28 April 1995

Medicine losses exaggerated

By Liz Mason

VETS claims that there has been a 65% loss of animal medicines available in the UK are exaggerated MPs were told on Wednesday.

Dr Mike Rutter, director and chief executive of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, the MAFF agency responsible for licensing new products, said there had been "some loss of products" as a result of a widespread EU product review. "But many of the claims about such losses have been greatly exaggerated," he said.

Dr Rutter, was giving evidence to the first hearing in the House of Commons agriculture select committees inquiry into the VMD and Pesticide Safety Directorate.

He said VMD indications put the net overall loss of veterinary products at between 15%-20%. But it was difficult to get more precise figures.

Dr Rutter was asked to provide a paper to the committee on the possible loss of medicines, which MPs recognised had animal health and welfare implications.

Close questioning

He was told, after close questioning by the Labour MP Dale Campbell-Savours, to submit a further paper to answer reports that animal health research was moving to other EU countries.

Written evidence from the National Office of Animal Health, which represents manufacturers, suggested that the fees charged by the VMD were forcing animal health companies to move field trials to France.

Dr Rutter said: "We have heard these suggestions and I cannot comment on whether it is true or not." But Mr Campbell-Savours refused to accept Dr Rutters apparent lack of detailed knowledge of this area and asked him to submit a paper to the committee.

Dr Rutter was also forced to defend suggestions that there was "a conflict of interest" in the VMDs work. That was because it acted as a policy adviser to government but derived much of its income from manufacturers. Plaid Cymru MP Ieuan Wyn Jones questioned whether this influenced the VMDs standing with the public.

Dr Rutter replied that the directorate operated as three separate businesses. The licensing work, worth about £2.7m a year, was funded by fees collected from from industry. But drug residue surveillance work, worth between £2.6m-£2.7m was funded by fees levied at slaughterhouses collected on a headage basis. Policy advice to ministers was funded by MAFF. This meant there was "no cross-subsidisation between any of the work," said Dr Rutter.

Other questions focused on the ability of the VMD to meet performance targets set by MAFF. Dr Rutter blamed the work associated with the EUs review of pharmaceutical product for its failure to meet past targets for license applications.

Computers introduced last year had made a "considerable difference", he added.

The committee will question Dr Rutter again at a later date on the effectiveness of the VMDs suspected adverse reaction scheme. &#42