27 June 1997

Advisory committees to reflect public concern

MAFF has pledged that it will review the make-up of its advisory committees to ensure that their membership reflects public concerns.

The pledge follows concerns raised by campaigners fighting for a moratorium on organophsophate sheep dips about the impartiality of members sitting on advisory committees and their close links with chemical companies.

Junior farm minister, Lord Donoughue, reaffirmed the governments commitment to include lay members on all advisory committees.

Ministers are to meet all the committee chairmen to discuss whether the publics concerns are being met: "We want to look again at ways to improve the system. We are ready to consider proposals to achieve this."

Lord Lucas, former Conservative farm spokesman, admitted that the committee system tended to exclude industry and consumers from participation and be shrouded in secrecy, which in turn led to dissatisfaction and a feeling of a cover up.

"Why cant we have committees in which that level of consent can be experienced and expressed?" he added.

OP campaigner Lady Mar questioned whether the advisory committees were independent of industry which they were set up to regulate as some members had come from and would return to industry.

She attacked the Veterinary Products Committee for failing to seek further clinical evidence into the effects of OPs while maintaining that cases of ill-health were inconclusive.

And she said there was a fundamental imbalance between the evidence required prior to the licensing of a product and that required post-release: "If damage is alleged to have occurred it must be proven to a very rigorous scientific level, while the scientific evidence required by the regulators need not."n

Tony McDougal