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Written Answers to Questions

Friday 10 November 2000


Sheep Dips

Mr. William Ross: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he has taken to carry out an epidemiological study to determine the effect of organophosphorus sheep dips on (a) those persons who have been in contact with them when engaged in (i) dipping sheep and (ii) handling sheep dipped with such dips, (b) sheep dipped with such dips and (c) persons handling wool from such sheep; and how much his Department has spent in the last five years on such studies. [136204]

Ms Quin: In October 1995, the Institute of Occupational Health (IOM) in Edinburgh was asked to carry out a three-year epidemiological study into possible ill-health effects in sheep dippers from long-term, low-level exposure to OP sheep dips. This study cost around £500,000 and was jointly funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of Health and the Health and Safety Executive. The IOM published their report in May 1999. The Government's Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT) was also asked in 1998 to consider whether long-term exposure to low levels of OPs causes ill-health effects. Their report was published in November 1999. Copies of both of these reports are available in the Library of the House.

A contract has been awarded to the London School of Tropical Medicine to carry out a study involving individuals who have reported ill-health thought to be due to exposure to OPs to the OP Information Network, the Pesticides Action Network and the Northern Ireland OP Sufferers Association. The approximate cost of the study will be £290,000. The Government are currently in the process of commissioning further research to determine the causes of dippers' flu, whether there is a small group of individuals who are susceptible to OPs, what OP mechanisms of toxicity might be causing ill-health due to low-dose exposure and a review of the scientific literature on the effects of OPs on children.

Mr. William Ross: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how much has been spent by his Department to establish a diagnostic test concerning the relationship between organophosphorous sheep dips and human health; and what progress has been made to date in this matter. [136232]

Ms Quin: A diagnostic test for the acute effects of exposure to organophosphates by testing for inhibition of the enzyme acetyl cholinesterase has been available for many years.

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In addition, research is in progress and further research is being commissioned to examine other possible mechanisms of toxicity in OPs and their biological significance in man.

Sea Bass

Ms Atherton: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1) if he will make a statement on the effect of the recent five tonne limit on bass fishing by pair-trawlers; [136955]

Mr. Morley: The licence condition restricting landings of bass introduced from 1 January applied to all UK fishing vessels in 2000 and not just to pair-trawlers. With two months of the year to go, no catches by UK vessels have approached the five tonne limit.

I will be receiving from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science shortly their report on their monitoring of the 1999 and 2000 offshore fisheries. Information on a tagging exercise conducted during the summer in the inshore fishery is also due to be delivered and the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea has recently convened a Study Group to look at the status of North East Atlantic bass stocks. A preliminary report is expected next May.

I have received many letters and other representation from right hon. and hon. Members and their constituents requesting further restrictions or complete closure of the offshore fishery. I will consider what action is necessary in the light of CEFAS' reports and the ICES conclusions.

Integrated Farm Management

Mrs. Brinton: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of Government initiatives in supporting integrated farm management. [136792]

Mr. Morley: Integrated Farm Management (IFM) is an important priority for MAFF. As part of its commitment to developing more sustainable farming methods, the Department has put substantial resources into research and development relating to integrated farming systems, much of which has been in association with industry through LINK (a Government-wide scheme for joint funding R&D with industry to meet industry's needs).

My Department organised a seminar involving a wide range of interested organisations earlier this year to review the research results and to discuss the wider promotion of IFM. It was noted that the research results indicate that it is possible to reduce inputs of agrochemicals while maintaining profitability and that IFM can produce environmental benefits in the longer term such as improvements in bird numbers and biodiversity. As a result

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an industry-led Working Group was set up to consider the options for future promotional activities. This will report back shortly.


Mr. Levitt: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assessment he has made of the impact of the recent rise in fertiliser prices on upland farms. [136838]

Mr. Morley: The impact of the recent increase in fertiliser prices will vary between upland farms depending on the amounts utilised and extent to which alternative inputs such as manures are available.

Mr. Todd: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent representations he has received on the prices of (a) fertilisers and (b) veterinary products in (i) the UK and (ii) other EU member states; and if he will make a statement. [136845]

Mr. Morley: My Department has received representations on fertiliser prices in the UK from the Fertiliser Manufacturers Association and the National Farmers Union.

My Department has also received representations from a number of interested parties since we announced on 30 March last, as part of the Government's Strategy for Agriculture, an independent review of dispensing of medicines by veterinary surgeons. The Review Group is currently examining the existing dispensing practices for veterinary medicines and their impact on the supply, availability and costs of veterinary medicines. The representations received by my Department have been forwarded to the Chairman of the Review Group for consideration along with all the other evidence it receives. The Review Group will complete its task and make its report by 31 March 2001.

Following receipt of complaints from vets, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is currently conducting an inquiry into certain aspects of the supply of veterinary medicines in the UK. The inquiry will consider whether there is any evidence of anti-competitive practices.

Organic Food Production

Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how much he spent in each of the past five years on (a) organic food production and (b) research into organic food production. [136840]

Mr. Morley: (a) The expenditure on aid for conversion to organic farming in England under the Organic Aid Scheme and the Organic Farming Scheme each of the past five years has been as follows:


(b) The expenditure on research into organic farming in each of the past five years has been as follows:

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Flood Defence

Mr. Green: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how much of the £51 million extra allocated for flood defence will be available in (a) 2000-01, (b) 2001-02, (c) 2002-03 and (d) 2003-04; and if he will make a statement. [137401]

Mr. Morley: I made a statement to the House on 6 November about the serious flooding that has occurred in England, including an indication of the uses to which the additional funding will be put. The allocation is as follows:

£ million

This additional funding will mean that additional flood defence schemes can be implemented, but due to design, evaluation and planning permission, most could not be brought forward until 2001.

Mr. Green: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action he took between August 1998 and August 2000 to improve the institutional arrangements for flood defence recommended by the Agriculture Committee's Sixth report of Session 1997-98, HC 707; and if he will make a statement. [137535]

Mr. Morley: The Government response to the report, published on 27 October 1998, set out the reasons why we proposed no fundamental change in the present institutional arrangements for flood and coastal defence. Since then we have, however, worked with the operating authorities--the Environment Agency, internal drainage boards and local authorities--in ensuring the present arrangements work better and best practice is shared. In particular, in November 1999 we published high level targets for the operating authorities to follow and, complementary to this, the Agency has set out how it will apply its general supervisory duty in relation to the work done by the other operating authorities. The Government have also instituted a review of the funding arrangements for the flood and coastal defence which is expected to be completed by September 2001.

The proposed Water Bill, on which the Government are currently consulting, will include amendments to the Environment Act 1995 to allow the creation of additional regional flood defence committees. This will facilitate any

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future decision to create a single tier of committees, at regional level, as recommended by the Agriculture Committee.

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