Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


Letter from Ben Bradshaw MP, Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the Chairman

  I wrote to you on 18 September 2003,[89] 17 October 2003[90] and 21 September 2005 explaining the latest developments in the passage of a proposal to amend Council Directive 96/22/EC prohibiting the use in stock farming of certain substances having a hormonal or thyrostatic action and beta-agonists. This proposal became Council Directive 2003/74/EC.

  That letter also updated you on the progress of the Working Group of the UK's independent Veterinary Products Committee (VPC), which was set up late in 2002 to examine the latest scientific evidence underpinning the EU ban. This, as you know, is a matter of contention between the EU and US/Canada and is currently being considered by a WTO Hormones Panel. Their report is now expected in spring 2007.

  Since my last letter there have been a number of developments and this letter outlines the latest position.

  I explained that I had agreed that officials should hold a consultation exercise on a draft GB Statutory instrument amending the Animals and Animal Products (Examination for Residues and Maximum Residue Limits) Regulations 1997 to reflect the requirements of Council Directive 2003/74/EC. (This, in effect, extends the EU's ban on the use of hormonal growth promoters in food-producing animals by placing prohibitions on some of the uses of 17ß-oestradiol and its ester-like derivatives.) Following consideration of the relatively few responses I gave agreement to the SI coming into effect on 6 April 2006 (SI 2006/755).

  You will recall that the Council Directive also contained provisions for a study to be carried out into alternatives to products containing 17ß-oestradiol, which was underway when I wrote last September. This has now been completed and presented to the Commission and European Parliament. The outcome was described in Explanatory Memorandum 13556/05 of 16 January 2006. Although the UK Government had expressed concerns over the loss of existing 17ß-oestradiol products, particularly for therapeutic purposes, this concern was not reflected in the responses received from the majority of other Member States' Regulatory Authorities that replied, or independent veterinary surgeons. They considered that acceptable alternatives, such as prostaglandins, were available and in use. The report therefore concluded that the unavailability of 17ß-oestradiol would have minimum adverse economic and animal welfare effects overall. It is expected that EU proposals will be put forward shortly to phase out the remaining permitted therapeutic uses of 17ß-oestradiol products. I will keep you informed of developments.

  Last September I also enclosed the draft report from the Working Group set up by the independent Veterinary Products Committee on the Risks Associated with the Use of Hormonal Substances in Food-Producing Animals, which was also out to consultation at the time. You will recall that this Working Group was set up to consider the latest scientific evidence in this area, including the outcome of the studies used by the European Commission to underpin the EU ban. Seventeen responses were received to this consultation, which were circulated to all members of the Working Group with an invitation to comment on their contents. In addition the Chairman of the Working Group produced a commentary on the responses, which was also seen by all Working Group members.

  The Working Group saw no need to amend the draft report in the light of the consultation responses. Accordingly, the draft report, the consultation responses and the commentary on the responses were submitted to the VPC's meeting in January 2006. The meeting agreed that all of the documents should be submitted to Defra Ministers with the recommendation that they should be published.

  I should draw to your attention that one member of the Working Group, Mr John Verrall, who is also a member of the VPC, indicated at that point that he was minded to dissociate himself from the Report. This is in spite of the fact that he signed up in May 2005 to the Report going out to consultation in the same form as it is now. Although he agrees with much that is in the body of the report he is concerned that the conclusions and recommendations do not reflect his concerns sufficiently. From the perspective of the Working Group and the VPC, the report sufficiently reflects Mr Verrall's minority views about the carcinogenicity of 17ß oestradiol, However, the Working Group and the VPC took the view that accepting all of the changes he wished to make would have distorted the views of the other fully independent members, thereby upsetting the balance of the report and affecting its integrity.

  The matter was discussed further at the March meeting of the VPC, where Mr Verrall produced a document setting out his minority views and received some support from one other VPC member—Professor Diana Anderson. The VPC agreed by a large majority not to accept Mr Verrall's paper, which some members intimated was a "cherry-picked" selection of quotes from papers which supported his views rather than a logically argued scientific paper. At the May 2006 meeting the report was approved and recommended again for publication. Mr Verrall and Professor Diana Anderson did not approve all of the conclusions of the Report but the VPC re-confirmed its belief that their minority views, expressed in relation to the precautionary principle being applied where the scientific data are incomplete and the conclusions of the SCVPH, are included in the Report.

  Mr Verrall chose to send his document to me anyaway. I have responded to Mr Verrall stating that I have accepted the VPC's report as a thorough, well researched and balanced document, which also, very valuably, sets out clearly the further work needed to increase our knowledge of this complex and emotive area. My officials will encourage the Agencies with responsibility for commissioning research and development spanning the VPC's recommendations to look into progressing this work where it is not already being progressed, and if other priorities allow this. Mr Verrall has indicated that he intends to publish his minority views and intimated that he may resign from the VPC. You will wish to note that if this happens there may be particular media interest in his views.

  I have agreed to the VPC's recommendation that its final report, consultation responses and the VPC's commentary should be published and placed in the Defra main library, and in the library of the House. I have enclosed the consultation responses and VPC commentary on them for your information. I have also enclosed a copy of the Defra News Release announcing the publication of the Report from which you will see the combined expertise of the Working Group members advising on this issue.

  In respect of the long running trade dispute between the US/Canada and the EU, my last letter noted that a WTO Hormones Panel has been set up to consider an offensive case launched by the EU against the US/Canada's continued retaliation to the EU's ban. The panel met in November 2005, but I understand that the planned timetable has been delayed whilst further scientific evidence is sought by the Panel. It is thought that the Panel will issue its report later this year. Again, I will continue to keep your Committee appraised of significant developments in this sensitive area.

  Finally, I wish to confirm categorically that whilst our independent scientific advice does not support the EU hormones ban, we nevertheless implement it. As matters stand there is no question of the EU or the UK Government authorising hormonal substances for the purposes of growth promotion in food producing animals.

30 June 2006

89   Correspondence with Ministers, 10th Report of Session 2003-04, HL Paper 71, p 190. Back

90   Correspondence with Ministers, 10th Report of Session 2003-04, HL Paper 71, p 190. Back

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