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Agriculture Council, 19 and 20 January

Viscount Hanworth asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food chaired the first meeting of the European Union Council of Agriculture Ministers under the United Kingdom Presidency of the EU on 20 January in Brussels. I represented the United Kingdom. My noble friend Lord Dubs, Under-Secretary of State in the Northern Ireland Office, was also present.

My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food informed EU Ministers of the United Kingdom's priorities in the Agriculture Council for the six months of the UK Presidency, emphasising in particular the priority we shall attach to starting negotiations on the CAP reform elements of Agenda 2000, on making progress on animal welfare proposals, on bringing the EU banana regime into line with the recent WTO ruling, whilst respecting the EU's obligations to ACP and EU producers, and completing the forthcoming CAP price fixing.

In the course of the Council, the Commissioner gave a presentation of his recent proposal to amend the EU banana regime, and Ministers gave their initial reactions to this. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food undertook to take forward the technical work on this proposal as rapidly as possible in order to facilitate early agreement in the Council in the interests of all those, in particular producers in the ACP countries, who are affected by the WTO ruling.

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My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food invited colleagues to give their views on the Commission's recent reports on the operation of the agri-environmental and forestry regulations introduced as part of the 1992 CAP reforms. This gave rise to a useful debate which will inform the Commission's preparations for the agri-environmental and rural development elements of the forthcoming Agenda 2000 proposals.

The Agriculture Commissioner gave a brief report to the Council on the recent ruling by the WTO Appellate Body on hormones in beef. The Council will hear further reports from the Commission on the handling of this ruling once there has been time to analyse its implications in greater detail. The Commissioner also reported in depth his recent exchanges with the United States Agriculture Secretary about issues in discussion between the EU and the US concerning the adoption of a veterinary equivalence agreement. Commissioner Fischler emphasised the constructive and positive nature of recent exchanges, and expressed the hope that an agreement could be concluded in the near future. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food emphasised my wish to see this achieved as soon as possible during the UK Presidency.

Vitamin B6

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many letters they have received since 1 July from:

    (a) Members of either House; and

    (b) others

    in relation to the proposed restrictions on the retail sale of Vitamin B6; and how many and what percentage of those representations have supported the new restrictions.[HL138]

Lord Donoughue: Since the beginning of July 1997 the Government have received approximately 1,300 letters from Members of either House and approximately 10,200 from others concerning their proposed controls on dietary supplements containing Vitamin B6. Many of these have been in the form of standard letters. No separate record has been kept of those supporting or opposing the proposed controls. However, almost all of the letters received have either opposed, questioned the basis of, or expressed reservations about the proposed controls.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to publish the draft statutory instrument relating to the proposed new restrictions on the retail sale of Vitamin B6 supplements; and what steps they intend to take:

    (a) to consult about; and

    (b) to provide for debate on that draft prior to its formal laying before the House.[HL139]

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Lord Donoughue: The regulations which will implement the Government's proposals to restrict the level of Vitamin B6 in food supplements are presently being drafted. We hope to circulate them, together with a regulatory appraisal (including a compliance cost assessment) for consultation in February. No final decisions have yet been taken on the scope or the timescale for the consultation.

We will consider carefully all representations about the draft regulations received prior to their laying before Parliament.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will list the qualified nutritionists who have written to them supporting the proposed restrictions on the retail sale of Vitamin B6 supplements.[HL140]

Lord Donoughue: No assessment has been made of whether individuals who have written to the Government about the proposed controls on food supplements containing Vitamin B6 could be regarded as experts in nutrition.

Varroa Mite

Lord Gisborough asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What provision has been made for the time when the mite, Varroa jacobsoni, becomes immune to Bayvarrol, given that such immune mite are now to be found in France.[HL168]

Lord Donoughue: The Government are monitoring the situation on the Continent.

The question of any applications for authorisation of new veterinary medicines to control varroa mites is one for the pharmaceutical industry. No veterinary medicine is authorised unless it satisfies the statutory criteria of safety, quality and efficacy.

Lord Gisborough asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Given that many of the alternative treatments for the control of the Varroa mite are generally available in substances like essential oils, what steps are being taken to make them legally available for use by beekeepers.[HL169]

Lord Donoughue: Applications for the authorisation of new veterinary medicines to control varroa mites are matters for the pharmaceutical industry.

Lord Gisborough asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Given that much of the honey imported into the United Kingdom and made available for sale here has been exposed to varroa treatments denied to British beekeepers, what tests are being made on such honey for the presence of residues of substances British beekeepers are not permitted to use.[HL170]

Lord Donoughue: The Veterinary Medicines Directorate tests retail samples of honey, which will include imported honey, for a wide range of veterinary drugs. Further, under Council Directive 96/23/EC, the

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Commission is requiring all member states to include testing of honey in their residue surveillance plans for 1998. From 1 January 1999 such testing will become obligatory under the same directive and any samples which contain veterinary drug residues above the maximum residue limit will have to be investigated by the competent authorities of the member state concerned.

Common Fisheries Policy

Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Donoughue on 19 November 1997 (WA 80), whether they will give examples of possible exceptions to the principle of free and equal access to community waters on socio-economic, biological and environmental grounds after the year 2002; how and by whom such exceptions would be identified; and which institution of the European Community would decide that any exception should be implemented.[HL200]

Lord Donoughue: Examples of exceptions to the principle of free and equal access to Community waters for fisheries purposes are the waters within member states' 12-mile fishery limits and within the Shetland Box. A decision on the former after 2002 will require a qualified majority of the Council of Ministers on a new proposal from the European Commission. The latter, on the other hand, will continue to apply automatically unless the European Commission proposes to change it and secures the support of a qualified majority of the Council.

Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Review Group

Lord Moran asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to be able to announce the composition of the independent group they are establishing to review all aspects of existing policies and legislation on salmon and freshwater fisheries in England and Wales.[HL254 ]

Lord Donoughue: We hope to announce the composition of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Review Group shortly.

Vitamin B6: Professor Beckett's Letter

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their response to Professor Arnold Beckett and 200 scientist members of the Vitamin B6 Scientific Task Group, who co-signed his recent letter to the Chairman of the Committee on Toxicity (COT) in which the group state that they "entirely reject the COT report on Vitamin B6" and give their reasons.[HL231]

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Lord Donoughue: We have noted the points raised in the letter from Professor Beckett and his co-signatories and have asked to see a copy of the Chairman of the COT's response.


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