Category Archives: Government
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”.
Edward Luce, the FT’s Washington columnist and commentator, reviews and summarises the book.
How long does it take for the US military to admit defeat? The answer is forever, according to Harlan Ullman.
Today there are US soldiers deployed in Afghanistan who were one-year-olds when the war began. Yet the Taliban is no closer to being banished than it was in 2001. Indeed, it occupies considerably more of the country today than it did two years ago.
Donald Trump campaigned against America’s endless wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. He won the mandate to say “no” to the Pentagon. Yet, in power, he has given the Pentagon everything it has requested.
Ullman’s three explanations for this record of failure:
- First, the US keeps electing poorly qualified presidents.
- Second, they keep making strategic mistakes.
- Third, American forces lack cultural knowledge of the enemy
“Two exceptions were Dwight Eisenhower, who had been commander of US forces in Europe, and George H W Bush, who had been head of the CIA. Bush Senior wisely stopped the 1991 invasion of Iraq long before it reached Baghdad. Bush Junior was clearly not paying attention.”
He recommends a “brains-based” approach: Eisenhower combined brain and heart:
James Carden, a contributing writer at The Nation and executive editor for the American Committee for East-West Accord, points out that USA has “a national voter population that is largely skeptical of the practicality or benefits of military intervention overseas, including both the physical involvement of the US military and also extending to military aid in the form of funds or equipment as well – to quote a new survey” according to a new survey last November by J. Wallin Opinion Research. He records:
- 86.4% of those surveyed feel the American military should be used only as a last resort,
- 57% feel that US military aid to foreign countries is counterproductive and.
- 63.9% say that military aid—including money and weapons—should not be provided to countries like Saudi Arabia
- and 70.8% percent of those polled said that Congress should pass legislation that would restrain military action overseas.
But “There’s too much oligarch money in the arms and contracts to the military for Congress to ever listen to what the people want”: Sheila Smith indicates the serious problem endemic in both countries.
Brawn and brain have failed; the best option would be to heed the thinking of former general Eisenhower and the late Harry Patch – the true ‘bottom line’.
Over 2400 of the people who were given contaminated blood have died and MP Diana Johnson (below, left) asked for an urgent Commons debate last year.
She had to get six leaders of opposition parties — including the DUP — to sign a letter to Ms May asking for an inquiry before Theresa May finally succumbed to pressure and announced a public inquiry into this 1970s and 80s scandal.
Last year it was recalled here that British haemophiliacs and other victims’ lives were blighted in the 1970s and 1980s by cheap imported US blood products, harvested from inmates and drug addicts. More than 5,000 were infected and went on unknowingly to infect family and friends. It is estimated that over 2.400 have died since then.
At a 1997 independent inquiry into the scandal, Lord Archer of Sandwell said: “By the mid 1970s it was known in medical and government circles that blood products carried a danger of infection… and that commercially manufactured products from the USA were particularly suspect… but the products continued to be imported and used, often with tragic consequences.”
It was decided that victims should die to avoid going over budget
Ministers believe the reforms (cutbacks) are necessary because more people are now considered likely to develop serious health issues – and be entitled to higher payouts – pushing the programme as much as £123m over budget.
In April, as he left the Commons, the former health secretary Andy Burnham declared there had been a “criminal cover-up on an industrial scale in the NHS” over contaminated blood and called for a Hillsborough-style inquiry.
Meanwhile the contaminated die apace as this inquiry gets under way, 30 years too late.
Carillion paid only £94m towards the pension deficit but sent £162m in dividends to shareholders over 2015 and 2016.
Media reports agree with Debbie Abrahams, shadow secretary of state for Work and Pensions that Carillion have failed in their duty to ensure that their pension provision was adequately managed and resourced.
She is on record as pointing out that they could well have done so, in a letter to the regulator, asking whether they were aware of dividends payments to shareholders far higher than the payments to employees’ pensions.
The FT, BBC, Telegraph, Guardian, Reuters and Citywire online reports cover news of the deficit but fail to mention what appears to be preferential treatment for directors
Carillion’s last accounts, to December 2016, show there was a combined deficit on half a dozen defined benefits schemes linked to employees’ salaries of £811m but a surplus on a directors’ scheme of £6m.
Private Eye reporting this asked: “How could most of the company’s pension commitments, covering tens of thousands of employees, be so woefully underfunded when those for a small number were fully financed?”
It notes that the PR firm acting for the trustees (possibly Teneo Blue Rubicon taking over from Bell Pottinger) refused to provide a breakdown of the schemes’ positions, which in the secretive pensions world remain confidential.
Several former directors – who had received large salary, pensions and bonuses -were questioned by the Work & Pensions and BEIS select committees on 6th February, including former chief executive Richard Howson, former finance director, Richard Adam and current chairman Philip Green (above) in an informative article in The Construction Index.
A final PE comment: with ordinary workers facing serious cuts to their retirement incomes, MPs led by pensions select committee chair Frank Field are unlikely to take “no comment” for an answer.
Work capability assessments, introduced under the last Labour government, were first carried out by Atos, which had a £100 million a year contract in 2012 – and later earned much more. The firm made a £42million profit in 2010 and paid its chief executive Keith Wilman £800,000, a 22% pay rise on the previous year. Since then other providers, including Capita and Maximus, have also been making these assessments. For several years there has been evidence from a wide range of sources that they are not being carried out efficiently. A few examples follow:
Doctors backed a motion at the annual BMA conference in 2012 stating that Atos’s assessments were “inadequate” and “have little regard to the nature or complexity of the needs of long-term sick and disabled persons.
