Select Committee on European Scrutiny Third and Fourth Report


COM(99) 544

Draft Council Decision concerning the placing on the market and administration of bovine somatotropin (BST) and repealing Council Decision 90/218/EEC.
Legal base: Article 37 EC; consultation; qualified majority voting
Department: Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
Basis of consideration: Minister's letter of 14 December 1999
Previous Committee Report: HC 23-ii (1999-2000), paragraph 2 (1 December 1999)
To be discussed in Council: 17 December 1999
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared


  12.1  Bovine somatotropin (BST) is a hormone produced naturally by all cows, and is necessary to stimulate milk production. Since the early 1980s, it has proved possible to manufacture it, the manufactured form being known as recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST). However, because the various effects of using it were thought to be not sufficiently clear, Council Decision 90/218/EEC[42] introduced a moratorium on the placing on the market and administration of rBST, whilst allowing the continuation of scientific research and tests and production for export to Third Countries. Council Decision 94/936/EC[43] extended these arrangements until 31 December 1999.

The current proposal

  12.2  As we noted in our Report of 1 December 1999, the current proposal would permanently prohibit the use and marketing of rBST in the Community, following advice from the Commission's Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare (SCAHAW). We also noted that, whereas the UK had previously opposed a ban, it now intended — in the light of advice from the Veterinary Products Committee (VPC) and the Farm Animal Welfare Council — to support the current proposal. We commented that we recognised that the Commission's justification for a ban was now based much more firmly on scientific considerations, and that consequently we did not see the UK's approach as being inconsistent with the approach previously adopted. However, before considering clearance, we said there were three points on which we would like the Minister's comments.

  12.3  First, we asked whether she was convinced that the weight of evidence against the use of rBST justifies a permanent ban, which would shift future burden of proof from those wishing to impose a ban to those seeking to lift it. Secondly, we asked the Minister to provide an assessment of the threat such a permanent ban might pose to the competitive position of European dairy products on world markets, and to indicate the weight she gave to that factor when deciding to support such a course. Thirdly, we noted that the proposal would not affect imports of milk and milk products sourced from rBST-treated cows, and that there are no Community provisions requiring such imports to be labelled. We therefore asked whether in practice the Government saw this as likely to be a problem, and whether, in that event, there were any ways, such as by appropriate labelling, in which such a problem might be addressed.

Minister's letter of 14 December 1999

  12.4  In her letter of 14 December, the Minister of State (Lords) at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman) stresses that reports of the SCAHAW and VPC are quite clear that the use of rBST causes serious welfare concerns such as lameness and an increased risk of mastitis — a view with which the Farm Animal Welfare Council concurs — and that she is convinced that these concerns alone are enough to warrant a permanent ban. She adds that the VPC considers that an increased risk of colonic cancer from drinking milk from rBST treated cows, though likely to be extremely small, cannot be ruled out without further studies.

  12.5  As regards the possible effect of the ban on the competitive position of Community dairy exports, she says that she understands that concern, but considers that "the clear risk to animal welfare must override economic considerations".

  12.6  Finally, she addresses the question of imports from countries where rBST may be used, where she suggests there could be two problem areas. One is the effect on human health, where she says the evidence is very weak (in this connection, she recalls that the Commission proposal is based entirely on animal welfare grounds). She goes on to refer to the relevant report from the VPC, which she says makes it clear that the use of rBST does not increase the level of BST found naturally in milk, but that there is a 2-5 fold increase in the level of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which may be implicated in the occurrence of colonic cancer. However, she contrasts the daily intake of 10 grams of IGF-1 which would result from a consumption of one litre of milk with the 380 grams which she says is naturally secreted into the gut by all adult humans; and she reiterates the VPC's view that the risk to human health was likely to be extremely small.

  12.7  The other point which the Minister addresses on imports is the possible effect on trade with Third Countries, whose produce would not be affected by the Commission's proposal. However, she suggests that there is very little milk or milk products imported into the UK from countries where it is believed rBST is authorised for use. For example, she points out that imports from the Community accounted for 89% of milk or milk products imports, as compared with 0.3% from the United States, and 0.01% from South Africa (the next largest supplier where rBST is authorised).


  12.8  We are grateful to the Minister for this further information, and, whilst it does not wholly allay some of our concerns, we are now content to clear the document.

42   OJ No. L 116, 8.5.90, p.27. Back

43   OJ No. L 366, 31.12.94, p.19. Back

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