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Much ado about an OP nerve-agent: but hundreds of British farmers were poisoned – compelled by government to use OP dips

13 Mar

Senior ministers have been told that the nerve agent used to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal in in Salisbury, on Sunday 4 March 2018 near Porton Down, has been identified by Porton Down experts as the organophosphate Novichock. Porton Down’s research focus has successively been known as Chemical Warfare, Chemical Defence, Chemical & Biological Defence and now Defence Science and Technology. Areas of concern are outlined here. Early British collaboration with American chemical warfare research (aka ‘field studies’) is acknowledged here.

In 2015 the Guardian reported that a cross-party MPs called for an inquiry into the compulsory use of dangerous chemicals called organophosphates (OPs), used to protect livestock from parasites. The Farmers Weekly reported that the Sheep Dip Sufferers Support Group repeated this call in 2016

The problem was first identified by Dr Goran Jamal, a Kurdish-born neurologist working in Glasgow, who later gave evidence of OP-related Gulf War Syndrome. Read Booker’s compelling account in Scared to Death: From BSE to Global Warming: Why Scares are Costing Us the Earth, or extracts from it here.

In his autobiography, BBC Countryfile presenter Adam Henson wrote: “the authorities realized that they were poisoning a lot of farmers”. In Countryfile Magazine (9.6.17) he wrote (snapshot of page, above right)

BBC Countryfile Magazine made the following points below:

  • OPs were originally created as a nerve gas and were developed during the Second World War. In 1951 Lord Zuckerman, who would go on to become the government’s chief scientist, warned of the dangers of allowing farmers to use OPs. Zuckerman raised concerns that farmers could absorb the poison through skin or inhalation. Read the legal noticepublished by Minister of Agriculture and Fishery regarding the harmful effects of Ops in 1951. Read a report published by Tim Farron, MP, stating that Government knew about the harmful effects of OPs.
  • Zuckerman called for farmers to be given detailed instructions for the use of OPs and for the substance to be labelled as deadly poison, although neither suggestion would be adopted until the 1980s.
  • Dipping sheep became compulsory in the late 1970s, and the use of OPs specifically was mandated by the British government until 1992. Read abstract at Small Ruminant Research.
  • In 1981 an advice leaflet was produced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that warned against the dangers of using OPs, citing that the chemicals could be absorbed through the skin. A report from the HSE in 1990showed growing concerns over the use of the chemicals.
  • UCL’s Dr Sarah MacKenzie Ross reviewed existing scientific evidence in 2013 and found that 13 out of 16 studies showed evidence of neurological problems following long-term, low-level exposure to Ops. Long-term health issues linked to OP poisoning also include multiple sclerosis and memory issues.  (Ed; we add her work in Neurotoxicology and Teratology, Volume 32, Issue 4, 2010, abstract here.)
  • In April 2014 MPs called for a ‘Hillsborough-style’ inquiry into the sheep-dip poisoning, with Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham called it a “major scandal”. Source: Agri Wales.

A saga of missing medical records

In the Telegraph, Booker pointed out that the health of thousands of farmers and their families had been destroyed by using highly toxic organo-phosphate (OP) chemicals to dip their sheep, as a protection against parasites. When the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) commissioned its own internal study into this disaster, its findings in 1991 were so devastating that they had to be ruthlessly suppressed. The survey, later released under a freedom of information request, said:

“Repeated absorption of small doses [can] have a cumulative effect and can result in progressive inhibition of nervous system cholinesterase.”

The Manchester Evening News published an early photograph of Littleborough farmer, the late Brenda Sutcliff with her husband Harold. She and three family members became ill after using a government-recommended sheep dip.  No active, healthy old age for her – but her persistent campaigning was recognised and celebrated by many (below left).

Details of a sheep dipping survey were released by the Health and Safety Executive following a Freedom of Information Request by the Sheep Dip Sufferers Group. The HSE survey examined sheep dipping facilities and practices on a representative sample of 696 farmers across 16 different regions of Britain. See also: Minister pledges to re-examine OP sheep dip files

But in the same month as this report was published internally – May 1991 – the farming minister at the time, John Gummer, was demanding that local authorities clamp down on farmers who refused to use the chemical.

