HC Deb 20 December 1999 vol 341 cc446-8W
Dr. Gibson

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to assess the Committee on Toxicity report on organophosphates. [103250]

Ms Quin

We are today publishing the advice Ministers have received from the Veterinary Products Committee (VPC), the Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP) and the Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM) on the regulatory implications of the report on organophosphates (OPs) by the Committee on Toxicity (COT). Copies of this advice have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

This Government have ensured that OPs have been subject to a more rigorous and transparent scrutiny than ever before. Publication of this advice, and our conclusions on it, marks the end of a key stage in that process.

The regulatory committees all take note from the COT report that any ill-health effects from prolonged low-level exposure to OPs remain unproven, although there remains a question over whether there may be a small group of individuals particularly susceptible to OPs. They endorse the need for further research to address this and the other areas of uncertainty identified by COT.

On the basis of current scientific knowledge, the regulatory committees advise against any general withdrawal of OPs from the market. However, in the light of the research by the Institute of Occupational Medicine, which identified the main risk of exposure to OP sheep dips as coming from the concentrate, the VPC has advised that all OP sheep dips should be withdrawn from the market pending the introduction of new containers which would minimise operator exposure.

The Government accept this advice. We shall be implementing the committees' advice and carrying forward work on OPs through a four point plan.

Firstly, we are taking immediate action on OP sheep dip concentrate containers. The Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) has today written to all holders of marketing authorisations for OP sheep dips requiring the withdrawal of these products from the market until containers are introduced which will minimise operator exposure to OP concentrate. Product recall from distributors and farms will also be implemented. The issues surrounding packaging of OP pesticides are rather different. However, in line with the ACP advice, the Pesticides Safety Directorate (PSD) is taking urgent action to confirm that all containers of OP pesticides concentrates comply with modern standards; and PSD will take regulatory action if they do not.

Secondly, we are ensuring that data packages for OP compounds enable full evaluations in line with modern safety standards through the continuing reviews of OP veterinary medicines other than sheep dips (by the VPC) and of anticholinesterase pesticides (by the ACP). The ACP has recommended that regulatory action should be taken against approvals for products containing three OP compounds for which supporting data have not been submitted under the anticholinesterase review. Revocations of the approvals are being sent immediately to approval holders. This means that in all 14 OP compounds (more than half the OP compounds formerly approved) have now been revoked as a result of this major review.

Thirdly, we shall be implementing measures aimed at continuing to promote best practice. For sheep dip, we accept the advice from the Health and Safety Commission that extension of mandatory certification would not be appropriate. Best practice will be promoted through a range of measures including further improvements to labelling to highlight necessary precautions in the light of the IOM report; a continuing programme of targeted inspections by HSE inspectors to reinforce messages on risk control and training and competence for sheep dippers; and supply of protective gloves with sheep dip. We have also decided not to further extend mandatory certification for pesticides uses in the light of the advice we have received and comments on the consultation we conducted earlier this year. We shall, however, be improving the guidance and the syllabus for the certificate of competence in this area.

Fourthly, MAFF, acting jointly with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Department of Health, intend to develop a targeted research programme to take forward the research recommendations from COT and the regulatory committees. We want to involve expertise from the wider scientific community in this process. We therefore plan to hold a broadly based seminar in the new year to determine the scientific input and approaches required to meet these defined research needs. In addition, we are currently discussing a proposal to investigate databases of people who believe they are suffering from the effects of OPs. We hope to conclude contractual negotiations with a view to the project starting as early as possible in the new year.