributing to heart disease, type II diabetes, increased risk of cancer, strokes, liver disease and even depression.

He even has the nerve to claim that his hands are tied on regulating because of European rules. I would like to remind Mr Lansley that just a few weeks ago Conservatives in the European Parliament voted against my proposals for a clear easy-to-understand labelling scheme ,which would have seen key ingredients such as sugar, fat and salt labelled on the front of pack with the colours green, amber and red. Not only did Conservatives vote to defeat this, they also voted to remove the possibility for the UK government to come up with its own plans to give consumers easy to understand information about what they are eating. The hypocrisy of it all is breath-taking.

Fortunately, Member States may still take action beyond the new food labelling rules, and indeed in other areas, for reasons of public health, and if Andrew Lansley doesn't think that Britain's obesity crisis is a risk to public health, then I would suggest he is in the wrong job and should reconsider his position. I'm sure there would be an opening for him in a well-known junk food outlet..

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A way forward for homeowners in Spain?

Today in a debate with Spanish PM Zapatero in the European Parliament, I spoke to remind him of the issue of Spanish property abuses, involving many British citizens, who through no fault of their own face the prospect of losing their homes. I previously raised this issue with Mr Zapatero in January and since then I have been in constructive discussions with MEPs and officials from Spain's ruling socialist party and we have put forward the idea of setting up a commission to deal with the issue, which I hope will get the full support of Mr Zapatero.