DISTINGUISHED academics advising the Government on the licensing and use of pesticides may not be providing impartial advice, the House of Lords has been told.
In a debate on organo-phosphates, the Countess of Mar said: "I do believe that these committees are independent of government, but I am not certain that they are independent of the industry which they are set up to regulate."
She sought a review of committee appointments, suggesting that a pool of suitable candidates be drawn up, including young scientists, women, senior members of the community and lay people. Advisers could then be picked from this pool, rather like a jury.
The countess told the Lords that members of advisory committees tended to be distinguished academics with backgrounds in research, administration and teaching.
"In many cases these people will have come from the chemical companies and, as so many are now on short-term contracts, some will want to return to the industry," she said.
"There may be subtle pressure put upon them by the larger chemical companies to the extent that any dissent from current thinking and practice might lead to a loss of financial or other support to themselves or to their university department. The influence may be as crude as a threat to move to a country where the regulatory regime is more amenable."
She said that there was a nucleus of about 25 individuals who advised on a number of committees: "The scientific community is very close-knit and because the numbers of individuals in specialities is small, they will all know one another . . . They may therefore resist any challengers to their established doctrine for fear of losing face."
Lord Donoughue, the parliamentary secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, promised a fresh look at the situation and noted a recent proposal to broaden membership of advisory committees to include lay members.