Still no official recognition of the chronic central and autonomic nervous system effects of organophosphates - which, until 1992, farmers were obliged by law to use twice a year for sheep dippingAlthough the 1951 Zuckerman report recommended that "the labels of containers should be required to show the words " Deadly Poison " in large, clear type, a concise statement of the dangers and precautions to be taken antidotes where known and a minimum indication of the purposes for which the product is to be used. The labels should be of a permanent kind..." it was not until 1976 that containers were required to be labelled as potentially hazardous - but there were no recommendations about protective clothing or other precautions. An HSE guidance sheet, known as MS17, was produced in the early 1980s, but was never circulated to doctors, farmers or vets, nor even the Ministry of Defence. www.politics.co.uk/briefings-guides:
"In the 1980s and 1990s, 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. The government's position was to deny that there was a clear link, but in 2000 and 2001, it funded more research into the effects of organophosphate exposure and poisoning. The results of some of these studies provided support for the poisoning hypothesis, but the outbreak of a Foot and Mouth Disease epidemic in 2001 led to the postponement of the completion of Government-funded studies until 2006/07.
Also in the early 1990s, large numbers of soldiers returning from the Gulf War were claiming to be suffering from similar symptoms, which was subsequently dubbed 'Gulf War Syndrome'. Organophosphates featured prominently among the many theories for the cause of Gulf War Syndrome, with claims that troops had been exposed to some sort of organophosphate pesticide.
In December 1996, defence minister Nicholas Soames confirmed that this was indeed the case. However, the Ministry of Defence continues to refute the existence of Gulf War Syndrome as a genuine and distinct condition."
June 2nd 2016 ~ Organophosphate poisoning - an answer from George Eustice
It will be remembered that in the 1980s and 1990s farm workers exposed to sheepdip containing organophosphates, then compulsory, reported symptoms of extreme tiredness, loss of memory, pain and debilitating weakness and depression. Organophosphate poisoning has also been blamed for "Gulf War Syndrome". Since then there have been many courageous attempts to obtain financial help for the victims of such poisoning - but successive governments have refused to accept publicly that repeated exposure to organo-phosphate chemicals could cause irreparable damage. The recent letter from George Eustice, DEFRA Minister, can be seen at http://www.sheepdipsufferers.uk/campaigning/Letter%20from%20George%20Eustice.pdf
Were the Government to concede that organophosphates were and are indeed a serious threat to health a huge number of claims for compensation would result. Survivors still hope for this since neither the NHS nor the military will recognise OP poisoning officially as a medical condition. For decades it was denied that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was aware of the health risks- yet in April last year the Guardian made clear that the HSE had certainly known in 1991.
The long-delayed letter from Mr Eustice really might have been written by Sir Humphrey Appleby - but it is unlikely to raise any smiles from those who have been so patiently hoping for so long for redress.
See also www.sheepdipsufferers.uk
June 3rd 2015 ~ OP/sheep dip health problems. Westminster Hall Adjournment debate
There is to be a Westminster Hall Adjournment debate on OP/sheep dip health problems next Wednesday 10th June from 4 – 4.30pm. It is being proposed by Jessica Morden on behalf of her constituent, Stephen Forward, (who was interviewed on Radio Wales last week on its programme, "Country Focus") He has had severe symptoms for 35 years and has not been able to work, on the recommendation of Guys Hospital, since 1996. He says his symptoms are worsening.
Extract:"...I felt unwell, flu-like symptoms and especially fatigue. That continued for about five years.. then depression and a strange dizziness and a deep pain in the head. I found it very difficult to get about and my energy had gone...the following June 1985 it became unbearable.... I didn't actually link it to sheep dip until 1991...24 hours after dipping I became very ill. I was in bed for over a week with all the same symptoms but they were not going away. ... blood tests showed I had had organo-phosphate exposure..." Listen in fullMany thanks to Tom Rigby for this information. See also http://www.sheepdipsufferers.uk/
April 27th 2015 ~ "The fact that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was aware as far back as 1991 of the health risks associated with organophosphate use is shocking..."