The report found 160 occasions where some form of ill-health occurred after dipping. It also criticised manufacturers for providing inadequate protective clothing and unclear instructions to farmers on how to use the chemicals: “If with all the resources available to them, a major chemical company proves unable to select appropriate protective equipment, what hope is there for an end-user?” Booker commented that ministers were only too aware that the government had forced the farmers to use these chemicals, which its own Veterinary Medicines Directorate had licensed as safe to use and ends:

“Although in 1992, the government quietly dropped the compulsory use of OPs for dipping, without explanation, a succession of Tory and Labour ministers refused to accept publicly that repeated exposure to them could cause irreparable damage – because, it seemed, any public admission that they were as dangerous as the HSE had found them to be might trigger off a major scandal resulting in tens of millions of pounds of compensation claims”.

A more high-profile victim (see illness), former sheep farmer Margaret Mar (right), a life peer in the House of Lords, has spent three decades campaigning in Westminster on the issue.

She said: “I know from private discussions with an advisor at the Department of Health that officials knew about the risks, but couldn’t publicly criticise OPs because they were a government-recommended dip at that time”.

An campaign by the Sheep Dip Sufferers’ Support Group, co-ordinated by Tom Rigby, organic dairy farmer and chair of NFU’s Organic Forum, has an exceptionally accurate and informative website, with a balanced approach, useful links and well-documented interviews and reports with the political establishment – recording reasonable interaction with MPs like Andy Burnham, George Eustice and Paul Tyler.

They deserve the last word:

“We are a group of volunteers campaigning for better diagnosis and treatment for all those affected by organophosphates used in agriculture. We have no membership subscription or outside funding and rely mostly on the collective experience of those who have been bravely battling against the devastating effects of these chemicals for decades.

“We hope 2018 will be the year when the farming community comes to realise the impact these insecticides have had on those involved in disease control and that they finally start to get the help and support they urgently need”.

 

 

Republished from Political Concern

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Hawaii: calling Syngenta to account – an uphill struggle

8 Mar

Richard Bruce has drawn attention to a case reported by Reuters in February. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had been seeking a $4.8 million settlement from Syngenta, alleging that dozens of workers at Syngenta Seeds’ former research farm on Kauai, Hawaii were exposed to the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos in 2016 and 2017.

Sold to Hartung in 2017, but Syngenta will ‘contract Hawaii-based seed production activities with the new owner’.

The final settlement was a meagre $150,000, with $400,000 more to be spent on worker protection, far less – as Alexis Strauss, acting regional administrator for the EPA’s Region 9, acknowledged – than the maximum allowed under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and its regulations designed to protect workers.

This would not surprise McKay Jenkins, whose book, Poison Spring  (Bloomsbury, 2014), co-written with E.G. Vallianatos, has been called “a jaw-dropping expose´ of the catastrophic collusion between the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] and the chemical industry.

The IPS news agency reported that in 2013, the Kauai county council passed a law ordering the companies to create wider buffer zones and to disclose in far more detail than they do now what they spray, where and when.

A group of doctors in Waimea, which is surrounded by cornfields on three sides, testified that the number of cases of serious heart defects in local newborns was 10 times the national rate. But the head of the companies’ trade group, the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, said that no credible source of statistical health information to support the claims had been seen. The association sued and a federal judge struck the law down, arguing that only the state can regulate pesticide use.

Background information

In Outside Online, whose wide remit includes health and fitness, Professor Jenkins writes about Kauai, a place where for years, multinational agrochemical companies have developed genetically modified seeds but kept their experiments secret from locals especially their use of pesticides to test the resilience of GM seeds to chemicals See his recent book: Food Fight: GMOs and the Future of the American Diet.

“In recent years over 16,000 acres of Kauai’s land have been leased to DuPont-Pioneer, Dow, and Syngenta because its tropical climate enables them to work their fields year-round. Company workers can plant experimental fields three seasons a year, which can cut in half the time it takes to develop a new genetically altered seed. They plant these seeds, then spray them with a wide variety of chemicals that are designed to kill weeds and insects. When they find food crops that can stand up to these toxins, they begin the process of taking them to market”.

