Select Committee on European Scrutiny Ninth Report


UNDESIRABLE SUBSTANCES AND PRODUCTS IN ANIMAL NUTRITION


(a)
(20905)
5119/00
COM(99) 654


Draft Directive on the control of undesirable substances and products in animal nutrition.

(b)
(21995)
14908/00
COM(00) 861


Amended draft directive on undesirable substances and products in animal nutrition.


Legal base: Article 152 EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting
Document originated: (b) 18 December 2000
Forwarded to the Council: (b) 20 December 2000
Deposited in Parliament: (b) 17 January 2001
Department: Health
Basis of consideration: (b) EM of 8 March 2001
Previous Committee Report: (a) HC 23-ix (1999-2000), paragraph 5 (16 February 2000)
(b) None
To be discussed in Council: No date set
Committee's assessment: (Both) Politically important
Committee's decision: (Both) Not cleared; further information requested

Background

  3.1  Council Directive 1999/29/EC provides for the control of undesirable substances and products (contaminants) in animal feedingstuffs. In particular, it sets maximum permitted levels (MPLs) for a range of contaminants, including heavy metals, nitrites, aflatoxin and certain pesticides. Although we had not at that stage received an official text, we were informed in an Explanatory Memorandum of 2 February 2000 from the Minister of State (Lords) at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman) that the Commission had proposed a number of amendments to the Directive (document (a)) whose effect would be as follows:

    —  at present, manufacturers who have been approved against quality control criteria may handle material where it is above MPLs, and blend it down so that the finished feed MPLs are observed: this derogation would be removed, so that all feed materials put into circulation would have to observe the MPLs in the Directive;

    —  the derogation under which Member States do not have to apply MPLs to fodder used on farms would be removed;

    —  the provision whereby operators who are aware that feed materials or compound feeds are contaminated with undesirable substances must inform the Member State authorities would in future be extended to feed additives; and

    —  Member State authorities would be required to carry out investigations where the level of contamination is below the MPL but could nevertheless be "significant"; there would also be a provision to lay down threshold action levels, set below the MPLs.

  3.2  In her Explanatory Memorandum, the Minister said that this document was one of a range of measures proposed by the Commission in the wake of the Belgian dioxin crisis (which was probably caused by mineral oil contaminating used cooking oils incorporated in animal feed). On the first proposal, she suggested that it is desirable for any contamination of animal feedingstuffs to be kept as low as possible, and that there is therefore some risk in allowing feed materials to be put into circulation above MPLs. However, the Government was unaware of any problems associated with the current arrangements enabling approved establishments to blend down, and she considered that what was now proposed would not have prevented the Belgian contamination incident, which was the result of a criminal or negligent act. She also believed that the Commission amendment had implications far wider than oils, and could affect other materials used in feeds, such as wheat, maize, soya and groundnut. In the Minister's view, this could have a "major impact" on world trade in these products, and there could also be environmental and other implications relating to the disposal of rejected consignments. However, although the Government had asked the Commission for its risk assessment to substantiate the proposal, she said this had not been forthcoming, the Commission having justified its approach by virtue of the mandate given to its overall work programme by the Agriculture Council in July 1999. The Minister said that the Government would continue to press the Commission on this point, while at the same time asking the Advisory Committee on Animal Feedingstuffs for its opinion and consulting industry and other organisations.

  3.3  As regards the other three elements in the Commission proposal, the Minister said that these too should be covered by a risk assessment, though the removal of the derogation for fodder used on farm appeared correct from a safety point of view, and the inclusion of feed additives within the scope of the proposal could also be supported. She did, however, express concern that no further information had been provided as to how the last proposal requiring action on "significant" levels of contamination would work in practice, or on what constituted such a level. The Commission had apparently indicated that it did not intend to introduce threshold levels for the full range of over 40 undesirable substances subject to MPLs, but that it would like to leave decisions on detail to the Standing Committee on Animal Feed. However, the Government considered there were drawbacks with this approach: for example, it is arguable that action thresholds are more appropriate to human food, which is directly ingested.

  3.4  The Minister also provided with her Explanatory Memorandum a provisional Regulatory Impact Assessment, but said that industry was being consulted in order to identify and quantify costs. In the meantime, the Assessment suggested that those affected would include about 70 major importers/merchants (and an unspecified number of smaller operators); about 400 compound animal feed manufacturers; and 130 pet food manufacturers. It also suggested that, as regards on-farm mixers, about 5,000 dairy farms could be affected, and an unknown number of other livestock farmers. The likelihood of any additional costs would, of course, depend partly on the extent to which feed materials are marketed with undesirable substances in excess of the MPLs, or the proposed threshold levels were triggered.

  3.5  In the conclusion to our Report of 16 February 2000, we noted the Government's reservations about at least some aspects of this proposal, and the Commission's apparent unwillingness to provide its risk assessment. We therefore asked to be kept informed of any progress on this point, and on the outcome of the consultation exercise with the Advisory Committee on Animal Feedingstuffs and the industry, and we said that we would like to see an updated Regulatory Impact Assessment when it was available. We also asked the Minister whether she would be seeking the views of the new Food Safety Agency on this proposal. In the meantime, we said that we were not clearing the document.

The current proposal

  3.6  Though the present proposal (document (b)) has been put forward by the Commission in response to the European Parliament's first reading of the original proposal, we have been told in an Explanatory Memorandum of 8 March 2001 from the Minister now responsible — the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Health (Ms Gisela Stuart) — that those amendments accepted by the Commission mostly relate to textual and drafting matters acceptable to the UK, and that the Parliament's more contentious amendments have not been adopted by the Commission.

  3.7  The Minister also describes the discussions which have taken place in the Council since our previous Report. She says that these have centred on the first element in the original proposal, dealing with "blending down" and the "action thresholds" provision, where the Portuguese Presidency last year had put forward a compromise under which dilution would be prohibited for contaminants which have a direct effect on human health, but permitted for others which do not. Not all Member States had been able to agree to this, but the current Swedish Presidency had referred the amended proposal to COREPER in an attempt to resolve the issue, and it was now being suggested that a prohibition on diluting the presence of certain undesirable substances and products above MPLs should be retained, but should not come into effect until those limits have been reviewed by the Commission's scientific committees.

The Government's view

  3.8  The Minister says that this approach would accord with the opinion of the UK's Advisory Committee on Animal Feedingstuffs (ACAF) that the measure should be related to a scientific risk assessment, though the ACAF was concerned that blending down of materials would occur in supplying third countries. She also says that, in the absence of revised MPLs, it is not possible to prepare a Regulatory Impact Assessment, but that the Government will do this before any such MPLs are agreed.

Conclusion

  3.9  We will await the revised Regulatory Impact Assessment promised by the Minister before we take a view on these documents. In the meantime, however, we would welcome clarification on one point arising from the most recent information she has provided, where she refers to the retention of a prohibition on diluting the presence of "certain undesirable" substances and products above maximum permitted levels. This implies that dilution would be permitted for other substances even where the maximum permitted level is exceeded. This strikes us as odd, and we would be interested to know the justification for this, and the basis on which a decision would be made as to whether or not dilution would continue to be permitted.


 
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