Category Archives: Agriculture
Much ado about an OP nerve-agent: but hundreds of British farmers were poisoned – compelled by government to use OP dips
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”.
For many years international agencies have promoted a school of thought that says it is cheaper to import food than to grow it within the country, comments Devinder Sharma (below, right).
In December he told Rediff.com’s Syed Firdaus Ashraf:
“Rural Gujarat has voted against the influential ruling BJP. During the 2014 elections, Prime Minister Narendra D Modi had promised that if elected his government would give 50% profit over the cost of production as recommended by the (M S) Swaminathan committee and rural India voted conclusively for the BJP – but farmers are still waiting for the promise to be delivered”.
“The Reserve Bank of India’s governor used to say that the biggest reforms would be when farmers are moved out from the villages into the cities, because cities are need of cheaper labour. Cheaper labour is required for infrastructure, real estate and highways. In other words, agriculture is being sacrificed to keep economic reforms alive”.
Farmers need a fair price: cost of production plus
An article by Lancashire farmer, Kathleen Calvert, issued as a press release by local business, Dugdale Nutrition, stressed:
“Maintaining viable dairy farms not only protects livelihoods of farming families and others directly involved, it also makes a major contribution to local economies and the future of businesses, jobs, and families in the locality”.
Ruth and Richard Burrows, Devonshire farmers, assembled suppliers representing 3000 others whose livelihoods depend on them and other farmers. A photograph was published (right, faded newsprint, The web of rural ruin, Richard Price, Daily Mail, 23.9.99) with notes giving the names and roles of the people pictured. Mrs Burrows said: “They are living proof of the importance of the spending power of the farmer and how enormously important agriculture is in terms of the entire economic structure around here. The rural communities of Britain tick over on a system of mutual dependency of which the farm forms the hub. If it goes to the wall, dozens of ancillary trades in both town and countryside suffer”. Read more here.
Farmers organise politically in UK
As talks are under way at Stormont, William Taylor, speaks for Northern Ireland Farm Groups, which represents several food production sectors – now including the National Beef Association – and is concerned about the future of 25,000 SME family farmer businesses.
A bill, written by Daniel Greenberg, a barrister who specialises in legislation and is Editor of OUP’s Statute Law Review, is to be taken forward.
It proposes that farmgate prices in NI return to farmers a minimum of the cost of production, plus a margin inflation linked, that would give 20,000+ new jobs and prosperity across the province in towns, cities and countryside alike.
Their proposals have been well-received by several parties and unions, and Claire Sugden from Coleraine, Independent (the Justice Minister in the former assembly) told the farm groups that ‘she was of a mind to take legislation on farm gate prices forward’.
Legislation on farmgate prices for Northern Ireland according to the Gosling Report, would return 10-20,000 jobs+, save Stormont £280million+ in welfare costs and bring prosperity back to Northern Ireland.
In both countries, as Sharma comments, “What farmers need is income, a profit over the cost of production. To keep food inflation in control, successive government have denied farmers their rightful income”.
A GM Watch emessage quotes from a Greenpeace article which points out that the rejection of this latest bid for a 5-year renewal was an even worse result for the Commission than the vote on its previous 10-year proposal.
That bid had the backing of 16 countries but only fourteen voted in favour of the 5-year renewal, with as many either voting against, or, like Germany, abstaining from voting.
The breakdown of the vote reveals that the governments not backing the renewal represent far more of the EU’s population:
- 14 Member States (representing 36.95% of EU population voted in favour.
- 9 Member States (32.26% of EU population) opposed relicensing
- 5 Member States (30.79% of EU population) abstained.
The qualified majority necessary to grant a new EU licence requires support from countries representing at least 65% of the total EU population, but the countries that voted for renewal represent less than 37% of the population.
The UK, which is one of the most committed glyphosate supporters, is preparing to leave the EU. As it has nearly 13% of the EU’s population, with the UK out of the equation post-Brexit, the states currently voting for glyphosate renewal would represent less than a quarter of the EU’s population.
News 24 reports that Luxembourg environment minister Carole Dieschbourg (right) welcomed the outcome when she became one of the first to tweet the result. “Luxembourg voted against renewal and prolongation. Good outcome for our health and environment,” she said.
On 24 October MEPs at the European Parliament voted to restrict its use from 2018 and impose a full ban by 2022.There were 355 votes in favour of banning glyphosate, 204 against and 111 abstentions. MEPs,
The EU Commission will next take its proposal for a 5-year renewal licence for glyphosate to an appeals committee but it is expected to fail to gain enough support in the appeals committee.