The Guardian today quotes Gene Matthews, a partner at the law firm Leigh Day
"The fact that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was aware as far back as 1991 of the health risks associated with organophosphate use is shocking particularly given that such knowledge has been denied for decades. Had this HSE evidence been released shortly after it was written those individuals allegedly affected by OPs would have had an increased chance of holding the government, and the relevant companies, to account for the harm they claimed to have suffered."Meanwhile, the Telegraph says, "A succession of Tory and Labour ministers refused to accept publicly that repeated exposure to organo-phosphate chemicals could cause irreparable damage" More
Still available today is the BBC coverage by Jane Little here
April 27th 2015 ~ Sheep-Dip scandal is very much back in the news: Cross-party support for a proper inquiry and a parliamentary debate
The Guardian reports today that
"more than a dozen MPs from across the political spectrum have backed calls for an inquiry and parliamentary debate into whether farmers were misled"Labour MP Jessica Morden has said that if re-elected she would apply for a parliamentary debate on organophosphates and sheep dips, "which would have to be addressed by a government minister".
Michael Meacher has said he wants a fully independent inquiry led by a judge or senior lawyer, and four members of the environment, food and rural affairs select committee. Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has called the OP sheep dip issue a "major scandal" and has demanded a Hillsborough-style disclosure of what was actually known by government officials at the time. "He has now been backed by MPs from the Liberal Democrats, Labour, Conservatives and Democratic Unionist Party, as well as a number of peers".
Warmwell.com has been following this troubling issue since 2002. We would echo Christopher Booker in the Telegraph this weekend: "The colossal tragedy caused by OPs was one of the most harrowing stories I have ever reported." We remember in October 2003 Ben Bradshaw cancelled the top-level summit on toxic sheep dip chemicals because there was "little new to say". Michael Meacher had ordered the meeting in February 2003. It was to have brought together scientists, health experts, representatives from the chemical industry and farmers with ministers and DEFRA officials. At the time Paul Tyler told the Western Morning News: "Ben Bradshaw seems to have been taken hostage by his civil servants and appears not to have the guts to stand up to them. It is more than disappointing - people will greet this with dismay."
February 28th 2015 ~ John Humphrys mentioned sheep dip poisoning at the NFU conference: "I know people that have been affected".
Tom Rigby writes in this email :
"The HSE report was in my Inbox when I got home from a of days at NFU conference where for me the highlight was John Humphrys while chairing one session said farmers had been made ill by OP sheep dip. I told him afterwards that was the first time someone had said that on the platform in the many years I’d been attending.
"Really?" he said "I know people that have been affected".
I think the next NFU person to appear on the Today programme may need to be briefed on the issue..."
February 28th 2015 ~ Publication of the HSE report means toxic effects were recognised in 1990 even though ignored since.
Tom Rigby's email goes on to say: "The standard DEFRA response is to say that there is no evidence to show low level OP exposure has any affect on health and if toxic effects do occur then they are "minor and subtle". That might be true but only because they define 'low level' as being the dose level below which any effects are noticed.
DEFRA do recognise the problems of high level exposure where acute effects require immediate medical attention but the dose many farmers receive when handling a recently dipped sheep (or indeed cattle treated with an OP pour-on, servicing a crop sprayer or treating a grain bin) is neither 'high' or 'low' but intermediate.
Publication of the report means we can now say chronic poisoning due to "cumulative effect of OPs"(p.3) and "Organophosphorus Induced Delayed Polyneuropathy" (p.11) were officially recognised in 1990 even if it seems they have been denied ever since. The report also highlights the potential health-damaging effects of Phenols and impurities (TEPPs) which both contributed to the problem but ignored in all research since."
February 17th 2015 ~ Organophosphates (OPs) A new "Sheep Dip Sufferers Support Group" has been brought to the attention of MPs
The organophosphate poisoning scandal still refuses to go away - largely thanks to the determination of campaigners such as Tom Rigby and Brenda Sutcliffe, and in Parliament, the efforts of the Countess of Mar, Lord Tyler ans Lord Rooker. The organophosphates (OPs) come from the class of chemical to which the notorious poison, sarin, belongs.
As Mr Rigby points out in today's Farmers Guardian
"The group is for awareness. Officially the problem does not exist so we want people to see it does exist. There is a reluctance to diagnose..."The 1951 Zuckerman Report 1951 whose scientific findings had drawn links between organophosphates and the nerve agents used in chemical weapons. In spite of its clear warnings in 1951 about exposure to such poisons, the government made compulsory the use of OPs in sheep dip from the 1980s onwards, and it is estimated that thousands of farmers were affected. It wasn't until 1992 that the use of OPs was no longer made compulsory, but in spite of agreeing to the moratorium governments ever since have shied away from any proper investigation.
