Thursday, 17 May 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
103. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development the controls in place to ensure that the use of antibiotics in food production does not transmit itself through the food chain to humans thereby rendering antibiotics less effective in human medical emergencies. [14469/01]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): The range of controls currently in place under relevant EU and national legislation with the objective inter alia of minimising the risk of transfer of antimicrobial resistance via the food chain can be categorised as follows: authorisation procedure for veterinary medicines – applicants for marketing authorisations for individual products are required under relevant EU pharmaceutical legislation to address the issue of potential transferred resistance in the extensive application dossiers submitted to regulatory authorities – in Ireland the Irish Medicines Board – in accordance with the current  state of scientific knowledge. In addition, marketing authorisations issued in respect of each medicine include a mandatory post-treatment withdrawal period in order to protect consumers from exposure to residues above scientifically acceptable levels, i.e. maximum residue limit; prescription rules and record-keeping – the rules in place in Ireland governing the prescription by veterinarians of antibiotic treatments and the record-keeping requirements imposed on farmers are on a par with the strictest in the EU; residue surveillance, under the national residue plan, which is approved by the European Commission, Ireland carries out extensive testing to detect the presence of antibiotic residues, the results of which are released annually and are available on the Department's website; self-monitoring, within the past two years my Department has required processors to draw up, in line with Department criteria, and implement their own annual residue monitoring programmes, the results of which are available to the Department and in relation to which it takes an over-seeing and audit role.
Notwithstanding the measures currently in place, we cannot afford to be complacent about antibiotic resistance given the potential serious implications for public health and also our farming systems. Much work remains to be done at scientific level in order that we may fully understand the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria and the part played by antimicrobial treatments, human and veterinary, in this regard. I have fully supported those strategies adopted at EU level in the framework of the Agriculture Ministers Council to address this threat. At national level, my Department has also been active, in co-operation with the FSAI, through an extensive programme of testing in the poultry sector for the presence of antibiotic residues and also for the presence of antibiotic resistant bacteria. The results of this exercise, once completed, will be assessed, in conjunction with the developing state of scientific knowledge generally, to determine what further actions may be necessary.
104. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development if food is imported from countries where chemicals are in use in food production that are banned for that purpose here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14473/01]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): Pesticides are one of the many types of chemicals used in the production of food. Pesticides which are prohibited for use in agricultural production in Ireland have tolerances, MRL's, set at the limits of determination. If residues of pesticides are found to exceed these tolerances, MRL's, then action can be taken to seize and destroy the non compliant food stuff.
It is not possible to know in advance if prohibited pesticides are used in other countries.  However, if prohibited pesticides are used in other countries the controlling authorities in the EU member states have a rapid alert procedure in operation for notifying information throughout the EU if residues are detected which are considered to be harmful to the consumer.
In the area of veterinary medicines and hormonal substances, Third countries wishing to export animal products to the EU are required to satisfy the European Commission that they have measures in place to provide equivalent guarantees to those provided for under EU residues legislation. In the case of Third countries which allow, for example, the use of growth promoting hormones, that are banned in the EU, they are required to demonstrate that animals or products to be exported to the EU have not at any stage been exposed to the substances concerned by the operation of split production systems. Third countries are also subjected to missions by inspectors from the Commission's Food and Veterinary Office for the purpose of verifying implementation of their control regimes.
105. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development if chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate insecticide used on farms, is present in any food sold here; and if he will make a statement on the finding of the United States Environmental Protection Agency that this chemical can cause brain damage. [14475/01]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): Chlorpyriphos is an organophosphorous pesticide which is approved for use in Ireland and throughout the world. Chlorpyriphos is also approved for use in the United States by the USEPA.
Residues of chlorpyriphos are found to be present in foods sold and consumed in Ireland. This is similar to the situation within the US where there are currently more than 40 different crops on which chlorpyriphos is approved for use. The EPA in the US is currently reviewing the pesticide chlorpyriphos with a view to ensuring that its use meets the current US EPA safety standards. A similar situation is taking place in the EU where chlorpyriphos is also being reviewed under the 91/414 directive and this will result in a common EU position being reached with respect to the future use of this pesticide. At present the current EU review does not indicate that there are particular concerns for human health associated with the use of chlorpyriphos according to good agricultural practice.
I am not aware of the specific findings of the USEPA that chlorpyriphos can cause brain damage but I am aware that chlorpyriphos, being an organophosphorous pesticide, is a chlolinesterase inhibitor. Therefore, it can overstimulate the nervous system causing nausea, dizziness, confusion and at high exposure levels can cause respiratory paralysis and death. In the US following the current review by the EPA and following risk miti gation procedures, the EPA indicate that acute risks are not of concern for the most highly exposed population sub-group which are children in the one to six year age group.
Chlorpyriphos has also been reviewed by the UK Advisory Committee on Pesticides and it has concluded, in a communication to the EU commission, that there was no evidence for concern about short-term or acute exposure for the UK population associated with exposure to chlorpyriphos. It is considered that the levels of exposure to the Irish population to chlorpyriphos residues would be similar to the UK.
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): Carbendazim and vinclozolin are both used in Ireland and in other EU member states. It is common to find residues of both carbendazim and vinclozolin in food sold in Irish shops.
Both of these pesticides are currently being fully reviewed under the EU 91/414 directive and decisions on the future of these pesticides will be made on the basis of the evaluations carried out. If these pesticides are found to provide an unacceptable risk to the consumer or to the farmer their use will be discontinued and tolerances will be put in place to support the decisions reached.
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