Tag Archives: MAFF

Post 1945: a plague of profitable but destructive chemicals

14 Sep

2010 research findings: 34% of UK cancers in 2010 (106,845) were linked to smoking and alcohol and one in 25 cancers is linked to a person’s job – other causes included exposure to chemicals. The percentages may well have risen. Pollution is one of many factors thought to be responsible for rising rates of allergy.

Despite this knowledge, harmful substances are freely sold in order to enrich a few and any attempt to change this is met with powerful resistance which influences most politicians.

Richard Bruce sent a link to this parliamentary debate opened by the Countess of Mar, a doughty campaigner on behalf of farmers, whose health seriously deteriorated after being compelled by government to use organophosphate sheep dip. Lord Blyth referred to Richard’s experience, but a fuller account is given on his website.

Agriculture: Health & Safety Responsibilities

6 Feb 1996: Column 183

The Countess of Mar rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government what are the statutory duties of the Health and Safety Executive and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to ensure that employers and employees carrying out exclusively agricultural operations are kept informed of, and adequately advised on, matters relating to health and safety.

The noble Countess said: In asking the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare an interest. I have been exposed to organophosphate sheep dip and believe that I suffer chronic ill health as a result.

Some of the points made in the seven page report:

  1. In 1951, Solly Zuckerman, later Lord Zuckerman, chaired a working party which investigated the health effects on workers using dinitro and organophosphorus compounds in agricultural sprays
  2. It found that repeated low level exposures could result in chronic effects on human health
  3. and recommended simplifying labelling and including the words “Deadly poison” in large letters on containers.
  4. But not until 1994 were manufacturers required to put a skull-and-crossbones symbol on OP sheep dip containers to warn of toxicity.
  5. MAFF introduced national dipping orders in 1976
  6. The orders were rescinded in 1992
  7. GPs, untrained in chemical toxicology, used irrelevant tests & many decided that these patients’ symptoms were psychosomatic.
  8. Effective tests were not recommended by the HSE to GPs and consultants.
  9. The Health and Safety Commission did not consider it appropriate to advise and inform farmers of the inherent dangers of these substances.
  10. The Health and Safety Executive actively suppressed a 1990 field research project.
  11. Internationally research published in the Lancet in May 1995 found damage to farmers and that there was a dose relationship.
  12. Veterinary Products Committee rejected these research findings.
  13. The Countess of Mar asked the Minister how many members of the VPC had the relevant neurobehavioural expertise to assess this research. (Ed: an undated account VPC Members Specialisms and Biographical Details Indicates that none had this expertise, though Dr Karin Burnett had studied several aspects of toxicology).
  14. OPs are said to be too toxic to test on humans and maximum levels of exposure are arbitrarily set.
  15. T.C. Marrs, senior medical officer at the Department of Health, adviser to Ministers and government committees, said at a meeting of farmers in October 1991, “You don’t have to convince me there is long-term damage. I know it”, but did not inform ministers.
  16. Though the National Poisons Unit (NPU) at Guy’s Hospital confirmed that Richard Bruce had been poisoned by organophosphates and this was reported to the HSE, their inspectors did not visit Mr. Bruce or the farm where he worked to investigate the incident.
  17. Lord Blyth asked: How serious does an incident have to be before it is thoroughly investigated? What powers do health and safety inspectors and EMAS doctors have to inspect premises and obtain other evidence?
  18. The NPU withdrew the diagnosis of OP poisoning in a letter to the HSE, copied to Mr. Bruce’s GP on 2nd December 1994, but confirmed the diagnosis to the Benefits Agency in a letter of the same date.
  19. Lord Beaumont cited an Australian case with damages awarded in a court of law and recommended that OP sheep dips be classified as prescription products until the results of the Government’s delayed researches are known.

Baroness Turner said “It is clear from the information received from a number of sources that much needs to be done to improve health and safety standards in this vital industry. Many in it are suffering the effects of pesticide poisoning, and many are dying as a result.

 

The report may be read here.

 

 

 

 

 

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Sheep dip sufferers support group update

19 Apr

Following the 2015 post on this website, comes news from Warrington farmer Tom Rigby, co-ordinator of the Sheep Dip Sufferers’ Group, who sent a press release reporting that HSE had released details of their 1992 Sheep Dipping Survey which may be seen on their website – the report here and appendix here.

Readers new to this subject may first wish to read the full history on the group’s website.

HSE identified 700 farmers in 16 different regions of GB (385 in England, 155 in Scotland and 160 in Wales) broadly typical of the whole and 696 surveys were completed. There were 160 occasions described where some form of ill-health occurred after dipping, only three of which had been reported to MAFF/VMD. If this was representative of UK’s 90,400 sheep flocks it suggests over 20,000 cases nationwide.

Northern Farmer 2editorial

HSE’S Epidemiology and Medical Statistics Unit suggested a better way of expressing these findings were as “a crude incident rate of 8.9 self-reported illness episodes per 1000 dippers per annum”. This suggests a total of over 33,000 for MAFF’s compulsory dipping years 1976-92. Mr Rigby comments that trying to calculate incident rate this way almost certainly gives an under-estimate due to what is known as the ‘healthy worker’ effect as it ignores fatalities and those too ill to continue working (similar to trying to estimate road traffic incidents over 10 years just by interviewing current drivers).

Cumulative exposure

sheep dip peter tyrerHis testimony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkQQl68ltYk

Tom Rigby says: “Whatever the precise figure it does seem by 1992 HSE were aware of the devastating effects dipping was having on the health of sheep farmers. We believe this is the reason MAFF ended compulsory dipping in June that year (something they have always denied) and we request disclosure of correspondence between HSE and MAFF in the weeks prior to that decision being taken”.

The initial results of this HSE study were published as a news release dated 20th July 1993 with the title “HSE SURVEY CONFIRMS POOR WORKING PRACTICES DURING SHEEP DIPPING”. It highlighted “dippers hands or feet were used to immerse sheep on 48 farms” (7% of the total) and the head of HSE’s Livestock National Interest Group, (the sponsors of the report) said “this survey has confirmed our view of where the problems lie”.

Northern Farmer 2 SDS questionsHowever now we have sight of the survey in full there seems to be no correlation between dipping practice and reports of ill-health. 662 farmers, including those using hands and feet, account for proportionately fewer cases than 17 contract dippers who were exclusively using dipping aids.

It said, “Although contract dippers made up only 2.4% of the total they accounted for 10.6% of incidents”. This suggests the greatest single factor seems to be cumulative exposure. Many farmers were not aware of danger of cumulative exposure through inhalation until alerted by this piece in the Farmers Weekly fifteen years later. It is now accepted by HSE but not by DEFRA.

As the contract dippers were also found to be wearing better protective clothing than farmers the main route of exposure might have been inhalation, but face masks were not issued. The shortcoming of protective clothing available at the time is discussed on this audio clip from Countryfile from 1992.

There was no attempt in the survey to try to correlate ill-health with different chemicals used when dipping, apart from the observation that some farmers noticed less problems using non-OP dips. One main conclusion of the report was “Farmers need to be encouraged to substitute a hazardous product (OPs) with a less hazardous product (non OP)”. Sadly however for the last 23 years the ill-health of farmers affected has been ignored; all non-OP have been taken off the market leaving OPs as the only products available for dipping.

We include snapshots from the Northern Farmer’s March edition, which mentioned the work of the group in its front page story, the main feature inside and an editorial (above, centre) calling for an inquiry, listing three questions (above left) to which the group wants answers.