The cases

In 2016 nineteen workers were exposed to chlorpyrifos after Syngenta sprayed the insecticide on a field of genetically engineered (GE) corn at its Kekaha farm. According to the complaint, the workers were allowed to reenter the field before the reentry period expired and without protective equipment. Ten workers were taken to the hospital and three were held overnight.

Pearl Linton hand-pollinating corn plants at a Syngenta seed farm on Kauai.

At the time of the incident, an inspector from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) was present on the Syngenta farm and the EPA brought a civil administrative enforcement action against Syngenta for violating several federal statutes including worker protection standards, allegedly affecting as many as 77 workers.

A second incident occurred in 2017 when Syngenta failed to post warnings for worker crews containing 42 employees after applying chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate pesticide. EPA also found that Syngenta failed to provide both adequate decontamination supplies on-site and prompt transportation to a medical facility for exposed workers.

Hawaii is now considering bills in the state House and Senate to ban chlorpyrifos, as well as a proposal to require farmers to notify the public when they use certain pesticides and to create buffer zones around some schools.  

Hawaii State Capitol, Makai Entrance

May the decisions taken there show concern for the health of its people and environment, regardless of vested interest, and justify its magnificent architecture

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Main source: https://www.outsideonline.com/2151976/ongoing-hawaiian-battle-shows-real-gmo-problem

 

 

 

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GM news escalates: ‘whitewashing’ glyphosate, Monsanto papers, Michael Gove persuadable?

12 Nov

Der Spiegel reports that a court in San Francisco ordered U.S. agrochemical giant Monsanto to provide internal emails as evidence after about 2,000 plaintiffs demanded compensation from Monsanto in class-action suits. They claim that Roundup has caused non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of lymph node cancer, in them or members of their family.

More than 100 documents have revealed that Monsanto’s strategies for ‘whitewashing glyphosate’ have been revealed in internal e-mails, presentations and memos. They suggest the company concealed risks, making their publication a disaster for the company. The matter is also likely to be a topic of discussion at Bayer, the German chemical company in the process of acquiring Monsanto.

“The Monsanto Papers tell an alarming story of ghostwriting, scientific manipulation and the withholding of information,” says Michael Baum, a partner in the law firm of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, which is bringing one of the US class actions. According to Baum, Monsanto used the same strategies as the tobacco industry: “creating doubt, attacking people, doing ghostwriting.”

On October 11th, the European Parliament’s Environment and Agriculture committee held a public hearing on The Monsanto Papers. 

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Despite this, the BBC reports that an EU vote has failed to resolve a controversy over the use of glyphosate, the world’s biggest-selling weedkiller. Glyphosate was introduced by US agrochemical giant Monsanto in 1974, but its patent expired in 2000, and now the chemical is sold by various manufacturers.

The European Commission said the vote fell short of the majority needed to renew the license for five years when it expires December 15, as only half of the 28 member states voted for its proposal. “Given that a qualified majority could not be reached … the result of the vote is ‘no opinion,'” said the commission, the EU’s executive and regulatory arm. An EU appeal committee will now try to rule on the issue. A qualified majority requires that 55% of EU countries vote in favour, and that the proposal is supported by countries representing at least 65% of the total EU population.

The UK was among the 14 states backing the Commission position on glyphosate. Nine voted against – including France and Italy. Germany was among the five who abstained.

But a reader sends the information that the environment secretary, Michael Gove, now says the UK will back a total ban on insect-harming pesticides in fields across Europe . . . Perhaps he can be persuaded to ban human-harming, resistance-forming glyphosate as well.

Encouraging lack of enthusiasm for GM technology at China’s national congress

21 Oct

Those who totally oppose all GM adoption in China because of concerns about the damage caused by the herbicides and pesticides used with the crops and a loose coalition of left-wingers, environmentalists and retired officials will be encouraged by the lack of enthusiasm for GM technology at this week’s national congress of China’s Communist Party.

Lucy Hornby in Beijing, writing in the FT, says that Mr Xi has ‘historically fudged’ his position on GM — urging advocates to be “bold in research, careful in promotion”.

Ms Hornby notes that the coalition had written letters to the top leadership last year opposing ChemChina’s purchase of Swiss seeds and agrochemicals group Syngenta. Reuters put the number of signatories at 400.