In their evidence to the Fifth Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment (2014), the BMA repeated its 2012 call for government to end it “with immediate effect and replace it with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm to the weakest and most vulnerable in our society”.
2015: An academic paper, published in the BMJ’s Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in which examined 149 English council areas, found that nearly 600 suicides in England may be associated with the government’s “fit-for-work” tests.
Oxford and Liverpool researchers looked at three years’ data and also found the Work Capability Assessments could be linked to a rise in mental health problems. The BBC reported in 2015 that the study found the areas with most WCAs showed the sharpest increases.
2016: The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities found that UK welfare reforms have led to “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights.
Changes to benefits “disproportionately affected” disabled people, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) found. The 2016 investigation was launched after receiving evidence from disability organisations about an “alleged adverse impact” of government reforms on disabled people. UN committee members visited London, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast in October 2015 to identify any gaps in human rights protection for disabled people. As part of its inquiry, the CRPD also looked at a range of recent welfare reforms and legislation including the Welfare Reform Act 2012, Care Act 2014, and Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016.
The BBC reported the UN inquiry’s conclusion that changes made to housing benefits and criteria for parts of the Personal Independence Payment, combined with a narrowing of social care criteria and the closure of the Independent Living Fund, “hindered disabled people’s right to live independently and be included in the community”.
Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green rejected the UN report’s findings, but it has now been announced that after a high court ruling on 2017 regulations, introducing criteria which discriminated against those with impaired mental health, decisions on personal independence payments will be reviewed.
2017: Directors and other officers of the Department of Work and Pensions receive new year’s honours for services to ‘welfare reform’, as a reader draws attention to an undated article in the Dorset Eye, by Douglas James, listing 82 people who have died or committed suicide soon after dealings with agencies such as ATOS and the government’s Department of Work and Pensions. A search was made for news of the first five on the Dorset Eye list and links to fuller accounts were added. Most of the people were aged 30-40.
2018: Private Eye 1462 reported in January that despite long-drawn-out resistance from the DWP, Atos and Capita, the Information Commissioner’s Office has now ruled that the DWP must reveal monthly reports These include details of complaints against assessors, the length of time taken by t-assessments and how many fail – i.e. are overturned on appeal.
In December the Commons Work & Pensions Select Committee report revealed that:
- it had heard disturbing evidence,
- accounts of medical assessments range from frustrating to gruelling,
- there were remarkably high, if slowly improving, levels of unacceptable reports,
- not one doctor had been involved in the assessments and
- Capita’s own auditing found that at points in the contract almost 60% of its reports were “unacceptable”.
MP Tom Brake speaks out:
“Many constituents are in despair when they contact me after an inaccurate report. Reports of face-to-face assessments need to be unbiased, fair and above all accurate. It was important to flag up these discrepancies directly with ATOS. The Government need to ensure that assessments are recorded to prevent alarming inaccuracies. I will continue to put pressure on the Government to reform the current system. At the moment too many people have lost faith in the system.”
Last resort: after many disastrous years – like Windscale nuclear reactor station – in June Atos Healthcare announced changes to its name – but not its practice.
Inside Housing reports that the government has approved upgrades to parliament, including sprinklers, despite turning down requests from councils for cash to fund fire safety works on tower blocks.
Councils which hoped to install sprinklers following the Grenfell Tower tragedy in June which killed 71 people have received no commitment from government on funding.
Jane Urquhart, portfolio holder for housing at Nottingham City Council, said: “The government has found the resources necessary to install sprinklers in the Houses of Parliament as a sensible fire safety precaution for the safety of those who work and visit there. It does seem strange that, at the same time, the housing minister deems sprinklers in social housing tower blocks not to be essential to ensure the safety of our tenants”. Alison Butler, cabinet member for housing at the council, said:
“Parliament is a historic building and it is a place where people work, but protecting people’s lives and their homes should be a higher priority”.
The Times reports that David Stewart, a Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, is bringing in a member’s bill which would place a duty on councils and registered social landlords to fit automatic fire suppression systems in all new social housing. He said that sprinkler systems were so effective at preventing the spread of fires that there had been no instances of multiple fire deaths when a working sprinkler system was in place.
“This simple change in law is a practical step that will save lives. Councils in Angus, Fife and Dundee already install sprinklers into their new developments as standard and I want to see this approach extended.”
As Alison Butler said, protecting people’s lives and their homes should be given priority.
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”.
The whole unspun truth is given briefly in the FT: “a ban on charges for paying via credit or debit card comes into force across the EU from Saturday, making it unlawful for retailers to charge customers additional fees for paying on plastic”.
Though the whole truth is too tall an order in matters of diplomacy, the government wold have been well advised to emulate the FT’s delivery.
No longer confined to the mainstream media, adventures with the truth are mercilessly mocked on social media and more radical media:
See Steve Walker’s shot of the official Conservative Twitter site:
The Independent’s gentler account quotes British MEPs who criticised the Government for claiming responsibility for the move, “which comes as part of a broad range of new payment regulations based on an EU–wide directive that was spearheaded by left-wing politicians in the European Parliament”.
We expect a jaded public response to this ‘business as usual’ spin. No longer has financial or political dishonesty the power to surprise.
May the British public one day routinely hear the truth – or would that be electoral suicide?