Now top vets are taking cash from drug firms

EXPERTS who advise the Government on the safety of animal medicines have financial ties with the companies that make the drugs, the Sunday Express can reveal.

Some even have links with companies which make products that are believed to pose a risk to human health - such as animal growth promoters and parasite killers.

There is growing concern that committee members of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate - who decide whether to license products or take them off the market - may have conflicts of interest.

Last week the Sunday Express revealed that the majority of experts who advise the Government on the safety of human medicines also have close ties with drug companies.

Both scandals have prompted calls for a tightening of the rules governing advisory bodies.

Labour MP Paul Flynn said of the veterinary directorate: "We have to see that this body, which has such great powers, is free from any accusations that they're acting in their own financial interests."

More than half of the directorate's experts - 26 out of 48 - are part-funded by drug companies. Many are paid for consultancy work, given research grants or hold shares.

Professor Tony Dayan, a toxicologist at Barts Hospital, London, is a paid consultant or director to five drug companies. He also holds shares in two others. Another member is on the consultancy pay roll of as many as 10 firms.

Sixteen members have links with companies that produce or recently produced controversial organophosphates - used to kill animal parasites. There is evidence that these chemicals can cause brain damage and depression in people who come into contact with them. Hundreds of farmers claim to have been severely affected. The directorate's committees have concluded that the chemicals are safe, although there is no suggestion members have not acted independently.

Many members have links with companies that make toxic parasite killers fed to battery chickens and pigs. Researchers have found high residues of these potentially cancerous chemicals in meat and eggs and complain that the Government is failing to show sufficient concern.

Other members have financial ties with firms that make anti-biotic growth promoters. Researchers believe that some of these are toxic. One product has been linked to heart attacks.

Members are expected to declare their interest at the beginning of meetings. A Government spokeswoman said: "A decision is then made whether they can stay for the discussion."

A member with an interest can be allowed to remain at a meeting at the chairman's discretion. But health campaigners complain it is difficult to discover whether any of the experts are involved in discussions on products they have an interest in.

Professor Dayan admitted: "If matters come up where I might have an interest I take no part. I do however take part in general discussions as do other members of the committee who have an interest in that area."Richard Young, of the Soil Association, said: "There is a cosy pro-industry culture which runs through the regulatory framework. Because of this there is a tendency for committee members to look upon products in a non-critical way."
Express Newspapers, 2000