Currently – despite US Dow Chemicals’ persistent and energetic lobbying – only GM papaya is planted on a small scale in China, due to domestic fears that foreign GM technology poses a security threat. In addition, at present (June 17th report) GM cotton is grown in China and GM animal feed is imported. Very few genetically modified foods are allowed on the market in China and labelling GM foods is strictly enforced there.

The safety of GMOs is widely debated in China through traditional media and the emerging online social media, where the public expresses deep concerns about the safety of GMO foods.

In 2015, there was a report of a conference on “GMOs and National Security” in Beijing, where scholars warned that the issues relating to GMOs were not just about science or technology, but also about food security, ecological security, and even national security.

A study of a GM grain carried out in China in 2012 caused great concern to the public; a US researcher and her team were accused of feeding Chinese children a GM grain, golden rice, and measuring the effects without telling their parents.

Chinese researchers are vying to promote new plant strains they have developed, while not revealing whether they are genetically modified or developed using traditional breeding practices. Many are grown in demonstration fields but have not been commercialised.

Frank Ning is the head of ChemChina’s rival Sinochem, which markets some Monsanto products. He said that the future direction of Chinese agriculture is the gradual improvement of seed quality and more targeted application of fertiliser and pesticides, which are big sources of soil and water pollution in China:

“Sinochem has transformed. We used to be just a sales operation: selling seeds, selling fertiliser. Now we are a modern agricultural platform: service oriented, promoting better seeds and teaching people to use less fertiliser.”

So far, so good.

 

 

 

 

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Forty-six farmers spraying Monsanto’s GM Bt cotton died after inhaling the pesticide

14 Oct

Pradip MaitraHindustan Times, reports that in Vidharba, 46 farmers growing Monsanto’s Bt cotton died after inhaling poisonous pesticide whilst spraying the crop.. As pests had become resistant to pesticides formerly used, stronger formulations were being used with little or no protection – as Devinder Sharma points out in an earlier post.  

Most of the deaths were reported from Yavatmal, a major cotton-growing district that has often been in the news for farmers’ suicides.

More than 500 others have inhaled the poisonous spray and fallen sick, and are admitted in various hospitals. A few have already lost their vision, hearing or speech. More may die during treatment. As the death toll continues to rise, the chief minister Devendra Fadnavis ordered an inquiry under a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the matter.

The Quality Control of the state’s agriculture department on Wednesday raided 12 different godowns of pesticide companies and sealed those stocked to prevent further sales, seizing pesticides worth Rs 14.31-crore from Akola in western Vidarbha.

The Maharashtra State Agriculture Mission chairman Kishore Tiwari demanded a ban on chemical farming and encourage organic farming in the region. Tiwari, who is camping in Yavatmal after the incident, dubbed the entire episode as “genocide” and demanded to book the concerned multi-national manufacturers and concerned department, in this regard.

Tiwari has appealed to the state government to stop the use of harmful products to put an end to farmer fatalities and give compensation of Rs 5-lakh to the victims’ families. He alleges that the deaths are due to the vested interests of the regulatory officials in the agriculture department and administration’s negligence.

 

 

 

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Valproate: rely on self-regulation?

29 Sep

The advisory European Medicines Agency – which has no legal power – is examining the effectiveness of Valproate warnings

Valproate is an anti-epilepsy drug first licensed in the UK in 1975. Taking the drug during pregnancy had – for some years – been suspected by epilepsy experts to have a strong link with the development of ‘dysmorphic features’ – such as eyes set wider apart and a thinned upper lip – in children born subsequently. They also suspected that valproate use in pregnant mothers might lead to longer term developmental problems – but the evidence for this was anecdotal at the time. More evidence emerged throughout the 1990s. In 2005, UK patient information leaflets included concerns about delayed development in children.

In 2004 the New Scientist reported that a study (BMJ reference: Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry (vol 75, p 1575), led by Dr Naghme Adab from the Walton Centre for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Liverpool, UK, showed that children born to mothers who were on valproate when pregnant were eleven times more likely to have a verbal IQ score of 69 or below, compared with children born in the general population. To read the statistics and percentages click on the link above.

The researchers added that their results could have been partly skewed because only 40% of the mothers contacted for the study actually responded – mothers who cooperated might be more likely to believe their children were harmed by anti-epilepsy drugs. They added, however, that even if it is assumed the other 60% of children all had normal IQs, the children of valproate users would still be twice as likely to have a low IQ (below 79) than the general population.

