Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Countess of Mar: That is precisely what I was saying. At the moment, we have the Veterinary Medicines Directorate looking at safety of veterinary medicines in animals and meat; we have the Pesticides Safety Directorate looking at grain and fruit and so forth. They all maintain that they are perfectly safe and in the case of veterinary medicines and my own particular issue with sheep dip and humans, it would be so much better. The public are concerned about the microbiological safety of food but they are also extremely concerned about residues in food. We need to make this point.

Baroness Hayman: It is a point to which I subscribe. I was trying to suggest to the noble Countess that at the moment MAFF has responsibility both for the executive agencies and for food safety. So, I have responsibility for pesticide residues, and we talked about some of the issues that can arise from them. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, brought forward the issue of imported pears. All these are mainstream food safety issues.

I should like to assure members of the Committee that the possible implications of pesticides and veterinary medicines to the safety of human consumers of food are already fully taken into account by the agency's main aim set out in Clause 1 and the general functions contained in Clauses 6, 7 and 8. These apply to all aspects of food safety, as we discussed before, from production on the farm to consumption in the home, and so fully address the agency's responsibilities--and it will have responsibilities--on pesticides and veterinary medicines as they may potentially affect human health.

There are also specific provisions elsewhere in the Bill--in Clause 29 and Schedule 3--to ensure that the agency will be fully consulted by the Pesticides Safety Directorate and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate on matters of policy. Provision is also made for the agency to nominate a member to serve on the statutory advisory committees, the advisory committee on pesticides and the veterinary products committee.

The reason I believe that the concern has arisen is that Clause 9, to which all the amendments except Amendment No. 89 refer, is included and spells out the issue of animal feedstock. Perhaps I may explain to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, who raised this point in particular, that the clause is not included to bring in the issues relating to animal feedstuffs directly as they apply to food safety or the interests of consumers concerning food. Those will be covered in the same way as pesticides and veterinary medicines by the main aim set out in Clause 1. The reason we need the reference to animal feedstuffs here is to provide a legal base for the agency to deal with matters relating to animal feedstuffs which are not directly about food safety or the interests of consumers concerning food such as animal health or operator safety.

13 Oct 1999 : Column CWH79

In relation to pesticides and veterinary medicines, however, these matters will continue to be dealt with by the Pesticides Safety Directorate and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, which are both executive agencies of MAFF. The Government considered very carefully whether they should include the PSD and the VMD within the agency's remit and took careful account of comments made in the White Paper. We concluded that it would not be the right solution to transfer PSD and VMD to the agency but that we should ensure that in various ways the agency could make an input on food safety matters.

There are many other strands of work concerning pesticides and veterinary medicines other than food safety such as user safety, of which the noble Countess is well aware, and uses for non-food-producing animals. That work will continue to be carried out by the Pesticides Safety Directorate and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate. Including those functions within the agency's remit, either now or in the future, could compromise the agency's very sharp focus on food issues. We are all agreed that we want the agency to have that sharp focus, and it could risk giving the agency some physical conflicts of interest of just the kind that the noble Countess suggested.

The Countess of Mar : Perhaps I may say that when I saw the first proposals I was absolutely horrified that they were going to encompass the VMD and the PSD. I am delighted that the situation is at it is now.

Baroness Hayman: I am grateful to the noble Countess and I hope that she is reassured that that separation does not mean that the food standards agency will not consider the issues of veterinary medicines and pesticides as they affect the safety of food. That is covered in the general and the specific areas of the Bill in Clauses 1 and 29 and Schedule 3.

In addition, the agency will be fully involved in the planning and review of residue surveillance programmes. If it felt dissatisfied with the level of surveillance being carried out, it could undertake its own surveillance or advise Ministers of the need for action under the Food Safety Act. Amendment No. 89 recognises that views can change. As I said frankly to the Committee, this was a judgment issue which was debated during the formulation of the Bill. At some later stage it is possible that the arguments might stack up differently.

The idea of a review is therefore in principle very reasonable, but I do not believe that it is necessary to write it into the Bill. The agency's activities will be kept fully under review by health Ministers. The pesticides and veterinary medicines directorates, as executive agencies of MAFF, are subject to regular quinquennial review, which takes a fundamental root and branch look at whether the structure of the agency is right and whether the positioning of the responsibilities in that particular machinery of government are right. The questions considered in those reviews could include whether to transfer any functions to the FSA.

13 Oct 1999 : Column CWH80

The agency's interest in pesticides and veterinary medicines is, we believe, fully taken into account. It will have a full and effective role on food safety aspects. The other interests of consumers are pesticides and veterinary medicines. The structure that we are proposing means that there is no risk of its being over-shadowed by other considerations which currently are within the remit of those organisations. I hope that that explanation will provide some reassurance to the Committee.

4.45 p.m.

The Earl of Radnor: Perhaps I may ask a question. I wonder how much of this lies within our control or within European control? My memory serves me right, I hope, that Professor Laming of Nottingham University headed an international galaxy of veterinarians and decided that all except two of these growth-promoting hormones were perfectly safe, but before the Commission heard his report they banned it and created a mini trade war with the USA. Do we have control over pesticides ourselves or are we talking about people in Brussels?

Baroness Hayman: The noble Earl is correct; these are issues for Europe in so far as growth promoters are concerned. It is very important in the instance to which he refers that we ensure that the scientific advice available in this country is taken into the European context so that it can influence decisions taken at European level when competency is at European level. It is important that this area is covered and that we ensure that scientific advice feeds in to decisions taken at Community level and, as the noble Earl rightly says, that it has an effect on WTO negotiations and on our trade relationships with the United States.

As regards similar issues, I expect the agency to take a very close interest in matters related to antibiotic resistance. That is a matter of concern in your Lordships' House. That was the subject of a recent report from the Advisory Committee on Microbiological Safety of Food.

Viscount Thurso: Before my noble friend responds, perhaps I may ask a simple question of the Minister. There has been a considerable growth in drug resistant bacteria in hospitals and it is thought that the use of antibiotics in animal feedstuff as a routine might have an effect. What will be the agency's role in looking into this? Will it be allowed to look into it and, if so, is it compelled to look into it? In other words, has it a proactive or a reactive role in looking into that specific question?

Baroness Hayman: I must always beware of the noble Viscount when he asks me simple questions. Rather than risk giving him an answer which I think is right, if he will forgive me, I shall write to him on those specific points.

Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for having responded to Amendment No. 89. As she quite rightly says, my concern was that a review should be considered. I wanted to put it into this clause because

13 Oct 1999 : Column CWH81

it is an important clause. The Minister will not be surprised if I bring forward another amendment later which asks the agency to review itself and its objectives on an annual basis. Under those circumstances, I am grateful for her comments.

Lord Clement-Jones: I thank the Minister for her carefully considered and constructive reply on the subject. I listened intently to what she had to say, particularly about the executive agencies. I do not disagree at all with the desire to keep the balance between the food safety responsibilities of the agency separate from the executive agencies within MAFF.

I was rather baffled, however, by the question of the legal base argument on Clause 9. It seems to me that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander in this case. If we need a legal base in respect of animal health relating to animal feedstuffs, why do we not need a legal base in respect of veterinary medicines?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page