However, the Commission has the power to adopt its own proposal without the backing of European governments. Will the EC disregard the precautionary principle detailed in Article 191 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (EU), which aims at ensuring a higher level of environmental protection through preventative decision-taking in the case of risk and covers consumer policy, European legislation concerning food and human, animal and plant health.
As Anil Sasi (Indian Express) notes: “Inland waterways are a far more efficient mode of transportation than either road or rail, considering that just a single mid-sized barge has the dry-cargo capacity equivalent to 50 trucks or over 10 railcars. As a consequence, transportation of cargo over inland waterways offers the advantage of both lowering carbon dioxide emissions and curbing the rate of road accidents, where India has the dubious distinction of being among the worst in the world”.
The Indian government passed The National Waterways Bill in March. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill states that while inland waterways are recognised as a fuel efficient, cost effective and environment friendly mode of transport, it has received far less investment than roads and railways. Large rivers and canals across the country have been designated as national waterways, to be developed to enable more movement of goods and passengers.
Britain’s Commercial Boat Operators’ Association (CBOA) agrees with its statement recommending the carriage of bulk goods on waterways. Goods in India travel by congested road and rail networks, which increases the costs of trade logistics by as much as 18% of the country’s GDP. The government statement continues: “Although it is cheaper, more reliable and less polluting than transporting them by road or rail, India has yet to develop this cheaper and greener mode of transportation”. (Read on here: CHS-Sachetan)
In April the World Bank announced a $375 million loan to help the Inland Waterways Authority of India to put in place the infrastructure and navigation services needed to develop National Waterway 1 as an efficient ‘logistics artery’ for northern India. The loan will enable the design and development of a new fleet of low-draft barges capable of carrying up to 2000 tonnes of cargo in these shallower depths.
Section 3 of its 322 page 2016 report: Consolidated Environmental Impact Assessment Report of National Waterways includes an assessment of inland waterway transport’s impact on climate change, concluding that this is the most efficient and environmental friendly mode of transportation, involving least CO2 generation when compared with rail & road. An estimate of the CO2 emissions from different modes of transportation for the same quantity of cargo for a similar distance is that CO2 would be reduced and a net saving of 4.54 million tonnes realised over a period of 30 years (till 2045).
A gradual expansion of waterway freight transport would reduce transport costs, road accidents and urban air pollution.
In both countries manufacturers, the construction industry and agricultural producers would be enabled to use waterway transport to reach markets at home and abroad.
Reuters reports that President Emmanuel Macron – during a meeting at Rungis international food market in Rungis, near Paris – has called for changes to France’s food chain on Wednesday to ensure that farmers, who have been hit by squeezed margins and a retail price war, are paid fairly.
Macron said that he supported a new type of contract, based on farmers’ production costs
In common with Farmers for Action (NI) which has joined a producer organization (Farm Groups) he is proposing a change in legislation – ‘a new type of contract, based on farmers’ production costs, which would require stronger producer organizations and a change in legislation’.
Prices are currently defined by buyers tempted to pressure prices, leaving many farmers unable to cover their costs.
The changes are part of a wide field-to-fork review promised by Macron during his presidential campaign as a third of farmers, an important constituency in French politics, earned a third of the net minimum wage.
Macron endorsed a proposal from the workshops to create a reversed contract starting from farmers, to food processors and to retailers. This would ensure a better spread of added value along the chain.
Just Food adds: “He promised to shake up the current “balance of power” between producers, food processing firms and retailers. A tougher line would be taken on low prices and discounting and a higher loss-leader threshold for retailers established, Macron underlined . . .
“Legislation will be prepared early next year reversing the current system of food pricing. In future, prices will be calculated on the basis of production costs instead of being imposed by retailers”.
Don’t take the UK’s 220,000 farming family businesses for granted
Government Minister Chris Grayling MP (transport) commented on the recent Andrew Marr Show that the UK’s farmers would simply produce more food to keep food prices down in the unlikely event that Brexit discussions result in a no deal situation. A press release responding to this statement has been received from Farmers For Action’s NI co-ordinator William Taylor.
Farmers are receiving receive farmgate prices equivalent to those paid 30 years ago
“The fact is that the UK government is at a crossroads with EU negotiations on Brexit and the UK’s farmers are also at a crossroads: whether Brexit succeeds or fails, they still face the food corporates in relation to poor farm gate prices . . .
“Since the second world war they have got super efficient and embraced new technology continuously and supplied the lions’ share of the food to feed the nation 24/7 to date, only now to receive farm gate prices equivalent to 30 years ago in many cases while corporate retailers, corporate wholesalers and to a lesser extent corporate processors fill their pockets.
