Tag Archives: Margaret Percival

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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A disturbing lack of official information in the public domain about organophosphates

13 Aug

The subject of hyperactive children, once more in the headlines, recalls the research finding which supports the hypothesis that organophosphate exposure, at levels common among US children, is a factor and warrants further research.

Toxicology journal coverAn email message from Peter Evans, Chairman of the OP Action Group North West, included a reflection on the recent research into neurobehavioral problems following low-level exposure to organophosphate pesticides, led by Dr Sarah Mackenzie Ross, a consultant clinical neuropsychologist & honorary senior lecturer at University College London – see the UCL post. Its findings were published in Critical Reviews in Toxicology and the abstract said:

“The majority of well designed studies found a significant association between low-level exposure to OPs and impaired neurobehavioral function which is consistent, small to moderate in magnitude and concerned primarily with cognitive functions such as psychomotor speed, executive function, visuospatial ability, working and visual memory”.

He said that farmer Margaret Percival recently rang the Health and Safety executive in Liverpool for the latest advice regarding organophosphate sheep dips.

The HSE assists employees to prosecute an employer in the event of ill-effects arising from the use of OPs but is unable to provide employers with any advice concerning the “safe” use of OPs. She was referred to the Veterinary MD in Northern Ireland but initially no one there could assist. The following day she was promised that an effort would be made to acquire leaflets that provide recommendations to farmers using OP sheep dips.

The questions that arise are these:

  • What is being done in other countries?
  • Is there an effective alternative to OP sheep dip being used abroad?
  • What action is being taken abroad to tackle/control sheep scab (if any)?

Other groups affected include:

  • Gulf War Veterans, who were exposed to pesticides on a daily basis during their tour of duty to protect them from pests such as sand flies, mosquitoes and fleas which carry infectious diseases
  • airline pilots and cabin crew, who can be exposed to organophosphates in engine oil.

A chilling reminder from Peter Evans implies that very few people will be unaffected. He points out the perils accompanying the current use of OPs in the growing, transport and storage of food:

  • in the holds of ships bringing produce from abroad,
  • as an insecticide during the growing process,
  • in warehouses,
  • and supermarkets where the air conditioning is employed to distribute OPs around the store every 3 weeks to kill insects and other pests.

Time for the precautionary principle to come into play – better late than never.

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Brenda Sutcliffe: organophosphate sheep dips

10 Jun

News of the award-winning work of Brenda Sutcliffe of Sheep Bank Farm, Littleborough in Lancashire was featured on an Indian website and continues to be widely read in that country.

She has written at length about the damage done to farmers by toxic organophosphate sheep dips. It has now been lodged as a reference document with the British Library. Campaigner Peter Evans (far right) has now placed Part 4 online and it can be sent as an email attachment. CHS award brendaBrenda’s friend and fellow-campaigner, Margaret Percival, hosted the award presentation by Tom Rigby (2nd left) at Leylands Farm on the Wigan/Salford border. 

In 1976 the British government imposed a legal requirement on sheep farmers to dip their flocks with this pesticide as a precaution against sheep scab and that regulation was not lifted until 1992.

Organophosphates (OPs) are synthetic chemical compounds used in thousands of licensed pesticides.  Brenda’s whole family has been affected by OP sheep dip and for years she  has campaigned tirelessly, on behalf of many others affected, despite seriously impaired health. An article with a good account from 1992-2004 is Are our shepherds being poisoned?

sheep bank farm no caption

General information was given in the House of Lords [2009] by another victim, the Countess of Mar, and Lord Greaves, who was taken to meet Brenda at her farm on the Saddleworth Moors – the white building faintly circled on the picture above. 

The potential dangers and precautions needed were not unknown; in the 1940s it was becoming apparent that workers were suffering serious adverse health effects from OP pesticides. An inquiry was instigated and in 1951 Lord Zuckerman, a senior government advisor, issued a report in which the deadly nature of the poisons was recognised. He warned that hospitals should be notified before any OP insecticides were used in the locality and that the words  DEADLY POISON should be printed on all product labels and cans containing them. There is no evidence that his recommendations were implemented and claims were made that the more modern pesticides were much safer.

In 1980: the HSE guidance sheet, known as MS17, was produced but never circulated to farmers, doctors, vets, or the Ministry of Defence & during the next ten years hundreds of farm workers began to report 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.

Sceptics are referred to the mainstream medical finding:

The Lancet : Volume 354, Number 9173, 10 July 1999

10 Jul 1999   Prolonged, low-dose exposure to organophosphorus sheep dips is linked with chronic ill-health—the most risky occupational activity seems to be handling of concentrated pesticide. These are the main findings of a report, Risks accumulate with cumulative sheep-dip exposure, by Kelly Morris, published by the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM; Edinburgh).  

Due to the efforts of affected people like Brenda the use of OPs is no longer compulsory, but it is still allowed to pose a danger to pilots and passengers on long-haul flights and as an ingredient in other products. 

We salute all such ‘whistleblowers’, recognising that the health of Indian farmers and farm workers has also been seriously damaged by such products.