Select Committee on European Scrutiny Tenth 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 152EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting
Department: Health
Basis of consideration: Minister's letter of 5 December 2001
Previous Committee Report: (a) HC 23-ix (1999-2000), paragraph 5 (16 February 2000)

(Both) HC 28-ix (2000-01), paragraph 3 (21 March 2001) and HC 152-iii (2001-02), paragraph 2 (31 October 2001)

Agreed in Council: 19-20 June 2001
Committee's assessment: (Both) Politically important
Committee's decision: (Both) Cleared

Background

  6.1  Council Directive 1999/29/EC provides for the control of undesirable substances and products (contaminants) in animal feedingstuffs, and, in particular, it sets maximum permitted levels (MPLs) for a range of contaminants. Although an official text was not at that stage available, our predecessors were informed in an Explanatory Memorandum of 2 February 2000 from the then Minister that the Commission had proposed a number of amendments to the Directive (document (a)). The effect of these would be:

  • to remove a derogation allowing approved manufacturers to handle material where it is above MPLs, and blend it down so that the finished feed MPLs are observed;

  • to remove a derogation under which Member States do not have to apply MPLs to fodder used on farms;

  • to extend to feed additives a provision whereby operators must inform Member State authorities when feed materials or compound feeds are contaminated with undesirable substances; and

  • to require Member State authorities 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.

  6.2  Since it was clear that the Government had reservations about at least some aspects of this proposal, and that the Commission appeared unwilling to provide a risk assessment, our predecessors decided at their meeting on 16 February 2000 not to clear the document, and asked to be kept informed of any progress.

  6.3  The Commission subsequently put forward in December 2000 an amended proposal (document (b)) in response to the European Parliament's first reading of the original proposal. However, in an Explanatory Memorandum of 8 March 2001, the Minister who had taken over responsibility — the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Health (Ms Gisela Stuart) — said that those amendments accepted by the Commission mostly related to textual and drafting matters acceptable to the UK, and that the Parliament's more contentious amendments had not been adopted by the Commission. She also described the discussions which had taken place in the Council since our predecessors' previous Report, which had centred on the first element in the original proposal, dealing with "blending down".

  6.4  In their Report of 21 March 2001, our predecessors again decided to withhold clearance, and said that they would await the revised Regulatory Impact Assessment promised by the Minister before taking a view on these documents. They also sought clarification on a number of points, which were addressed in a Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum from the Minister on 28 April 2001, in which she also explained that, as regards the main element of the proposal on blending, the maximum permitted levels would be reviewed before it came into effect (though this was unlikely to be before 2003). However, this meant that, until the new MPLs were known, it was not possible to cost the measure. The MPL could also restrict the range of materials which could be used as ingredients for animal feed — though the Minister also pointed out that, since some MPLs were currently set at the lowest level achievable (on the basis that companies can obtain materials with higher levels of contamination for blending), these might subsequently be increased as a consequence of the impending review, and thus mitigate against the effect of the prohibition on blending. She said that, once the MPLs had been set, a final Regulatory Impact Assessment could be drawn up, and consideration be given to whether the whole package was proportionate.

  6.5  She also dealt briefly with the other aspects of the proposal, and in particular with the requirement on Member States to carry out investigations into significant levels of contamination below the MPL, and laying down threshold action levels. However, she merely stated that action levels could continue to be based on MPLs as, where these are properly set and observed, they provide an adequate safeguard, but that, if threshold levels were to be introduced, it was possible that more consignments would be rejected.

  6.6  Our predecessors were not able to consider this Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum before the General Election, and our Clerk subsequently received a letter of 22 May 2001 from an official in the Food Standards Agency, saying that the Agriculture Council on 19-20 June was likely to adopt a Common Position, which would be supported by the UK. The proposal would then return to the European Parliament for a second reading. Our officials were also told that, after the Election, a Minister would write confirming what had happened at the June Council, but such a letter, from the present Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Health (Ms Hazel Blears), was sent only on 15 October, some four months later.

  6.7  When we considered this at our meeting on 31 October 2001, we said that, whilst we appreciated the difficulties created by the General Election, it was unacceptable that there should have been such a delay in notifying us of the outcome of the Council, and we asked the Minister to explain why this had happened.

  6.8  We also expressed concern that, since it was evident that the costs cannot be estimated until the review of the Maximum Permitted Levels has been carried out, the measure had apparently been adopted by the Council, without it — or the Government — having any idea of what these were likely to be. Nor was it clear what would happen if the measure is found to be disproportionate. Similarly, it was not apparent whether, in relation to the part of the proposal referred to in paragraph 1.5 above, it was still intended to initiate action below the MPLs set, or whether such action would be on the basis of threshold levels. We therefore asked the Minister to provide an explanation on this as well.

Minister's letter of 5 December 2001

  6.9  In her letter of 5 December 2001, the Minister apologises for the delay in updating us following the agreement at the Agriculture Council on 19-20 June of a Common Position, and says that this was due to an oversight by Food Standards Agency officials. She also confirms that the proposal has not yet been formally adopted, with the Common Position having been referred back to the European Parliament for a second reading. However, she thinks it likely that the principal provisions will remain as they are at present.

  6.10  As regards our concern that the proposal is likely to be adopted without an estimate of the costs involved, the Minister says that the Government shares this concern, and considered that the review of MPLs should have been carried out prior to adoption, as this would provide a better indication of the impact of the measures. However, other Member States were able to accept the proposal as it stood, and, having successfully argued for a scientific review of the MPLs, the UK "reluctantly" accepted the Common Position.

  6.11  On what the situation would be if the measure was found to be disproportionate once the MPLs have been reviewed, the Minister says that she expects the results of the review to be considered by the Standing Committee for Animal Feedingstuffs, which will give the UK the opportunity to assess the impact of the recommendations for revised MPLs, taking into account the ban on blending. The Food Standards Agency will consult trade and other interests in order to draw up a final Regulatory Impact Assessment, and she says that, if the controls are disproportionate or unacceptable in other ways, the Government will press the Commission to bring forward a revised proposal. She adds that it intends to place the position before us prior to a vote in the Standing Committee.

  6.12  Finally, as regards whether it is intended to initiate action where contamination is found below MPLs, or whether such action would be on the basis of threshold levels, the Minister says that, for a uniform approach, the proposal allows for action threshold levels, set below MPLs, to trigger investigations. She says that she intends to make sure we are kept fully informed of further developments, including when discussion of specific threshold levels and revised MPLs takes place at Commission level.

Conclusion

  6.13  We are grateful to the Minister for this further information. In the light of what she has said, including her assurance that she will keep us informed of further developments, we are now clearing these two documents.


 
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