asked Her Majesty's Government:
Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Hunt of Kings Heath on 10 April (WA 99), why, in the light of the reported increase of birth defects attributable to the use of recreational drugs by young mothers and an increase in oestrogen-like substances in the diet, data are not collected centrally; and whether they have any plans to revise this policy.
The Office for National Statistics collects information on live born babies and stillbirths with congenital anomalies through the National Congenital Anomaly System (NCAS). Reporting to NCAS is voluntary and notifications are sent by regions where there are local registers or by National Health Service trusts. NCAS does not collect information on drug usage in pregnancy. The Department of Health will consider evidence which suggests a causal factor for birth defects.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is aware of concerns regarding consumption of plant-based foods containing naturally occurring estrogen-like chemicals, known as phytoestrogens. A study published in 2000 suggested the incidence of hypospadias (an abnormality of the male genitals) was higher in babies of mothers who follow a vegetarian diet. The Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT) reviewed the study but concluded there was insufficient evidence to support this hypothesis.
The FSA is currently funding a large programme of research to investigate the pubic health implications of phytoestrogens. Additionally, at the request of the FSA, an expert group of the COT is reviewing the health implications of phytoestrogens. The group aims to publish a report of their findings in the autumn this year (2002).