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Isabel Fraser reports
"Hundreds of farmers say their health has been affected."
 real 56k

Friday, 1 September, 2000, 15:19 GMT 16:19 UK
Inquiry into sheep dip 'sickness'
Sheep dip farmer
Farmers have reported damaging side-effects
Scottish farmers who say their health was destroyed by organophosphates in sheep dip have been promised a UK Government investigation.

Hundreds of Scottish farmers allege that organophosphate dips have caused serious physical and psychological damage.

The government has now pledged a detailed investigation into the allegations.

Organophosphates, or OP, are the same compounds which are believed to have caused Gulf War Syndrome.

Caroline Wilson
Caroline Wilson: "This is long overdue"
Many farmers blame exposure to them for fatigue, neurological disorders and depression.

It was revealed in 1997 that 60 sheep dippers in the Western Isles were suffering from the chronic fatigue syndrome ME - four times the national average.

The government announcement was welcomed by Highland farmers Caroline and Warwick Wilson, who say they have suffered damaging side-effects from the chemicals.

Mrs Wilson said: "This is long overdue. We've managed to put our lives back together and just get on with things but there are a lot of people who are still suffering very badly and it's about time somebody did something.

"And it's not just farmers. It's people who were in the Gulf, it's people who were born with birth defects, it affects all sorts of families and it's about time some money and resources were put into getting to the bottom of this."

Safer containers

However farmers have voiced concern that the banned chemicals could be back on sale within months.

The government's veterinary products committee is due to meet later this month to decide whether or not the chemicals should be put back on the market in safer containers.

Veterinary experts have argued that the dips can be used safely and their withdrawal has led to a major animal welfare issue.

Health and safety officers have revealed that they will be making unannounced visits to farmers in the Scottish Borders to ensure sheep dipping is carried out correctly.

Officials are concerned that incorrect use of the chemicals is causing illness

Sheep in dip
Concerns over how chemicals are used
The visits are also being seen as preparing the way for the reintroduction of the controversial dips.

The Health and Safety Executive says it has evidence that proper precautions are not always being taken by sheep farmers to protect themselves against contamination.

The autumn sheep dipping season is just getting under way and inspectors will be checking protective equipment.

OPIN - the Organophosphate Information Network - is the body representing about 100 people in Scotland who are reported to be suffering chronic effects from exposure to OPs.

They say nothing has been done about a 1998 Royal Colleges report which called for diagnosis and treatment centres for sufferers.

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See also:

28 Aug 00 | Scotland
Farm safety under microscope
24 Apr 00 | Scotland
Sheep dip 'poisoning' plea
16 Sep 99 | Medical notes
27 Jul 99 | UK Politics
MPs urge 'danger' chemical ban
28 Apr 99 | UK Politics
Boost for Gulf War Syndrome research
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