Bad decisions by government – 11a: failure to compensate farmers whose health has been damaged by a government imposed requirement
Organophosphates (OPs) are a group of synthetic chemical compounds, Originally developed as insecticides and now used in thousands of licensed pesticides head lice treatments, pet shampoos and other household products. They were developed as neurotoxins during the Second World War. Sarin – the poison gas released by Aum Shinrikyo cultists in 1995 onto the Tokyo underground – is the most well-known organophosphate-based chemical weapon.
1951: Dr Solly Zuckerman – later appointed as chief scientific adviser to the British Government – wrote a report recommending that agricultural organophosphate pesticides should be labelled as ‘deadly poison’, but the report was sidelined.
1976: OP containers were required to be labelled as potentially hazardous – but no recommendations about protective clothing or other precautions were provided.
1976 to 1992: government imposed a requirement on sheep farmers to dip their flocks using organophosphates as a precaution against sheep scab.
1980: the HSE guidance sheet, known as MS17, was produced but never circulated to farmers, doctors, vets, or the Ministry of Defence.
1980 –1990+: 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.
1996: Dr Goran Jamal won a Freedom of Information Award. In 1994, as a consultant neurologist, he had been invited by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to serve on the Medical and Scientific Panel which advises the government’s Veterinary Products Committee about the safety of sheep dips. Dr Jamal chose to resign from the panel, rather than accept restrictions on his ability to give evidence about their hazards in court.
1998: a former employee of Lancashire Agricultural College, Robert Shepherd was poisoned by pesticides. His health was damaged by regular exposure to organophosphate sheep dip at work and had to take retire in 1991. With the help of his trade union, UNISON, in 1998 he won an out-of-court settlement of £80,000.
2009: New research published by Defra has revealed the extent to which even low level exposure to organophosphate (OP) sheep dip appears to have caused health problems in farmers. An extensive study involving 132 farm workers with a history of using OPs before 1991 found they are suffering today from a range of physical, mental and emotional problems. Dr Mackenzie-Ross, of University College London, said “Defra’s advice should stress OPs should be a last resort and that other chemicals can be used.”
But Defra said “The results of this report do not definitively demonstrate organophosphates cause chronic ill-health, but suggest that a relationship may exist.” It ruled out using taxpayers’ money to compensate victims ‘when the current independent advice is that a link between long-term, low-level OP exposure and ill health has not been proven’.
After years of delay, 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), led by Andrew Povey of the University of Manchester, were published on the Defra website.
Alongside the study by Dr Mackenzie-Ross, they provide compelling new evidence regarding the serious health problems OPs appear to have caused in farmers who have used them.
John Hoyte, Chairman Aerotoxic Association, writes to PCU today:
We believe it is the air travel dimension of OP’s that is keeping it from being admitted – millions of people being daily exposed and getting ‘jetlag’. See www.aerotoxic.org