Government conceals evidence & denies fatal error, as victims die

22 Nov

For years ministers have denied the dangers of sheep dips despite science-based evidence. In December, farmers who have had serious health problems after exposure to organophosphate (OP) sheep dips, will meet in Westminster in a bid to have the cause of their illnesses recognised.

brenda award

Many visited this Indian website to read about the experience of Lancashire sheep farmer Brenda Sutcliffe, who, with her family, was affected by exposure to OPs and became an award-winning campaigner for all in the same situation. It was hosted by another affected farmer, Margaret Percival. Tom Rigby* is second left.

Some background events:

In 1951, a working group, led by Sir Solly Zuckerman the British government’s leading scientific adviser, produced a report for MAFF on toxic chemicals in agriculture recommending that agricultural organophosphate pesticides should be labelled as ‘deadly poison’. Nevertheless, from1976 to 1992 the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made sheep dipping compulsory.

In 1976, OP containers were required to be labelled as potentially hazardous.

In the early ‘80s, a Health and Safety Executive guidance sheet MS17 was produced, saying that OP pesticides could penetrate protective clothing & that repeated exposure had irreversible cumulative neurological effects. It was never circulated to farmers, GPs, vets or hospital doctors. Christopher Booker revealed in the Telegraph and a book on the subject that a confidential report on this study was kept under lock and key.

In the 1980s and 1990s, hundreds of farm workers, including wives and children, reported symptoms including fatigue, memory loss, weakness, joint and muscle pain and depression, which they put down to low-level exposure to organophosphates over long periods of time. The government denied that there was a clear link.

In 1992, Nicholas Soames, then a junior minister, announced that sheep dipping would no longer be compulsory.

In 1998, former employee of Lancashire Agricultural College, Robert Shepherd, received £80,000 in an out-of-court settlement over claims of ill-health due to agricultural organophosphate poisoning.

In 2000 and 2001 government funded more research into the effects of organophosphate exposure and poisoning. The results of some of these studies provided support for the poisoning hypothesis.

In May this year about ninety victims, experts and campaigners attended a meeting hosted by shadow health secretary Andy Burnham in London, to discuss the impact on their lives of using government-approved OP dips without adequate health warnings. *Lancashire dairy and vegetable farmer and OP campaigner Tom Rigby said: “This is the biggest human tragedy in farming in our lifetime and yet there’s a whole generation of people growing up who don’t know about it. There were hundreds of thousands of people dipping at a time when the government-approved products they were using weren’t safe”. He is calling for alternatives to OP dips to treat and eradicate sheep scab in a way that was safe for sheep and people working with them.

The December meeting is by invitation only. Anyone affected by OP poisoning should contact Tom Rigby on 01942 671 020 or email  johnsons.farm@tinyworld.co.uk

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