“Epilepsy is the second most common cause of maternal deaths,” Tim Betts, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of Birmingham UK, told New Scientist. He warns that women should not stop taking prescribed anti-epilepsy drugs during pregnancy without consultation, and adds that safe alternatives are available. “When we see women before pregnancy we invariably try to get them off valproate,” he says.

Instructions for doctors – and, more recently, patient leaflets – say valproate should not be used during pregnancy unless there is no safer alternative and only after a careful discussion of the risks. The medicines regulator said warnings had been updated as more information had become available. Many women whose babies were affected say nobody warned them of the extent of the dangers. Warnings were only added to the outside of valproate pill packets in Britain last year.

Humane French politicians put Britain’s business friendly government to shame

In France, 1,200 families are preparing to sue the drug manufacturer, accusing it of failing to sufficiently inform women of the risks. The French government is supporting the legal action and has put aside about £9m (€10m) to compensate the families.

By contrast in 2010, families in England and Wales had to abandon a court case when their legal aid was withdrawn three weeks before the case was due to begin. They signed letters promising never to sue again, and in return were not billed for Sanofi’s multi-million pound legal costs. They are now calling for a judge-led public enquiry. An article on a BBC website this month adds that about 20,000 babies in the UK alone have been left with disabilities since valproate was introduced in the 1970s.

It also reports that women whose children have been harmed by the epilepsy drug sodium valproate are giving evidence to a European-wide safety review in London. The European Medicines Agency will examine whether warnings about risks to unborn babies are strong enough. Reuters reports that a  final recommendation is expected in December.

 

 

 

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Long, tragic sagas: infected blood transfusions, OP poisoning and Gulf War Syndrome, denial and delay, pending death

29 Jul

The Haemophilia Society has blown the whistle and called for an enquiry into its own failure and that of government, pharma and clinicians. More here.

Medics and politicians knew by the mid-1970s that commercially manufactured blood products from the USA were suspect. By the mid-1980s there were warnings of a similar situation in respect of HIV. Nevertheless these products continued to be imported and used – just as OP sheep dips were.

The lives of British haemophiliacs and other patients in need  of a blood transfusion were blighted in the 1970s and 1980s by these cheap imported US blood products, harvested from inmates and drug addicts. More than 7,000 were infected and went on unknowingly to infect family and friends. Read more in The Journal.

Last week in The Times, Margarette Driscoll recalls that in 2015, following the Penrose report into contaminated blood products in Scotland (which many victims denounced as a whitewash), David Cameron apologised to those who were infected by HIV and hepatitis C.

Weasel words

References to “compensation” have been changed to “payments” – to avoid admitting the liability which is already common knowledge? The sums received by victims of the contaminated blood scandal are known as ex gratia payments.

In April, as he left the Commons, the former health secretary Andy Burnham declared there had been a “criminal cover-up on an industrial scale in the NHS” over contaminated blood and called for a Hillsborough-style inquiry.

Diana Johnson, Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North, has been campaigning on the issue since she met one of her constituents, a mild haemophiliac who was given factor VIII in 1983 to prevent excessive bleeding when he had a tooth removed in hospital. He discovered he was infected with hepatitis C in 1995, when it showed up on blood tests for an unrelated illness.

As Theresa May had set up the Hillsborough inquiry when she was home secretary, Johnson was hopeful she would do the same for contaminated blood.

May refused. Johnson requested an urgent Commons debate, which was due to be held on Tuesday. She then got the six leaders of the opposition parties — including the DUP — to sign a letter to Ms May asking for an inquiry, and this is to be set up.

Adding insult to injury? Payment to many victims of NHS blood contamination is to be cut

In March this year a scheme to pay the victims of NHS blood contamination is to be scaled back under government plans announced on Monday. Ministers believe the reforms are necessary because more people are now considered likely to develop serious health issues – and be entitled to higher payouts – pushing the programme as much as £123m over budget.

The government has proposed measures that would cut predicted costs, including limiting the availability of the higher level of financial support under the scheme

Will an enquiry compensate these victims for the cuts?

 

 

 

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