“The Government now needs to treat farmgate prices equally as seriously as Brexit, as potential young farmers and their families to be, are not willing to enter an industry only to lose money and work 24/7 by intensively farming.
“The solution for the UK’s farmers, where the average age is now close to 60, if the UK government wants to maintain or increase current food production, is to introduce legislation across the staples on farm gate prices such as that being proposed in Northern Ireland (see The Gosling Report).
“To Government we say the choice – on an issue equally as serious as Brexit – is yours!”
“If this legislation is not introduced, food corporates will continue to force cheap food from our farmers at ever decreasing values leaving more of our farmers bankrupt or quitting the industry.
“For those remaining and wishing to continue farming the alternative would be to go to traditional or organic farming; in short, produce less, secure your farm by keeping off the intensive treadmill spiral of debt and receive a better price by producing less!”
Farmers For Action
56 Cashel Road, Macosquin, Coleraine, BT51 4NU
Tel. 028 703 43419 / 07909744624
At the moment, due to imports, this country’s food security ratios are high – see map:
But 28,000 farms in England went out of business (132,400 in 2005 to 104,200 in 2015, DEFRA), many due to farmgate prices below production costs.
Meanwhile the AHDB advisers inflicted on them thrive, advertising for Sector Strategy Directors to be paid £62,000 – £76,000 for working 35hrs per week
The farmer drawing attention to this – who works far longer than 35 hours for far less return – comments “How easy it is to spend someone else’s hard earned income. An independent organisation (independent of both commercial industry and of Government)??”
A government website explains that the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board is a non-departmental public body funded by a compulsory levy on British farmers. growers and others in the supply chain.
It “has a role in the processes of national government and operates to a greater or lesser extent at arm’s length from ministers”.
AHDB advisers working half the hours at more than double the average farming income frequently offer sage advice: their mantra: “improve productivity”. The FT quotes reflections by Phil Bicknell, market intelligence director at the AHDB who sees only three options:
- The most desirable: securing a free-trade deal with the EU,
- The least: putting up protectionist barriers or
- opening up trade to low-cost competition from around the world.
Notably absent is any sustained concern about a fair price deal for food producers and the prudence of supplying the home market first before trading any surplus.
Between 2013 and 2015, according to figures from the House of Commons library, smaller producers left the industry and during that period, milk prices fell by about 30%.
The Gosling Report finds that for farmers in Northern Ireland the sale price for the majority of commodities they produce does not even cover the input costs; this applies equally to most other British farmers. Paul Gosling comments:
“Meanwhile, large processors, large corporate food wholesalers and corporate retailers continue to maintain their enormous unsustainable profits”.
Farmers in the rest of Britain in the same position should act with those in Northern Ireland. They require legislation similar to that submitted by Fairness for Farmers in Europe (an association of 30 farm organisations in Britain, Ireland and the EU) to the 2010/11 CAP review. This would state that farmers must be paid a minimum of the cost of production plus a margin inflation linked for their produce; if the ‘free’ market moves up the farmer will get the benefit, however, when it falls the legislation is there to provide the safety net limit of drop.
AHDB please note: as a matter of urgency with Brexit negotiations under way, all farm groups could campaign for legislation on just farmgate prices, stating that a minimum of the cost of production plus a margin inflation linked must be paid at the farmgate for all food produced in Britain.
Readers wishing to know more about NI Farms Groups’ campaign should contact:
56 Cashel Road, Macosquin, Coleraine, BT51 4NU
Tel. 028 703 43419 / 07909744624
Northern Ireland Farm Groups including Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association (NIAPA) and Farmers For Action (FFA) coming together on the issue of legislation on farm gate prices, released the following statement in August:
NI farm gate prices are by far the biggest issue for Northern Ireland farmers and the Northern Ireland economy, only followed by Brexit and the far from solved border issue for Ireland north and south.
Food Corporates and Co-op food processors face relentless farm gate price pressure actions continue to make the case for farm gate price legislation . . . It’s time for Stormont’s politicians to get back to work and prove they value Northern Ireland’s farming families and the top quality home grown food they produce, including their link to Northern Ireland’s prosperity. They must get back into Stormont and start processing the farm gate price legislation bill proposed by NI Farm Groups.
Every day Stormont doesn’t sit to act on this vital issue is costing Northern Ireland approximately £1million per day; this is made up of £280million inflation linked per annum on rural welfare support and jobs, according to the Gosling Report.