In a 2009 House of Lords debate (here the Countess of Mar said:
"My own experience has taught me that there is an almost total lack of understanding of the life-threatening heart and lung function damage and of the effects of administering drugs that act on the acetylcholine system. ... there is still no recognition of their chronic central and autonomic nervous system effects."Lord Tyler spoke of
"a built-in systemic lethargy ...which is what the manufacturers of these products want to do..."The Countess of Mar said nearly six years ago that the Official Group on Organophosphates should reconvene. For the sake of a large number of agricultural workers, (and indeed Gulf War veterans and aircrew) who continue to suffer today, the whole subject of OPs should surely be reassessed and it is good news that a new group has been formed to press for awareness.
UPDATE Feb 23 - An email from Tom Rigby to warmwell.com
February 26th 2011 ~ MBM, organophosphates, BSE, and broken lives
The EU is considering returning to the meat and bone meal feed (MBM) that was widely blamed for BSE. (See www.vetsweb.com) There was never hard evidence to show that BSE was caused by feeding scrapie-infected Meat and Bone Meal to cattle. Far more worrying were - and are - the organophosphates (OPs), the class of chemical to which sarin belongs, and to which so many sheep, cattle, and farmers were exposed before their compulsory use was stopped in 1992.
The late Mark Purdey's painstaking research led him to the conclusion that OPs accelerate the absorption of manganese in the brain to misfold the prion protein.
"This generates free radicals which in turn set off a chain reaction - rather like cluster bombs which destroy the brain," he explained to The Times in 2000His theory was that BSE is not transmissable between cohorts, that thousands of cattle had been slaughtered unnecessarily, that vCJD was not associated with infected beef - and that there were those who had made a fortune out of the panic. No wonder he was so unpopular with those who wanted the BSE Phillips Inquiry to exonerate OPs and conclude that MBM was indeed the "vector" of BSE. Blaming MBM helped both the government and the agrochemical industry. They successfully evaded legal action and only the victims, who were never warned about the effects of OPs, suffered. (More here)
February 18th 2011 ~ "The way to ensuring public confidence in food and farming is by making sure the authorities are open to public scrutiny at every opportunity."
John Rigby, NFU Chairman for Lancashire, has sent his own view of this year's NFU conference. His interest in the problem of organophosphate poisoning (caused by the sheep dip chemical which, until 1992, farmers were obliged by law to use) is allied to his concern that the focus on infected beef as being a cause of new variant CJD has been misplaced. He writes too about how the conference approached the vexed question of GM. Read in full
House of Lords debate June 2009
Survey of Health and Pesticide Exposure (SHAPE), led by Tony Fletcher of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Study of Health in Agricultural Workers (SHAW) led by Dr AC Povey, Reader in Molecular Epidemiology, Occupational and Environmental Research Group, Faculty of Medicine and Human Sciences, University of Manchester
Dr Sarah MacKenzie-Ross's recent paper. Information at www.sarahmackenzieross.com
20 - 23 November 2009 ~ "The priority is to recognise the illness and stop further exposure to OPs and other toxic chemicals.."
There is still no recognition of their chronic central and autonomic nervous system effects. When the government made sheep dipping in organo-phosphates compulsory, as it was until in 1992, they cannot have had any idea that the health repercussions would be so grave and so long lasting - but so it has proved. The final paragraphs of Organophosphate Poisoning - symptoms and treatment, at www.drmyhill.co.uk:
"The OP afflicted farmer is left to sort out his life as best as he can and usually ends up with declining health, having to sell his farm or rent out his fields. His marriage usually flounders because he can't pull his weight. No wonder that a significant proportion commit suicide.Two studies have at last been published onlineby DEFRA (the Survey of Health and Pesticide Exposure (SHAPE), led by Tony Fletcher of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Study of Health in Agricultural Workers (SHAW). (Both needed extreme persistence in tracking down)
Fortunately most farmers are intelligent and realise the above state of affairs. But the lack of street credibility and help from Government Agencies make this illness a social and financial disaster area."
