19 May 1995

MPs tackle VMD on conflict of interest over vet medicines

By Liz Mason

A CONFLICT of interest exists within the MAFF agency responsible for licensing veterinary medicines, MPs have warned.

Labour MP Dale Campbell-Savours told the chief executive of the Veterinary Medicines Direct-orate, Dr Mike Rutter that the conflict was "as plain as a pikestaff".

Mr Campbell-Savours was questioning Dr Rutter on the VMDs response to reported ill-health linked with OP sheep dip as part of the agriculture select committees inquiry into its work.

Quoting evidence from Elizabeth Sigmund of the South West Environmental Protection Agency, Mr Campbell-Savours pointed out that Dr Kevin Woodward, chairman of the appraisal panel responsible for assessing reported damage to human health, was also director of product licensing.

He told Dr Rutter that some people might see a conflict of interest between Dr Woodwards responsibilities. Dr Rutter said Dr Woodward was not responsible for the conclusions of the appraisal panel and he did not forward proposals to the licensing authority. These came through the independent experts.

But Mr Campbell-Savours refused to accept Dr Rutters defence. "I cant understand why you cant see a conflict of interest. It seems to me to be as plain as a pikestaff," he said.

Dr Rutter then came under fire from Labour MP Jean Corston. She said she understood a Health and Safety Executive leaflet, published in 1981, listed central and peripheral nerve damage and language defects among the symptoms of OP poisoning.

"This document was never circulated to doctors, farmers and HSE officers but its existence must have been known by the appraisal panel. How do you account for that?" she asked Dr Rutter.

He said the VMD was aware of the document. The symptoms it described were associated with exposure to OPs and the wearing of protective clothing would prevent them, he added. Mrs Corston replied that it was surely a breach of statutory duty not to inform doctors or the NFU to look out for symptoms.

Dr Rutter said his recollection was that instructions on the use of OP dips drew attention to potential hazards. &#42