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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore reports
"Within months he was fighting for his life"
 real 28k

COT Committee chairman Professor Frank Woods
"There is sufficient evidence to change the way OPs are used"
 real 28k

Paul Tyler, All Party Organophosphates Group
"The NHS failure to monitor OP effects is a scandal"
 real 28k

Friday, 26 November, 1999, 17:34 GMT
Jury out on sheep dip
Sheep dip OP dip: "more research needed"

A government committee has concluded there is not enough evidence to prove organophosphate (OP) sheep dip has caused serious medical problems to people exposed to it at low levels.

However, the experts acknowledge an urgent need for more research into the impact of the chemicals - particularly on those who may have some genetic predisposition to suffer from OP poisoning.

They also accept that OPs can cause brain damage at high levels, and that controls on their use may be advisable.

Farmers exposed to the chemicals claim OPs cause chronic fatigue, memory loss and aching limbs.

They have been campaigning for years to have the illness recognised, and for compensation for those whose health they say has been damaged.

A report by two psychiatrists published this summer found that farmers were 10,000 times more likely to suffer from mental disorders if exposed to OPs.

The claims have been studied by the Committee of Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT). Its report was published on Friday.

The committee concludes that the "balance of evidence" does not support the theory that prolonged or repeated low-level exposure to OPs can cause nerve damage or significant neuropsychological effects.

If such effects do occur, the report concludes, they must be relatively uncommon.

However, committee chairman Professor Frank Woods said: "There are sufficient indications in the science we looked at to change the way in which the compounds are used."

The Veterinary Products Committee, the Advisory Committee on Pesticides and the Committee on Safety of Medicines are now preparing advice on the implications of the COT report.

Junior agriculture minister Baroness Hayman said the government took concerns over OPs "very seriously" and would respond to the expert advice as soon as possible.

Ban needed

Paul Tyler Paul Tyler wants a total ban on organophosphates
Liberal Democrat MP Paul Tyler, chairman of the All Party Organophosphates Group, said the report contained nothing to suggest OPs were safe, and called for a total ban.

He told the BBC: "The people who have been studied carefully are those who are still working and who are very fit.

"The people who are not fit, who have had to give up work because of exposure to OPs, have not been properly studied. In that sense, this report is still inconclusive.

"The government should do everything it can to try and find equally effective pesticides for use on sheep."

The National Farmers' Union issued a statement welcoming the call for new research as a "step forward".

The statement said: "OP based dips have a vital animal welfare role to play in the control of diseases like sheep scab for which there are currently no alternatives available which are equally effective and do not have an environmental impact.

"This is a serious problem for the farmers who are affected and the NFU is committed to raising farmer awareness about the potential dangers."

OPs were first recognised in 1854, but their general toxicity was not established until the 1930s.

Tetraethyl pyrophosphate (TEPP), the first OP insecticide, was developed in Germany during World War Two as a by-product of nerve gas development.

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See also:
26 Nov 99 |  Health
Sheep dip: The reaction
16 Sep 99 |  Medical notes
Pesticides and health
01 Jul 99 |  Health
Report raises sheep dip health fears
29 Jan 99 |  Health
Gulf veterans slam MoD report

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