Dr Sarah MacKenzie-Ross's recent paper, (see the Farmers Guardian May 15 and a description of the study on www.sarahmackenzieross.com),warns, as she says:
" ... that there might be a slow cumulative effect on people. We have got no idea how many people out there are suffering. .. We think it is more dangerous than previously thought. Defra's advice should stress OPs should be a last resort and that other chemicals can be used."
20 - 23 November 2009 ~ "we were led to believe that OPs were safe if used as instructed.." Countess of Mar.
At the start of the House of Lords debate on organophosphates in June this year, the Countess of Mar called for the reconvening of the Carden Committee:
"...I cannot express adequately the effect that the somewhat apathetic attitude of those who are responsible for ensuring our health and safety over the past 20 years has had....My own experience has taught me that there is an almost total lack of understanding of the life-threatening heart and lung function damage and of the effects of administering drugs that act on the acetylcholine system. ..."Lord Rooker's reply was admirable and well worth reading especially to see how he regarded Richard Carden and the Civil Service of happier times. He spoke of a "reluctance to investigate".
Lord Tyler said,
"Sheep farmers had to use OPs - twice a year, under the original arrangements. The Government, as well as those responsible for manufacture, had not just a moral but a legal responsibility for the use of organophosphates.Interestingly, when Lord Livsey of Talgarth asked
whether " the Minister can assure us that as regards the inordinate delay that has occurred - literally thousands of sheep farmers in the UK are medically proven to be affected by this issue - his department and other government departments have not been put upon by the Treasury not to accept any liability or proof whatever that OP has the effect which many medical practitioners accept is the cause of the terrible condition from which many of these people suffer?"Lord Davies's answer can hardly be thought to have given any such assurance. The OP page has now been started on this website in the hope that it will provide information and links for those interested in seeing the interdepartmental Carden Committee reconstituted.
The evidence coming out of the US on Gulf War Syndrome has given new impetus to the issue. Organophosphates are also used in aeroplane engine oil and are now thought to be able to cause toxic fumes.
16 October 2009 ~ One last push on OP issue by NFU director general
The Farmers Guardian reports that "Departing NFU director general, Richard Macdonald, has vowed to put pressure on the Government to speed up research on organophosphate (OP) poisoning during his last days in the post.
Mr Macdonald acknowledged at the NFU council meeting on Tuesday that OP dips had been an 'incredibly difficult issue to deal with' during his 13 years in the job...Mr Macdonald said he would ensure all the NFU's work on OPs was passed on to his replacement.
"What we have got to do is press the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, researchers and Government to speed up all available scientific evidence so we can make proper decisions. There also needs to be pressure on finding alternatives. At the moment we are in the position of not having many, if any, suitable alternatives, while, at the same time, there is this worry about the impact of OPs on human health," he said.
Afterwards, Mr Rigby said he left the meeting feeling 'quite pleased things are moving'.." Read in full
August 16, 2008 ~ Campaigner vindicated by 50-year-old report
The Rochdale Observer (pdf) "The discovery of a damning government report on the potential dangers of sheep dip, unearthed after 50 years, has been hailed as a major breakthrough by pesticides campaigner Brenda Sutcliffe. Leading scientists, who were commissioned by the government to look into the toxicity of chemicals used by agricultural workers, drew links between the organophosphates and nerve agents in chemical weapons.
The 1951 Zuckerman report, which has been filed away in the Houses of Commons library, discovered exposure could lead to more than 30 symptoms, including giddiness, tinnitus, loss of memory, restlessness, depression and schizophrenia.
Scientists recommended that the labels of products containing OPs should be marked 'deadly poison' in large clear type and also stated that death could occur as a result of a single exposure.
They also made three key recommendations, that OPs cause chronic health damage, those who use them must have weekly medical examinations and doctors must be educated in the symptoms and treatment of OP exposure.
Brenda, of Sheep Bank Farm, Littleborough, has been campaigning against the use of organophosphates in sheep dip since she and her family became ill after using it more than 15 years ago.
She said: "I am absolutely furious. This is what I have been arguing about all along. "I cannot believe that any government, yet alone our government, would continue to encourage people to use these chemicals after discovering the dangers. "I am very, very angry about it and we have big plans for this information. "It says in the report that one exposure can cause death, but shepherds have been exposed to it time and time again."