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16 Jul 1998 : Column WA39

Written Answers

Thursday, 16th July 1998.

Medicines and Pesticides: Authorisation

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will give details of the legislation (together with any legal opinion they have taken) which obliges Ministers to accept and to act upon any advice given to them by any of the statutory advisory committees; in particular, those relating to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Department of Health.[HL2628]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): Detailed rules for the national authorisation of human and veterinary medicines and pesticides are set out in UK and EU legislation. The relevant Ministers take authorisation decisions based on the advice of statutory scientific advisory committees (the Veterinary Products Committee, the Committee on Safety of Medicines and the Advisory Committee on Pesticides). The remit and procedures of these committees have been reviewed by the Official Group on OPs. The group's conclusions, which include the extent to which the precautionary principle may be applied, are set out in Chapter 6 of its report, which was published on 25 June, and subsequent study of the issue has confirmed the position. Copies of the report are available in the Library of the House.

OP Sheep Dips: Suspected Adverse Reaction Cases

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any means of tracing those individuals who have reported suspected adverse reactions to exposure to organophosphate sheep dips to the Veterinary Products Committee since 1985; and, if they have, whether they would agree to a follow-up procedure to ascertain the current state of health of these individuals.[HL2558]

Lord Donoughue: The names and addresses of individuals who have reported suspected adverse reactions (SARs) to organophosphorus sheep dips, at the time of the report, are recorded at the Veterinary Medicines Directorate. Since the scheme began in 1985, reports of 640 human SARs related to OP sheep dips have been received by the VMD.

The function of the Suspected Adverse Reactions Surveillance Scheme (SARSS) is to identify developing trends in SARs and to report to the Veterinary Products

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Committee (VPC). Where people feel unwell, they should first consult their doctor and the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Psychiatrists have formed a working group to advise on clinical management of patients with symptoms attributable to chronic OP exposure. It is not the practice of the SARSS or the VPC to pass on the names and addresses of those reporting a suspected adverse reaction to the working group, for reasons of confidentiality. Of those SARs reported to the VMD to date, only 78 were notified by medical practitioners.


The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How users of pirimiphos-methyl grain treatments are to reconcile instructions that "Grain treated by admixture as specified may be consumed by humans and livestock" without a withdrawal period, with the recently-added instruction to "Keep [the chemical] away from food and animal feedstuff", particularly in the light of the review of this chemical which revealed that it remains active for between one and five years in controlled conditions.[HL2588]

Lord Donoughue: Current scientific advice is that pirimiphos-methyl does not pose an unacceptable risk to humans or livestock when it is used in accordance with the conditions of its approval. The instruction to keep it away from food and animal feedstuff is a standard precautionary measure designed to warn users of toxic compounds to avoid inadvertent contamination.

Copper and Selenium Deficiencies in Cattle

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the known immune system and reproductive system effects of deficiency in (a) copper and (b) selenium in cattle.[HL2589]

Lord Donoughue: Copper and selenium are essential constituents of the diet. Severe deficiency of either can result in death. Sublethal deficiencies can affect the normal function of a wide range of body systems.

Copper deficiency in cattle has been implicated in both impaired function of the immune defence system and poor fertility though, despite extensive investigation, neither has been conclusively proven.

There is some evidence that selenium deficiency in cattle affects animals' ability to mount antibody response to infection and animals' defence cells are less able to kill or remove pathogenic bacteria. The evidence regarding the effect of selenium deficiency on the reproductive system is conflicting. It has been associated with retained foetal membranes and inferior reproductive performance, but the scientific evidence is equivocal.

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Pesticides in Animal Feeds

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why there are no maximum residue levels (MRLs) set for pesticides in animal foodstuffs.[HL2623]

Lord Donoughue: Maximum residue levels (MRLs) set by the Pesticides (Maximum Residue Levels in Crops, Food and Feedingstuffs) Regulations 1994, as amended, apply whether the commodity is to be used for human or animal consumption. In addition, further maximum limits are set for a few pesticides in animal feeds under EC measures implemented in Great Britain in the Feedings Stuff Regulations 1995, as amended.

Guide Dogs

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Donoughue on 30 June (WA 73), what are their reasons for classifying guide dogs for the visually impaired as "pet dogs" or "pet animals" for the purposes of the current policy on quarantine.[HL2529]

Lord Donoughue: Guide dogs, like all dogs, are rabies susceptible mammals. Under the current policy, all dogs imported into the British Isles must spend six months in quarantine. The only exception is for commercially traded dogs moving between member states of the European Union for which separate rules exist. As I explained to the noble Lord in my reply of 30 June, the Advisory Group on Quarantine is assessing the current policy and alternatives, and will report this summer or early autumn. A full public consultation on the options available will then be held.

Pig Tail-docking

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they intend to take following the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley) on the Channel Four television programme "Countryside Under Cover--The Follow Up" that the law in relation to pig tail-docking is not adequate.[HL2527]

Lord Donoughue: Farmers must understand that tail docking of piglets may only be used as a last resort when other means of controlling the vice of tail biting have failed. We have emphasised this to pig industry and veterinary representatives.

Each time an officer of the State Veterinary Service visits a pig farm, the farmer is reminded that the law does not permit tail-docking to be carried out routinely, but only where injuries to other piglets have occurred or are likely to occur. Where tail-docking is found, farmers must justify the procedure.

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This Government will continue to address how to reduce the incidence of tail-docking.

Live Animals: Pre-export Procedures

Lord Monkswell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to issue for public consultation their detailed proposals for changes to the pre-export procedures for live animals.[HL2760]

Lord Donoughue: A public consultation document was issued on 13 July 1998, when copies were placed in the Library of the House.

The proposed revised procedures deal with veterinary inspections for the purpose of export health certification for consignments of sheep and pigs destined for fattening, production or slaughter in other EC Member States. They seek to clarify the role of the exporter, the Department and the Local Veterinary Inspector (LVI) in the certification process. A summary of the revised procedures will be made available to the public. A key objective of the proposed revised inspection arrangements will be to ensure that unfit animals are rejected from export health certification.

We intend to establish a new panel of LVIs appointed to undertake these particular export health certifications, from which the LVI to conduct each particular certification will be nominated by the department. We will provide additional training for veterinarians supervising the export of animals. Where an animal is found to be unfit to travel to the intended destination, LVIs on the new panel will have powers to serve notices under the Welfare of Animals (Transport) Order. The serving of such notices will ensure that the person in charge of the animal takes the action necessary to protect the welfare of the animal. We intend to encourage exporters to ensure that sufficient facilities and staff are available to aid the inspection of the animals to be certified. We intend to clarify the methods of inspection of the animals to be certified. We intend to clarify the methods for checking the identity of animals which form part of the proposed export consignment. Finally, we intend to provide clear indicators for the minimum times to be spent by the LVI on the inspection and identification of animals.

The Government announced last year that they intended to pay LVIs directly for inspection and certification of consignments, recovering the money by way of a charge (payable on application for certification) by exporters. We remain committed to introducing those changes so that the whole of the certification process for these types of animals can be demonstrated to be entirely independent. The consultation document sets out the general principles which we intend to apply for recovering the costs of these inspections and seeks information to enable us to make proposals about the detail of the changes to the financial arrangements. In order to enable us to calculate the costs of such a change and to come forward with detailed proposals, information is needed not only about current charges (which are a matter between the LVI and the exporter) but also about the likely effects of the

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proposed revised procedures on such costs. Once we have the responses to this consultation document, we will draw up a further consultation document which outlines our detailed proposals to change the existing financial arrangements, including the legislation necessary to give effect to such a change.

The closing date for comments is 8 September 1998.

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