Farmers For Action have now issued a message to dairy farmers considering term contracts for a large or small portion of their milk, summarised here:
William Taylor, FFA NI co-ordinator, states that “Across the main news we now find that the large food corporates are seeking to Brexit-proof food prices – roughly translated Brexit-proof their profits – and hold off their competition. How can it be right for dairy farmers or any other farmers to sign contracts that are grossly under the cost of production and not inflation linked, merely to facilitate food corporate profit taking.” He continues:
“Co-ops are going out and taking the business from the large food retailers and food wholesalers on mainly the lowest price basis to eliminate competition, then come back to the farmer for their profit . . . This has to be wrong, in that it will never return sufficient money to the farmer members of any co-op.
“The job of a CEO of a dairy co-op is to employ good salesmen and implement a policy of selling a quality product time after time, build up a reputation for dependability and above all know when the market is saturated and when it is not, as is currently the case, and use this to advantage – always have a selling edge and always look for new outlets . . .
“Above all, in order to earn any credibility from their farmer member-owners, good co-ops should be able to sell milk above the price of bottled water and never be a bargain basement seller”.
Points to remember:
- any contracts being currently touted in Northern Ireland must be checked legally; sign nothing without good legal advice.
- remember, the true cost of production ‘without profit’ repeatedly coming back from Europe’s most efficient producers via European Milk Board is just over 40p/l.
William Taylor concluded, “Consider carefully before you sign your family into possible debt for the sake of food corporate and co-op profits with non-inflation linked under-the-cost-of-production contracts.
Legislation on farmgate prices across the staples is ultimately the answer and we are making progress!”
56 Cashel Road, Macosquin, Coleraine, BT51 4NU
Tel. 028 703 43419 / 07909744624
The full text of both messages will be emailed to anyone who would like to learn more – just ask using the comments mechanism.
Following our tenth entry: MP Andrew Gwynne, who successfully introduced the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act and worked long and hard to get justice for those who received contaminated blood through the NHS, we turn to Botswana, after reading an obituary by Emily Langer in the Independent. Her subject was Ketumile Masire – a statesman who described himself as ‘a farmer who has been drawn into politics’.
A summary with added links and photographs
Masire herded cattle before enrolling in a primary school at 13 and receiving a scholarship to attend a high school in South Africa that trained many leaders of the first government of independent Botswana. When his parents died he supported his siblings, becoming a headmaster. He later earned a Master Farmers Certificate, and having saved enough money to buy a tractor and became a successful farmer.
He served on tribal and regional councils and was a founder and secretary-general of the Botswana Democratic Party, now the country’s leading political party. He once travelled 3,000 miles of the Kalahari Desert to attend two dozen meetings over two weeks.
After serving as minister of finance and development planning and Vice President, Ketumile Masire became President of Botswana (1980-1998): roads and schools were built, healthcare improved, access to clean water expanded, farming techniques advanced and life spans extended.
The discovery of diamond reserves had transformed the country’s prospects and Masire continued to use the revenues for the public good after the death of his predecessor Seretse Khama.
He became ‘a model leader in a model nation on a continent where poverty, corruption and violence had crushed the hopes of many for stability and prosperity’.
After leading Botswana through a drought that persisted for much of the 1980s, he shared the Africa Prize for Leadership awarded by the Hunger Project in recognition of the food distribution efforts that helped the country avoid starvation during the crisis.
Though South Africa was Botswana’s major economic partner, Botswana opposed apartheid. “He had to walk a fine line in a really rough neighbourhood,” said Chester Crocker, a former US assistant secretary of state for African affairs. “He had to get along with everybody, without sacrificing his principles.”
After leaving office, in addition to tending the cattle on his ranch, Masire advised other African leaders and chaired an international panel that investigated the Rwandan genocide of 1994. He made important contributions to peace efforts in Congo and, more recently, Mozambique. He established a foundation which seeks to improve agriculture, governance and children’s health in the region.
He once said: “We have a saying in Botswana: A man is never strong until he says what he believes and gives other men the chance to do the same. I am proud to say without a doubt – we are a strong democracy.”
A more chequered account of his life is given in Wikipedia..
Broken Britain 3: ‘strong and stable government’: by the rich, for the rich, at the expense of the rest
Those who are ‘just about managing’ live in the only ‘big advanced economy’ in which wages contracted (2007-2015) while the economy expanded, the cost of living rose and multinational profits rocketed.
Pett lists the end goals which would benefit the 99% and the wreckers
As Eisenhower said, we need a humane government which would focus on the well-being of all, not the profits of the few and stop being complicit in slaughter . . .
and we should strengthen local/regional economies.
Close the global casino and the revolving door between big business and government
and offer all, especially superfluous managers and young commodity traders, socially beneficial work