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Monday, 20 December, 1999, 19:00 GMT
Controversial sheep dip withdrawn

sheep dip Sheep dip taken off the market

A controversial sheep dip, claimed to cause brain damage and premature death in farmers, is being withdrawn by the government.

But organophosphate dips (OPs) will be allowed back in use, possibly next year, if new containers that reduce the exposure risk to humans become available.

The move follows a report last month from the Committee on Toxicity (COT) which said any ill health effects from prolonged low level exposure to OPs remain unproven.

The committee accepted that OPs can cause brain damage at high levels, and that controls on their use may be advisable.

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.

Agriculture Minister Baroness Hayman said she was taking "speedy action" and more research would begin into alternatives to OPs.

It doesn't go far enough. OP sheep dips must not be re-introduced unless they can be proved to be safe
Sandra Bell, Friends of the Earth
But health and environmental groups which have campaigned for years about the dangers of OPs, gave a guarded welcome.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Sandra Bell said: "It doesn't go far enough. OP sheep dips must not be re-introduced unless they can be proved to be safe.

"Fancy new containers will not eliminate worker's exposure or risk to their health."

Brain damage

The group claims OPs are associated with hundreds of cases of depression, brain damage and premature death in sheep farmers and are also present in many products used around the home, including pet flea collars and garden sprays.

Elizabeth Sigmund, co-ordinator of the OP Information Network, based in Cornwall, said the organisation knew of 870 people in the UK and Ireland who were "severely damaged" by OPs. She called for a public inquiry.

Lady Hayman said the Government was pressing ahead with research into alternatives to the controversial dip, such as vaccines against sheep scab mite.

Regulatory committees had taken note of the COT report that any ill-health effects from prolonged low-level exposure to OPs remained unproven, she said, although there was a question over whether there may be a small group of individuals particularly susceptible to OPs.

Scientific knowledge

She added: "On the basis of current scientific knowledge, the regulatory committees advise against any general withdrawal of OPs from the market.

"As far as we are concerned, we don't believe any actions have given rise to liability for compensation. But obviously if a case is brought against us, we will have to look very carefully at it."

Peter Beaumont, of the Pesticide Trust, cast doubt over predictions that a new container would be available in time for next year's dipping season.

"Effectively, it means no OPs next year, by which time the market for them will have gone.

The Countess of Mar, who has campaigned for more than seven years for action on OPs after falling ill with nervous problems herself, said she was "absolutely delighted".

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See also:
26 Nov 99 |  Health
Jury out on sheep dip
26 Nov 99 |  Health
Sheep dip: The reaction
01 Jul 99 |  Health
Report raises sheep dip health fears

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